How To Deal With Unexpected Leadership Responsibilities

Board Room ResponsibilitiesSo now your leadership responsibilities have suddenly increased massively. There are occasions when surprises hit us that we couldn’t possibly have anticipated. For so many reasons the responsibility of leadership is thrust upon us. For those in the military this is something that they are trained to expect in times of conflict but for most everyone else having to step up and take over a hugely increased workforce is petty unusual.

Of course the circumstances can be pretty dramatic. A senior leader leaving at a moment’s notice means someone has to step up and keep things moving. All the emotion and close attention that surrounds the change can mean losing sight of the need to provide the leadership people need. And in such times of chaos that’s just what everyone needs.

This happens in sport and politics in the most public of circumstances. The media attention is relentless, as is social media. At the very top levels of high profile companies it happens too but it’s mostly restricted to the business press. For most everyone else the difficulties in being saddled with unexpected leadership responsibilities goes largely unnoticed away from those who are immediately effected.

So what should you do in such circumstances? Well, there are a few actions from the highly publicized world of sport, politics and business that can be applied more widely.

Bring People Together Immediately

Bring everyone together immediately and let them know your expectations of them and of the future of the business. Make this as public as possible. By this I mean make it as transparent as possible. Press releases, internal communications and statements to investors, suppliers and customers all need to be by synchronised. The one thing no-one wants is plummeting confidence, especially investors.

What Are the Expectations of You?

Find out from your own senior management, business owners, whoever else it is you will have to report to, just what it is they expect from you. For many, you will be the obvious person to take on the increased people and business responsibilities by virtue of being in place already. That doesn’t mean you are ready for it or indeed ideally suited to it.

This needs to part of an honest conversation. Are you expected to take over indefinitely or is it to hold the reins while a permanent successor is appointed? Equally, what are your expectations? And remember that as time progresses, even if you didn’t think you wanted the role to start with, you might grow into it and want it for good.

Make Sure Someone Picks Up Your Previous Role

The confusion and activities of picking up a new and significantly increased role at extreme short notice is difficult enough. You don’t want to make it any worse by carrying on with your existing activities. Yet this is just the trap many people fall into. In their mind, no one can possibly be good enough to do what they were doing. And while you may have been the best person for the job you were doing yesterday you don’t have the time to be doing it today.

Make a quick decision as to how your old job will be performed and make it happen. Brief whoever you select to take over from you and let them get on with it. Make sure it isn’t a case of them bringing everything to you for approval. Your new leadership role is your only priority.

The chaos, confusion and surprise in the immediate aftermath of there becoming a gap at the top that needs filling immediately has to dissipate quickly. Whether you are selected to take on that role or volunteer for it you have to quickly establish credibility with a wide stakeholder community. That takes all your energy as you ‘step up to the mark’.

The time for looking back at what has happened will come but decisive actions have to take place quickly to keep forward momentum. 

Follow Paul Slater on Twitter and see other articles of his on Linkedin.

© Paul Slater and Reflect & Lead, 2015.

email