You’ve spent months working on a change project. The implementation has started and is going well. Then one day, a leader who is instrumental to driving change has departed the organization and has been replaced. Now what?
A new leader does not automatically mean all is lost. However, new leaders have a tendency to want to put their own stamp on things. They may not want to continue a legacy project from their predecessor. Or the project may no longer align with their vision for the organization.
This scenario recently happened to one of my coaching clients. She had partnered with me to help her implement a strategic initiative, when suddenly the head of the organization left. An internal successor was immediately appointed. He quickly made it clear he had different ideas for the direction of the organization, and the project was in jeopardy.
We considered her options:
If you believe the change is worth doing, then you can fight for it. As a change agent, one of your responsibilities is to advocate for the change initiative. Make the case for why it should continue. Show how it really does support the new vision. Champion the hard work the organization has already done.
Another role you fill as a change agent is to support leaders and help them implement their vision. If the new leader is giving people whiplash, instead of working against them, you can help them make the transition more smoothly. Demonstrate that you are an invaluable partner who can help the leader get things done.
If the first two options don’t work, either because the leader discontinues support for the initiative or you personally can’t support the pivot to the new direction, then your third option is to find your exit.
Before you do any of these options, have the conversation with the leader to understand their position. Don’t assume they will kill the initiative just because they are new. Learn their vision for the organization. Use the opportunity to share the purpose and history of the project. Gauge their support before taking any new action.
When a leader changes direction, you have to decide if you’re serving the change or serving the organization (and thus the leader, whoever they are). Are you so attached to your project that you can’t work in the organization if they don’t implement it? Or do you see yourself more as an enabler of change for the organization, regardless of what it is? Your answer will determine if you should fight or pivot. If neither of those work, then it’s ok to bail.
Has a leadership change threatened a project you were working on? What did you do?