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Successful Leadership Transitions: Self-coaching Tool #5: Unleash

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If you are a “next level” leader who is rising up into a role with higher levels of leadership responsibility, you must adopt new ways of thinking and acting, and more important, let go of old ways. This is fifth in a series describing 6 common pitfalls and key practices every emergent leader must pick up to cement their success based on best practices rolled into a framework called Rise Up™ Leadership Transitions.

RISE UP™:  RethinkInfluence.  Stretch.  Evaluate. Unleash. Prioritize.

Common Pitfall: 

Inattention to aligning and developing your team toward your vision of success


Diminished desire for your team to make contributions, under-utilize valuable resources you could be tapping into, team members are slow or impede rate and quality of change, under-develop your team’s potential

Rise Up™ Strategy: 

Unleash Your Team's Potential

Forming a team takes time, and members often go through recognizable stages as they change from being collections of strangers to united groups with common goals. There are so many ways to approach working with your team.  Below are a few practical tools.

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first came up with the memorable phrase "forming, storming, norming, and performing" in his article, "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups." He used it to describe the path that most teams follow on their way to high performance.  When you understand it, you can help your new team become effective more quickly. 

Every time a new member joins a team, the team reverts to the forming stage, especially when the new member is the leader as leaders cast the biggest shadow on the team.  People need time to work together and it will be critical to make an effort to get to know your new colleagues and help them get to know you.

Therefore, it is key to have a strategy for how you get the team to interact together in the forming stage.

how to navigate the forming stage of team development:

  1. Most team members will be positive and polite – have their best “mask” on. Most people want to make a good first impression and so are often on their best behavior. Rest assured they are taking in all they can observe about you but are likely to keep their curiosity to surface level inquiry.  They will gather impressions and data about how you seem similar and different to them, and their prior leader. They will want to know that you are going to be safe to work with and include them in your inner circle.

Strategy:  Help your team learn about you as early as you can by giving them a thorough summary of your background.  Give them a balanced picture that includes work related information, as well as personal details to accelerate their ability to connect with you.  Make a visual presentation with photos of you and your life outside of work.  Show them that you will be approachable and transparent.

  1. A new boss represents a big change to a team. Some will be anxious, until they fully understand what you will be expecting of them. Others may be excited about the task ahead.  As a leader, you are the key player at this stage because at the start of your transition, team members' roles and responsibilities aren't clear and most people desire clarity.  And because most people don’t want to show their worries to you, this underlying anxiety is often not apparent.  Don’t let that trick you into believing that it is not a concern. 

Strategy:  Center discussion around defining the purpose of your team, scope of their tasks, how to approach it, anticipated obstacles and clarity around what resources they will need to succeed.  Scan the following checklist for ideas you can do to bring as much certainty as you can into this early forming time period.

  • Provide clear expectations for what you want your team to deliver AND how you want them to behave.
  • Validate that your team is listening and absorbing your communications. Get them to reflect back what you have said.
  • At first, follow the systems and procedures they are familiar with. You can make changes down the road. 
  • Even when you don’t have answers to their questions, provide dates when you expect you can get back with them for an update.
  • Make implicit concepts explicit. For example, if you are going to need time to learn about what they do, say so.  It will make it easier for them to be patient with you and aware of their need to assist you.
  • Create agreements for next steps for everyone, and then follow through.
  • Prioritize what you want from them to do. If you aren’t sure, ask them to give you their top priorities and then keep up to date about how those are working.  Eventually you will be able to provide more direction. 
  • Know your own personality preferences for the forming stage. Are you introverted or extraverted?  Do you default to a results focused or relationship focused leadership style?  When you are trying to fit in, and put on your “mask” how might others perceive you?   I use the Enneagram personality system to help clients understand their personality at each stage of team formation to guide their transition.

As Nietzsche said “Madness, while the exception in individuals, is the rule in groups.”  The time and effort you spend guiding your team in the forming stage will pay dividends later when you have to start storming, norming, and eventually, performing.


Don’t succumb to sink or swim, go it alone transitions. 

Check out these blog posts to create successful leadership transitions for you and your company!

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