How to take control

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Just because you have been given a position of power, it does not mean you are in power. Even at CEO level, there a plenty of people who have the title but they are not leading: they are simply administrators of a legacy which they inherited from the last executive. This is your challenge: make sure you are not just in post, make sure you are in control.

Take four steps to take control:

  1. Have a plan. A good plan, or a vision if you want to be grand, is a story in four parts which you should be able to communicate in forty seconds or less.
    1. This is where we are
    2. This is where we are going (and how it will be different from the past)
    3. This is how we will get there. This part will be sketchy to start with, and will become clearer and more detailed over time. Do not wait for all the detail to be clear before announcing the overall direction: you will never make any progress
    4. This is your really important and worthwhile role in helping us get there: make your plan personal to each person you speak to, and be clear about how they can help. This is motivating for your staff and gives clarity to your colleagues
  2. Get the right support, both within your team and beyond.  The A team will make molehills out of mountains; the B team will make mountains out of molehills. Just because you inherited a team, you do not have to stick with it. Try to move fast, because no team likes uncertainty.  Beyond your team, you need support from power barons, your boss, the technocrats and colleagues for your plan. Invest time in building that support early, so you do not face constant battles later on.
  3. Get the right budget, both in terms of what you must deliver and in terms of the resources available to you. As with your team, do not lie down and accept what you have been given, unless it is what you need. The best time to negotiate on budget is before you start in your new role: as soon as you start you will have lost most of your negotiating power, unless you can bring some very compelling new data to the table.
  4. Set expectations fast and set them low. Your predecessor may have made all sorts of promises on your behalf (all of your team will expect promotion, your bosses will expect sales to treble next year…)

If you accept those promises and expectations, you accept failure: you will not measure up to the expected miracles.  Find all the skeletons in all the cupboards and put them on display. Paint a picture of a unit on the verge of imminent collapse. If your view is accepted, then even survival will be seen as success.

All of this means that your first thirty days are critical. You do not have time on your side, especially as most of your colleagues will judge you on first impressions.  If you take control successfully, you will be unusual: many managers land up drifting with the tide.

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