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It can be a challenge to follow a bad manager but you can help the team excel and enjoy a more positive future.
First of all, assuming that you’re going to be more effective than the previous person leading the department, detoxing any negativity is going to be a process and it takes time. It’s like when a patio stone is laid on top of the grass. The grass will die and go to dirt, but if you remove the patio stone, the grass won’t spring back to life immediately but it will start growing again in time. Your team needs to take some time to see if you are going to be an upgrade over their previous leader.
They have to believe in you and your capability. If there’s been a rotation of a number of different leaders, whether it’s at the management level or the supervisory level, your team is going to be a little cynical. I’ve heard people say things like, “You know what? I don’t know how long you’re going to last,” or, “We don’t think you’re going to last very long, so we’re not going to do what you want us to do.” Keep in mind that your team might be hurting from many, many months or years of being led by somebody who was ineffective. Your job is to persevere and demonstrate your leadership skills and trustworthiness.
Avoid being too negative about the past even though you might be taking over a department that’s having performance issues. If you keep putting down the previous administration or the previous leader, you might think you’re winning over the team but what they’re really looking to see is if you are really going to make a positive difference going forward.
View the problems as opportunities. When you first take over, make observations, get the lay of the land, ask for input, and get background information about your team and department. Avoid slipping into negativity and complaining. Then ask your team, “What do you think are the biggest opportunities for us to make gains and improvements in the department? Which things do we need to focus on fixing first?”
Your next step is to take action and build on any positive momentum. Develop a consistent track record of making positive changes and give your team credit for helping make the changes happen. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Once your team starts to see that you’re making things better and that working with you is better than working for the previous supervisor or manager, they’re going to buy into the initiatives that will further increase their performance.
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