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A good successor asks the right questions

The ‘first 100 days’ are unique. You get a new job. You succeed someone and start with a clean sheet. Compare it to a honeymoon: you know your partner, you know whom you take your chance with, but still you are always asking yourself all kinds of questions.

Do you absolutely need to make a statement or is it better to stay modest? Don’t you run the risk of losing yourself? And what about all those new people you have to convince? Let me give you some good advice first: if you want to successfully succeed someone, you should ask the right questions!

Successors often feel the need to absolutely prove themselves. Usually, this macho behavior implies weighty statements during their official presentation. You see this during traditional successions, but also during transitions to the next generation within a family business.

Successors are often too egocentric. It seems as if they want to say: ‘Just look at me! I’m new and I’m going to do it differently and better.’ They want to create their own image as soon as possible. An image they can cultivate. A safe façade. As if they would like to exude decisiveness without exactly knowing which challenges they will have to tackle.

If you are constantly driven by the need to prove yourself, you won’t realize that you are actually suffering from your own ego, which is completely useless. Why would you need, as the new boss, to feel obliged to keep everything under control? Why would you absolutely want to look like a strong leader? Your new employees might expect decisiveness, but what they especially expect, is that you decently run the company or department! Just take your time to thoroughly observe and absorb everything.

The right questions
Absorbing means asking the right questions. Good leaders understand what is happening around them. What does the market look like? What do my customers think and what do they want? What are my competitors doing? Do I know my own company? What’s happening on the inside and what do my employees think? What are they driven by? Which talents do my people have? Which ‘bottlenecks’ do we need to tackle together?

These are the right questions, the things which make the difference; not your opening speech! This is why you should opt for modesty instead of ego-tripping.

In fact, everything comes down to balance: the right balance between your own expectations and those of your new employees. They want to see a strong leader and will tend to compare you with your predecessor. You want to make progress and quickly learn what is going on inside the organization.

A few tips
  1. Never think you know it all. Enjoying lots of experience can help, but every situation is new. Again: stay modest and dare to ask your employees and customers a lot of questions. Sooner or later, machos will fail.

  2. Dare to commit yourself. Show who you are and what you really think. Be real. This is my way of working and these are the values that are important to me. A mythical leader full of secrets is not so efficient.

  3. Give your people the time to explain everything in detail. Ask open questions! Learn from your employees, customers and all ‘stakeholders’.

  4. Listen actively. Elaborate a sound plan and take your time. Meet all your employees individually or in group. Listen, ask questions and especially keep asking questions! Do the same with your customers and all other important ‘stakeholders’. Don’t go about something without reflection and rely on the experience of the people around you. Experience is the best teacher.
You can only really start after having done all of this!


By Herman van Herterijck

"my ambition is to put the importance of pragmatic and continuous self-coaching on the agenda of current business leaders"

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