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New Sheriff in Town, pages 173-178

Part Two: Leadership Tactics, 1. Becoming a Leader, H. New Sheriff In Town, (pages 173-178)

H. New Sheriff In Town

When taking over a new leadership position, there are several methods. One method is to immediately make changes while another is to spend a large amount of time observing and then slowly implement change. In between these extremes are many other methods. The methodology to use depends upon the situation. Gathering as much information about the mission and troops before taking over is paramount. There three main sources of information. The first is from the outgoing leader. However, this information must be taken in context. Was the boss fired? Did they have a big ego? What was their relationship with the team? “Whatever the situation, it is important to understand the bias or spin an outgoing leader might be putting on their turnover.” The second source of information is about team members. Gather and study as many personnel records as possible noting positions, skills, experience, personal interests, and family situations. The last source of information is how to determine how well the team is functioning. The new leader must identify if the team is currently high performing or failing. “Most will be somewhere in between: therefore, the approach must be modulated and balanced to accommodate the situation the leader is entering”. Identifying the quality of the team will determine the new leader's approach. If the team is working well, then a more gentle approach can be taken. The new leader can take the time to get to know the team members and start to build relationships. Additionally, the new leader can start to include team members in coming up with solutions. However, if the team is dysfunctional, a more direct approach is needed. This can involve two situations. One, the new leader is aware of the problems, and the other is the new leader has yet to determine the problems. In the first situation, the new leader needs to immediately develop and implement solutions. Also, the new leader needs to create a clear vision and mission, emphasizing that change will be occurring. “There will be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the status quo is gone”. When the new leader is not aware of the problems, procedural changes are implemented to get the attention of the team but not interfere with operations. The new leader then needs to develop relationships and thoroughly investigate to isolate the problem areas and then start to make incremental changes.

When I was appointed as the Superintendent in my last district, I came into a very tumultuous situation. The former Superintendent had been there for nearly 20 years. However the last few were very bad. To this point, there was an uprising in the community when School Board seats were available. Candidates ran on the platform of not renewing the Superintendents contract. Those candidates were elected and the Superintendent was let go. I entered the picture, the new sheriff. My first few months were very memorable including my business manager abruptly quitting without starting the budget process, student accusations of teacher misconduct, being asked by the Board to be lead contract negotiations, and the untimely passing of one of our seniors in a car accident. However, as important as those items were, the thing that sticks in my memory the most dealt with this chapter, specifically how to gather data from the outgoing leader. The Board did not let me meet with the outgoing Superintendent as they were worried about what would be said. So, the first time I was able to gather data was on my first day. I entered my new office and what I saw was comical to say the least. The room was bare with no files to be found. The only thing on my new desk was an old adding machine. I still do not know why it was there. Needless to say, it did not provide me with any useful data! I unplugged it and put it in one of the empty drawers. I then began to schedule meetings with my administrators. My data was going to need to come from them. Probably for the best.

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© 2019 by Erik Bentzel. 

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