A business man walks away from an office

How to lead when you’re moving out of a leadership role 

Stepping back from a top position can be tough, but great leaders set up their successors for success. A T3 Sixty talent expert explains how.

May 11, 2024
3 minutes

Leadership transitions and successions can be challenging for many leaders — and dramatic enough to fuel some of the most acclaimed entertainment in television history.

While real-life leadership changes are usually less sensational, they can still be difficult. Outgoing leaders may unwittingly sabotage a newcomer, no matter how positive their intent.

"CEO and founder transitions can be very risky and hard. Many leaders are not psychologically prepared for it, and are working against decades of habits where they stepped in to lead," said longtime real estate executive and strategist Stefan Swanepoel.

If this kind of change is part of your journey, be patient with yourself. It's difficult to give up a leadership position, and the reality is that no one will do the job the same way you did. But your role now is to help the new leader do the best job they can to support the people you care about.

Here are 10 top tips to keep in mind if you find yourself in this position, courtesy of Dan Breault, vice president of T3 Talent:

1. The role a former leader should take with a new leader is to act as their consultant, mentor and sounding board.

2. Position the new leader as the clear leader of the team. They should make announcements, welcome clients, etc.

3. The new leader may be new to planning meetings and need your help. Spend time with them beforehand if you think they need some coaching.

4. Give them private feedback. Note it in the moment, but share it later so they can take it in and apply it at the next opportunity.

5. If you are in a meeting, let the team or clients know you are there to listen and support the new leader; if they invite you to jump in or comment, do so — but otherwise, provide support to the new leader. This requires a lot of discipline.

6. Always build up the new leader. You already know how to do the job; now your job is to set them up to be as successful as possible.

7. During the transition, some team members will still think of you as the leader and come to you for guidance; redirect them to the new leader.

8. If there are decisions that need to be made, let the new leader make them. If you strongly disagree with a decision, take them aside and discuss it privately.

9. Avoid contradicting or overriding the new leader. A new leader will be sensitive to your  reactions and could feel disrespected or diminished in the eyes of others.

10. If you can't stop yourself from intervening in a meeting, just opt out. This is hard but may be necessary during a transition period.

Remember, the new leader is responsible for the team, the project and the organization. If you can't let go, you risk setting everyone up to fail.

Note: Stefan Swanepoel is the founder of both Real Estate News and T3 Sixty.

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