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Timeless Advice For Taking Over A New Team

When I was 22 years old I was promoted to my first Leadership position. The youngest person on that team was 25 and the oldest in his mid-50s. I was promoted as Sales Manager of an underperforming but entitled sales team. You see this sales team had been relatively successful in the past and their former Sales Manager was beloved. He was a veteran of the business and had personal relationships with the staff. I was coming from another team I had helped lead to success in a smaller market.

Here's what I was dealing with when I walked in the doors.

  1. Who's this young "black guy" coming in here telling us what to do. Yes, my ethnicity mattered. It was absolutely a factor in how I was received and perceived.

  2. Employees who felt they were more deserving of the job than I was.

  3. Customers who had long-term relationships with the previous Leader.

  4. Ongoing communication between my employees and their former leader.

  5. Skip level undermining. Employees going to my Boss to express their displeasure.

  6. Employee resignation. Some people quit. They started looking for new jobs the minute I was announced.

How many of you can identify with all or some of this?

Want to know how I dealt with it?

Here's what they didn't know. Although I was young I was already experienced in rebuilds like this, which is probably part of the reason I got the promotion. You see I had been part of a similar change two years prior and I learned how to successfully take over a team. The lessons I learned then have been with me my whole career and are just as effective today as they were 20 years ago.

The first thing I did was set the tone. I met with the team as a whole and outlined expectations. It was professional and very specific. Remember this was an underperforming and entitled team. To be successful we were going to have to change the culture. That culture starts with the Leader. Things had to change. I explained to them how I ran the ship and what to expect moving forward. I told them what was going to change and what I expected of my team.

Divide & Conquer

I took each individual to lunch, one on one. You see a group environment they will wallow in self-pity together and often default into negativity. Meeting them one on one outside of the business environment is disarming. Back then I didn't drink but today I'd interject a cocktail or two. My purpose was to evaluate and introduce myself in a relaxed atmosphere. I could learn more about them as individuals and tell them about myself. After these meetings, you'll gain some allies and identify malcontents.

Somebody's Got To Go

The truth of the matter is everyone is not a good fit and that's ok. I learned earlier that addition by subtraction is a real thing and that's ok. My job as a Sales Leader is not to make everyone my friend, it's to turn around the trajectory of an underperforming team and get that team to success as fast as possible. Some of those people were simply not going to buy into me or the culture I was going to create. Embrace that. Don't hide from it, be open about it. You'd be surprised how effective it is in getting people to buy in or leave. Even if it's the number one seller, sometimes that's a sacrifice you'll have to be ok with. Your long-term success as a Leader will be determined by the culture and business processes you create. Being reliant on one person and acquiescing to them isn't a recipe for long-term success.

Get In The Trenches

Respect is far more important than being liked. You see what I learned through this experience, is that while those employees liked and maybe even loved their former Leader, they didn't respect him. Thus the underperforming. He was inconsistent and often relied on emotional connection and not sound business practices to work with and motivate his employees. What did I do? I jumped in the trenches with them. I was the first to work and the last to leave. I showed them that while the expectation had changed, I would be there to support them all the way. They learned that not only was I dependable but I had the skillset and talent to help them be successful.

Let the work speak for itself

I'm sure some customers also chose to not do business with us anymore, that's ok. It's important to do business with the right people for the right reasons. I went out of my way to do great work and support existing customers and new ones. I did whatever it took to keep my word. That's a lesson I learned the hard way a few years earlier but I've never forgotten. At the end of the day, customers want a good partner, someone who advocates for them and cares about them. I did the work to EARN their business. Those that chose to leave for whatever their reasons would be replaced with the right customers for our long-term business success.


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