Hired to Clean Up the Mess? Here Are 3 Ways to Be a Success

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Feb 20, 2018

Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has had his work cut out for him — and it doesn’t look like his load will lighten anytime soon.

After everything the company went through in 2017, including the departure of former CEO, Travis Kalanick, it would appear the dark cloud is lifting. Unfortunately, some employees don’t feel Kalanick’s absence will change anything.

In a June interview with Fast Company, Freddy Tello — a current Uber driver — said he believes the negative culture is so deeply embedded that changes won’t be happening anytime soon. “I know the board of directors and investors want different outcomes, but it would take a while to change the entire mentality that this guy set,” Tello shared.

As Khosrowshahi continues fighting battles that came before him, major issues with trust in leadership remain. This is an obstacle any business leader can run into during their first few weeks, months, or even years at a company.

Don’t let someone else’s mistakes ruin your opportunity to lead a successful team. Here’s what you can do when walking into a former leader’s disaster:

1. Be human, not a hero

“You get a car. You get a car. Everybody gets a car!”

While you may not be walking into your first day on the job offering brand new vehicles, we can all identify with the excitement of the crowd when Oprah would start handing out surprises to her audience.

This is the same type of excitement every business leader wants when coming into a new role. For those coming into negative situations, it’s especially tempting to try to force the approval and excitement. However, a heroic moment like this isn’t as common in business as it is on daytime television. In fact, entering into a company that just went through a difficult situation with grand gestures and speeches will get you nowhere.

Take a step back and remember what these employees have been through. They’re already feeling skeptical about authority, so making big promises you likely can’t keep will only make matters worse. Enter into the organization humbly, acknowledging the fact that you can’t walk in and fix everything in a day.

It’s important to focus on being empathetic and showing that you’re willing to put in the work to improve processes. Bring employees into weekly team meetings to discuss what’s working and what they’d like to see change. Then, brainstorm ways to enhance their workdays together. This collaboration will show them you want to be part of a team, not just a leader.

2. Stop apologizing — or better yet, don’t start

Being a great leader means stepping up and taking responsibility for the company’s future, your team, and yourself. However, you’re not accountable for your predecessor’s mistakes and you shouldn’t apologize for them.

For instance, after allegations of sexual misconduct, Steve Wynn, CEO and Chairman of Wynn Resorts, resigned. Even in the midst of a company scandal, new CEO, Matt Maddox shouldn’t be issuing an apology for Wynn’s alleged wrongdoings. By apologizing for previous mistakes or current negative situations, a business leader is immediately taking ownership. Give employees the opportunity for a fresh start and clean slate by not attaching those issues to yourself.

However, you also have to be careful not to look like you’re sweeping the past under the rug.

Be open and transparent about taking on this important position. Explain that you know what’s happened and are open to hearing employees’ fears based on past events. Be transparent by offering any plans you have for the future, but don’t forget to include employees in planning processes.

3. Start growing relationships

Rebuilding trust will be a long and difficult journey. However, if you build each relationship one step at a time, you’ll grow irreplaceable bonds with employees. In order to do this, you’ll need to show employees you’re genuinely trying to make the company a better place to work for everyone.

Unfortunately, skepticism in leadership creates a stereotype that can present a challenge for company leaders. In fact, only 45% of U.S. employees rate the moral values of their CEOs, presidents, or any other business leader as “excellent” according to a June Gallup survey.

Gaining employees’ confidence in your own genuine morals actually begins with getting to know your team as more than employees. As your team sees you putting in the effort to connect with them, they’ll take an interest in getting to know who you are beyond their new leader.

Send out fun employee surveys to understand your team on a more personal note. Discover their likes, dislikes, goals (both inside and outside of work), and hobbies. Use these notes to surprise them throughout the year with recognition of success in the form of gift cards to their favorite restaurants or a new gadget for their favorite hobby

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