The Leadership Assimilation Process and What it Means for Teams

by Stew Bolno, MBA, EdM

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The company has spent a good amount of time and effort, and paid a hefty commission to an executive recruiter to find the perfect candidate to fill an important leadership position. The new person is accomplished, experienced, and confident. However, within a few months, and maybe even weeks, there is a visible degree of friction between the new boss and the people who he or she is expected to lead. This is not an unusual occurrence. Most seasoned employees have experienced witnessed a similar circumstance.

In graduate schools, students are taught that organizations are systems. This means that any new input has an impact on the larger entity. Divisions and departments of the organization are also systems. Since they are smaller, a change at the top of the unit has a profound impact on the culture, groups, and individuals who comprise it. Like any system, there is a degree of inertia and homeostasis. The initial response to any change is to fight or reject the new element. Often groups demonstrate distrust, resistance, and conflict. It is always possible for the new leader gain the loyalty of the team, but this often takes months of effective interaction and high-level performance results.

The purpose of a Leadership Assimilation process is to make a conscious effort to avoid the all-too-human elements that threaten the development of a trusting team and limit the potential for executives to display their talents. It is a simple learning model that is efficient, engaging, and meaningful for any team with a new leader. When designed and implemented properly Leadership Assimilation aligns expectations, preferences, and items that might create obstacles to success among the team members.

The Leadership Assimilation Process
The process is really quite simple. Think of it as an event in four quarters, not unlike a football game. In the morning until the break, the overview, purpose, and method is presented to the entire group. After short introductions, the consultant works with the executive and those who will be managed/supervised form in groups of six to eight members. Each group selects a facilitator to keep the process on-track and focused. At its best, each individual receives a workbook with general questions listed at the top of each page. This enables guidance and direction.

Core questions for the team may include:

  • What does the team want to know about the new leader?
  • What does the team need from the leader in order to raise levels of effectiveness?
  • What does the new leader need to know about the individual team members?
  • What are the new leader’s expectations?
  • What issues require the attention of the leader?

Within each of these categories, there should be specific questions that will prompt a response from the leader.

Examples that might be listed within question 5 are:

5a. Identify issues that are urgent and important.
5b. Identify issues that may not be urgent but are important.
5c. Identify issues that can be solved easily and at little expense of time, money, and or effort.
The leader’s questions are similar in form to that of the team members. Questions about the leader’s background, expectations, strengths, priorities, and expectations can all be included.

During the 2nd quarter, which runs from the morning break until lunch, the team reveals its concerns. The leader listens; just listens. Needs a little more info here.

After lunch, the 3rd quarter, the leader has the opportunity to reveal his or her worksheet items.

The 4th quarter is where collective action occurs. As a group, they develop consensus on core items and make a commitment for creating high- level performance team. People leave on a high note with an action plan and in-depth knowledge about each other, that otherwise may have taken months to learn. Clearly, they are at a higher level of awareness and intimacy than they could have gotten without this process. Fittingly, the leader has had an opportunity to express priorities and to show up as a reasonable person with a primary intention of helping the team achieve its goals.

The Origin and Future of Leadership Assimilation
A final factoid that everyone should know about this is that the Leadership Assimilation process originated in the US Army. Now, think about it, if those with stripes, bars, and medals recognized that leadership is based on something more than hierarchy and have benefited from this process don’t you think your company can as well?

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