May 31, 2024
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Guest commentary: Rebuilding after disruptive leadership departure


By Vlad Vaiman

An organizational leader’s departure amid allegations of disruptive leadership brings forth a variety of complex challenges and potential opportunities.

An effective transition strategy is crucial for rebuilding trust, restoring a positive culture, and establishing effective governance.

An organization grappling with the departure of a disruptive leader can find solace in this attempt at a comprehensive guide that may offer valuable insights on how to prepare for and navigate the aftermath of such a significant event.

Gaining insight into the consequences of disruptive leadership is absolutely crucial when preparing for a transition.

Instances of disruptive leadership can take on different forms, including the abuse of authority, biased treatment, hostile behavior, or the creation of a toxic environment in the workplace.

Such behaviors usually tend to undermine morale, contribute to high staff turnover, and foster a widespread distrust among employees, leading to detrimental effects on an organization’s culture, which in turn result in a breakdown of communication and a noticeable absence of accountability.

These effects can persist over a significant period of time. Understanding these concerns and determining their full scope is essential in formulating a comprehensive restoration strategy.  

Upon the former leader’s departure, the organization must take a crucial step by putting together a crisis management team. Such a team should consist of individuals from various stakeholder groups, including employees, management, as well as clients and community members.

Their primary responsibility is to navigate the organization through the immediate aftermath of the leader’s departure and ensure that all perspectives are taken into account. This team aimed to serve as a crucial link between a troubled past and a hopeful future, providing a sense of steadiness and consistency in the face of ongoing upheaval. 

Developing a strong communication plan is therefore the crucial first step when rebuilding after a disruptive leadership departure. A thorough communication plan is essential in ensuring a smooth transition by effectively disseminating information and addressing stakeholders’ concerns through regular updates.

Engaging with the entire organization and keeping all involved informed about the transition process can be effectively achieved through town hall meetings, focus groups, and regular newsletters. As I have mentioned before in my other writings, open and honest communication is absolutely paramount for rebuilding trust and promoting a sense of unity within the organization.

After the leader’s departure is officially confirmed, the urgent task at hand is to appoint an interim leader. An interim leader who possesses a well-established reputation for integrity and empathy, demonstrating their ability to effectively guide and inspire others during times of uncertainty is desperately needed at that point.

They are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring stability and promoting a positive environment. An effective and engaging interim leader can play a crucial role in alleviating concerns and preparing for the next stage of the transition. 

Amidst the transition, it is also of utmost importance to conduct a comprehensive examination of the disruptive behavior that precipitated the departure of the leader. An in-depth analysis is necessary to review the underlying factors contributing to the toxic environment, focusing on particular incidents, complaints, and grievances.

Through this process, the organization can effectively pinpoint systemic issues and devise appropriate corrective measures to avoid future occurrences of similar problems. The results of the review will shape the organization’s endeavors to reconstruct its policies and workplace culture.

Furthermore, it is crucial for the organization to thoroughly analyze its current policies and practices in order to uncover any potential vulnerabilities that may have played a role in fostering the disruptive atmosphere.

An in-depth analysis is required to shed light on the governance structures, reporting mechanisms, and workplace policies that enabled the persistence of disruptive behavior. Reforming these policies, and perhaps removing the enablers, is crucial in order to establish a more transparent and accountable organization.  

The organization must also focus on developing a long-term vision that highlights inclusion, innovation, and ethical leadership as it searches for a new, permanent leader.

A clear long-term vision has to be set to steer the organization’s future growth and development. Through active engagement with stakeholders, the organization will ensure that this vision is a true reflection of the values and aspirations of the community.  

A strong and motivating vision is crucial for staying on track during the transition and beyond. 

In addition, ensuring continuous monitoring should become a crucial element in the process of rebuilding following the departure of a disruptive leader. An array of regular surveys, audits, and feedback loops will assist the organization in promptly identifying and resolving issues before they become more serious.

The implementation of these monitoring mechanisms will foster a culture of accountability and promote ongoing improvement. Furthermore, stakeholders should be given a platform to express their concerns and propose enhancements, thereby guaranteeing that the organization stays on track. Planning for celebrations and acknowledging milestones during the transition is also important.

From formal events to casual get-togethers, these celebrations provide a chance to uplift spirits and reaffirm the organization’s dedication to its new path. Acknowledging advancements and favorable developments fosters ongoing participation from the community and promotes a feeling of achievement.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that the organization’s commitment to transparency, communication, and inclusivity will be crucial in rebuilding trust and fostering a positive culture.

With an interim leader at the helm, a thorough examination should take place, and a well-defined future outlook should be put in place to ensure that the organization is poised to navigate the transition with success. Supported by its dedicated community, the organization will be set to overcome this difficult period with renewed strength and resilience.

Vlad Vaiman is a Professor and Associate Dean at the Cal Lutheran School of Management. He can be reached at