How to Lead After A Bad Leader

When I used to work at Enterprise Rent-A-Car one of the best things that happened to a manager trying to make a name for himself (or herself ) was to get a branch that a bad leader occupied.

At that branch sales were down, morale was shot, fewer customers showed up, and the body shops and insurance agents,who sent the customers, would stop sending them.

Simply put: the bad leader left a bad mark.

But once the good leader showed up things would improve slowly but surely. Soon sales, morale, and everything else would be through the roof; and the leader would become the “golden child”–the “one” destined to do greater things!

In my last post I said, “To lead after a great leader is one of the worst things that can happen to a leader.” Because you’d have such great shoes to fill. Sooooo… if leading after a great leader is bad thing, then leading after a bad leader can be seen as a good thing.

Ironically though, ALL good leaders in the bad-to-good transition follow similar steps. Whether in ministry, business, non-profit, or etc.

So what are the steps? I’m glad you asked:

  • Assess the damage–That’s what Nehemiah did when he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. He didn’t come in prophesying, giving out orders, or proclaiming victory he just inspected the premises. That’s what Lou Gerstner did when he took over IBM in the 90’s. The company was losing money and market share and there was so much to do. However, he knew little about the technology. So in addition to a hectic schedule his first few weeks were spent analyzing the company and asking the staff questions. He was always seen with a pen and a pad taking notes. That’s what Steve Jobs did when he became Apple’s “interim CEO”: he spent his time absorbing vast amounts of information before he took decisive action.
  • Keep the best leaders, get rid of the rest–Jim Collins calls this getting “the wrong people off the bus, the right people on, and then figuring out where to drive.” (Good to Great, p.63) Your leadership will only be as strong as your supporting leadership; so its up to you to find the strongest leaders you can find. Not “yes men,” but strong men. Not soldiers, but generals. Not just followers, but leaders in their own right.
  • Discover or rediscover your purpose–We’re all guided by purpose. The Bible says, “The noble-hearted man has noble purposes, and by these he will be guided.” (Isaiah32:8 The Bible in Basic English) By “purpose” I mean “the object toward which something strives or for which something exists.” John Mckay, CEO of Whole Foods Market, stresses the necessity of organizations having a purpose. Organizations (ministries or business) that have a corporate purpose, over the long haul, do more and go further than their counterparts.
  • Cut down “Bronze serpents”–That’s what Hezekiah did: he cut down the Bronze serpent Moses made because the people worshiped it and not God. That took guts! You just don’t touch much less alter anything anyone that great made. But though it served a purpose in its time it had become a hindrance in Hezekiah’s time. And anything that becomes a hindrance to growth and productivity (no matter how long its been there) has to be cut down! It only takes a great leader with great courage to take the first swing!
But that’s all I got. Tell me are there more? Are these right? How would you lead after a bad leader?
Guest Author:

Michael is an author, blogger, and speaker. He is the author of I Shall Raise Thee Up: Ancient Principles for Lasting Greatness. He blogs and speaks about leadership development from a Biblical perspective. It’s leadership by the Book! When he’s not writing or speaking, he can be found writing bios in the 3rd person. Check out his blog/website here, pick up the book here, or the audiobook here.


  1. Great post. I especially liked the reminder that the first best step after taking over for a bad leader is to assess the damage. I think too often people try to go in and do damage control right away or, in the church culture, start prophesying, claiming victory, etc. You can’t make an effective plan without first knowing where you are and why.


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