Are ghosts just supernatural fantasies that live in our imaginations? When it comes to organizations, I think the answer is both yes and no. I’d say yes they are supernatural fantasy, but I’d say no to the suggestion that ghosts are not real, especially in organizations that are at any stage beyond start up.
Of course, I am not referring to ghosts that are blurry white with wispy tales. Here’s what I do mean: if you’ve ever taken a leadership or management position that someone else occupied, consider what you were told about that person when you first started your new job. Remember what you thought about that person’s accomplishments. Consider what role they played when they were in this job. Recall how people felt about their departure.
These and related questions tell you about the “ghost” that leader left behind. I would submit that every manager and every leader leaves behind some kind of “ghost” – or legend. When we are stepping into a new job, part of our work is to bring this legend out of our imagination and into our consciousness. When we do that, we can decide what characteristics of the previous leader we want to bring forward in our own work, and what characteristics are better left behind.
If that leader was highly revered, we can recognize that our own presence may take awhile to take hold. We can understand that the organization may be slow to adapt to our own unique leadership style. We can see that if that happens, it isn’t personal. It really isn’t – those around us may be very happy to have us aboard, but it may take time for them to let go of the “ghost” of the previous leader.
In that case, our work is to show up authentically and with our full intention to do our best work. When we lead from that stance, we are leading from a position of integrity and valor. Eventually – hopefully sooner than later – we will be seen for the leaders we are. The ghost of the previous leader will still be honored, but it will no longer be present.