Avoiding the Pitfalls of Leadership Transition

Countless studies warn us of the daunting failure rate of leaders being hired or promoted into new roles and/or of leaders transitioning into new roles. These numbers often average a 40% failure rate for leaders and impact organizations by as much as $2.7 million per failed executive. Perhaps a larger risk is for leaders who seem to make the transition yet underperform in the role. Studies suggest that this is a more significant risk over failure, topping 46.3%.   

Given the addition of challenging factors including a geographic move, leading former peers, industry change, business turnaround, and sheer volumes of change, the risks of failure increase dramatically.   

Industry research, executives’ input, and our practical work with clients have surfaced the 4 most common pitfalls impacting leaders in transition. 

Clarify & Embrace 

  • As you enter a new role with a new manager, it’s imperative to gain specificity about your new leaders’ expectations. What are the primary strategies and deliverables, what is the desired timing, ideal resourcing, and proper method of evaluation? 
  • Who are the primary stakeholders or stakeholder groups for this role? Internally and externally, who depends on the services, data, or outputs from this role? How do you best meet with and understand the perspective of these key business relationships? 

Actively Build & Manage the Team 

  • Too often new leaders seek out opportunities to score early wins for themselves. Early efforts should build trust that the leader is focused on supporting the team and identify ways to illustrate how the team will win. 
  • Often, a member of the team is promoted to lead the team. Given that there are others who may have been vying for the role, this can be a significant issue. The new leader must address their team with clear communication about each member’s value and how they are vital for the team’s success. 

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Engage & Align the Existing Team Members 

  • Trying to do too much at once can quickly derail a new or transitioning leader. New Leaders must invest time in analysis, identify what is most critical, prioritize, and then focus individual and team efforts accordingly. 
  • Seeking input and involving others while providing requisite support will help ensure optimal engagement while balancing accountability.   

Adapting to New & Changing Circumstances 

  • As much as a new leader needs to embrace their new role, responsibilities, team, and cultural imperatives, they also must leave their previous role and responsibilities behind. Trying to keep a presence in the previous role or organization can send the wrong message to new stakeholders and impede focus on all things “new.” 
  • Adapting to the “new” isn’t just about adapting to the new organization or role that was researched and understood in the selection process.  Organizations and roles are experiencing volatility and velocity of change it seems like we’ve never seen. The leader must employ intentionality in researching the business and cultural imperatives to ensure a continually current understanding of the implications to their own success. 

With planning and intentionality, leaders transitioning into a new role or organization can successfully navigate these potential pitfalls. Those who do, seek alignment with the organization and key stakeholders’ needs, engage their teams more meaningfully, and deliver value much faster and far more successfully.