Lost in Transition

Kari Saddler

Have you ever been part of a highly successful, productive team? A team so successful that your leader gets promoted to a new role and a new leader enters the picture? Within weeks or months, the rhythm of your team is disrupted until you are struggling, people start leaving, and those who stay talk about how awesome the team used to be.

Maybe the new leader was a former team member—someone everyone knew and trusted. Or maybe the new leader came from the outside and had all sorts of new ideas for making the team better. It could have been a leader with a “change agent” profile, determined to make the team even better. Or maybe they were more of a “status quo” leader, who was unable to create a vision for the team.

By the time a new leader has disrupted a highly successful team, it is often too late to ask, “What happened?” Instead, the organization scrambles to find the next in line and hopes that whatever was lost in the first transition can be easily recovered by a new, even better leader.

Research about transitions has shown that:

  • Up to 23% of executives who make internal transfers fail to meet expectations in the first two years.
  • Up to 40% of management hires end in failure within 18 months.

Based on our data, we have created a formula for helping new leaders work through the top four reasons for failure: Clarify and embrace stakeholder expectations, actively build and manage team relationships, engage and align the existing team members, and adapt to new and changing circumstances. 

During a recent coaching engagement, a client confided: “I’ve had a long and successful career with this company. Now, I feel like I am seen as a failure by leadership.” Working together, we uncovered the two key issues at the core of her struggle: Alignment of stakeholder expectations and engaging and aligning team members. 

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Specifically, she realized that while she was focusing on one set of numbers to define success, her leadership was focused on something entirely different. This disconnect went undiscovered for months, allowing her to feel like she was making progress while her stakeholders felt her team was falling behind. Having this key conversation with her leader helped them align with what was most important. 

The more difficult challenge involved a specific member of her team who was not engaged. While my client was an internal promotion, she was promoted from an entirely different part of the organization. Within her new team, there was a team member who felt they should have been promoted instead. Rather than support the new leader, the team member actively worked against the new leader and withheld information, looked for flaws in the leader, and reminded everyone on the team that she would have been a better choice. 

The leader wanted to retain this team member as they had been very successful in the past, however, their past success became irrelevant in the face of their current behaviors. When the leader made the difficult decision to remove that member from the team, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. My client learned the lesson that one “star performer” may be casting a long shadow over an entire team with untapped potential. 

If you are a new leader or if you are hiring a new leader, engaging a coach can set them up for more success with a significantly faster learning curve. According to our clients, transition coaching has the highest ROI of all leadership development activities. To see how transition coaching could benefit your organization, contact me today.