Understanding Your Journey Through (Leadership) Transition

“Congratulations, you’re hired!” (or promoted) is an exciting comment to hear. It’s also been shown to be an extremely stressful comment and event. “Am I ready?” “What if I fail?” “Where do I start?” All of these may tax your confidence and cause angst. And understandably so. There is a lot of research about leaders failing to transition into an organization and/or up into a new role. 

It is important to understand you are on a journey through transition. That journey is represented in the transition curve (below), and your self-awareness of your individual journey will support your transition. Similarly, all those around you are on their own transition curve in response to you and the change you’re bringing to their roles. Knowing the transition curve and managing yourself during the journey will help you stay on track. Helping others—your team or those close to you outside of work—understand the transition curve will empower them as they experience and undergo transition themselves. 

Uninformed Optimism—The period when you are excited about the new role but don’t know what you don’t know about the situation. This is often called the “honeymoon” period.  

Informed Pessimism—The process of understanding and assessing the environment increases your awareness of both the good and the bad of the situation. At your lowest point, you are keenly aware of the issues but not clear on the path to resolution. 

Informed Optimism—Begins when you have plans to resolve known issues and begin to feel capable of handling any unknown issues.  

Derailment—Occurs when you disengage from the process of resolving the known issues and you lose hope that you can make it better.  

Completion—Occurs when you have mastered the known issues and are confident that you can handle unknown issues as they arise. 

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Things to know about your journey through transition:  

  1. Everyone is somewhere on this transition curve during your transition. This includes you, your team members, your boss, your stakeholders, and perhaps even those you are close to outside of work, if they are impacted by your transition.  
  1. Where you or they are on this curve can change moment by moment, even during a conversation.  
  1. How you manage yourself and support others, as you all ride the transition curve, will determine the speed and quality of trust that grows between you.  
  1. Not all movement on the curve is in one direction—sometimes you (or they) will move backward as you adjust. Be patient with yourself and others.  
  1. The divergence between derailment and completion is best cured by connection—reaching out and talking with someone you trust about the difficulties and challenges, and asking for help if needed. This is the most effective way to address derailment when you notice it in yourself or in others.  
  1. Leading yourself and others through transition can be complex. Recognizing you’re all on the same journey and sharing where you and others fall on that curve can accelerate your transition.  

To heighten your self-awareness further, reflect on the following questions:  

  • Where am I today on this transition curve?  
  • Where is my team on the curve? My boss? My stakeholders? Those close to me outside of work?  
  • Would it be helpful to share this transition model with them?  
  • How well do I navigate change and uncertainty? How can I minimize the uncertainty for others?  
  • How can I demonstrate curiosity, resilience, and approachability in the midst of my transition journey? 

Be intentional about your transition. The most successful leaders create a 90-day plan. Create your plan, address the elements showing the greatest risk to your success, and lean into those that show the greatest promise.