While interacting with people at various levels of organizations, I’m often surprised by the lack of support for fundamental leadership transitions in organizations.  Unfortunately, the pain is often not just felt by the individual who is going through the transition but also her/his team members, colleagues and the business overall.  There have been many studies and perspectives on this topic but this still seems to be missing sufficient attention and systematic approach in many organizations.

Leadership transitions can happen at multiple levels, including personal and organizational.  My focus here is on the organizational transition aspect.    McKinsey research shows that 40 percent of new executive transitions are declared failures after 18 months.  According to them, 68 percent of transition failures happen because of the information new executives use, the sequence they follow, and the manner in which they engage – or fail to engage – those around them.  According to CEB, direct reports of successfully transitioning leaders are 15% more effective at their own jobs than the average, and 21% less prone to attrition.  More than 70% of executives are not effective at supporting new-to-role peers and managers.

From personal experiences and observations, these are complex environments with changes for everyone involved and may lead to multiple issues quickly.  The social and emotional context have to addressed very early.  Clarity needs to be built through active dialogue.  If not, trust and performance could erode quickly.

One could also look at these organizational leadership transitions from multiple perspectives.  We’ll look at two interesting ones from different angles.

Stephen Drotter and Ram Charan developed a six passage model called Leadership Pipeline.  According to them, these six turns or passages are major events in the life of a leader.  They are:
1. Managing Self to Managing Others
2. Managing Others to Managing Managers
3. Managing Managers to Managing A Function
4. Functional Manager to Business Manager (responsible for bottom line)
5. Business Manager to Group Manager (multiple businesses)
6. Group Manager to Enterprise Manager 

Prof. Michael Watkins shares seven transitions that good leaders must make while moving from a functional leader to a general manager:
1. Specialist to Generalist
2. Analyst to Integrator
3. Tactician to Strategist
4. Bricklayer to Architect
5. Problem-solver to Agenda-setter.
6. Warrior to Diplomat.
7. Supporting cast to Lead role.
According to him, leaders fail in such transitions  because they don’t go back into a learning mode.

Irrespective of whether you see all these transitions relevant to your organizational context, it is important to recognize and build your necessary organizational support and development system.  In my view, there seems to be at least two transitions that you absolutely cannot afford to miss or ignore, in any organizational size or context:
1. Transition from Individual contributor to Managing others, and
2. Transition from an Individual manager to Managing multiple managers

Leaders and HR teams have to be very aware of these topics and act proactively to provide adequate support in terms of processes, practices and development programs.  Ideally, an organizational system (even a simple one) that supports leadership transitions across the board should be in place.  Successful or unsuccessful leadership transitions will have huge impact on your employees and your organization’s success.  At an individual level, you could also reflect on the ‘passage’ you are in currently, the actions most needed to ensure successful progress and also start building for the future.  Best wishes…

References/Suggested Additional Reading:
2. SEVEN TRANSITIONS GOOD LEADERS MUST MAKE, Professor Michael D. Watkins, June 2012
3. Changing Jobs?, Tojo Eapen, February 2010
4. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (Book), Marshall Goldsmith.  
The 20 Bad Habits.


“In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be, by remaining what we are.” – Max DePree, Leadership Is An Art