Successful Career Transition Change Should Not be Left to Chance

In my article, business benefits of career transition, I wrote about the impact on businesses when newly appointed executives fail (financial and non-financial) and the mean time that it takes for executives to reach the break-even point - the point at which they give back more than they consume (typically 6.2 months).

Continuing on this subject I look more into the ‘why’ and ‘what’ can be done to prevent, or at least minimise, the risks related to ineffective transitions.

Businesses today relentlessly strive for competitive advantage. The only thing that remains constant is change, and with competition and customer demands increasingly growing tougher, organisations cannot afford for newly appointed leaders to derail or jeopardise their business.

Failure has been hypothesised in two ways. The first is that leaders fail because they lack key behaviours or abilities to succeed (Bray & Howard, 1983). The second is that leaders may possess undesirable qualities that cause failure (Hogan & Hogan, 2001). The consequence of which undermines the leader’s ability to gain trust and, importantly, build an effective team, Brent D. Holland and Christina R. Van Landuyt, Hogan Assessment Systems, ‘Individual Differences in Leadership Derailment’.

Unfortunately, it can happen to any leader, experienced as well as inexperienced. As much as 30-50 percent of high potential executives have derailed at some point in their career, Lombardo & Eichinger (1995). The impact to businesses includes stress, loss of momentum and morale, and great losses in customer satisfaction and/or profits.

The appointment of a new executive may have been an excellent fit, both in experience and cultural alignment; yet they may fail to have real leadership impact and, as a consequence, the ability to deliver tangible outcomes. 

The reasons for this can vary, and other internal and external factors would need to be examined, but the predominant causes of leadership derailment are:

  • inability to relate to people in meaningful ways
  • hubris
  • a desire to please
  • fear of failure
  • self-centred ambition
  • making (the wrong) decisions too quickly
  • losing credibility
  • poor long-term strategic assessment

According to the Frank Petrock, ‘Planning the Leadership Transition’, a successful leadership change should not be left to chance. Such a transition must be planned and carefully managed.

Transition coaching is an art and a science, which supports the newly appointed leader through their transition period - to influence a smooth changeover and accelerate the speed at which the executive is delivering the desired outcomes.

Scientific research has acknowledged that there are a number of commonality behaviours which successful leaders possess when going through transition. These include:

  • a clearly defined purpose, with shared values and a vision that is aligned
  • awareness: self-aware, organisationally aware, culturally aware, contextually aware and emotionally aware
  • listening, engagement, observation and willingness to continue learning.
  • ability to gain trust, and build an effective team

There is no one definitive solution to what should be coached; transition is unique to each individual leader. All key factors have to be reviewed, including: finances, key relationships, deadlines, delivery and board activity. ‘The top priorities will depend heavily on the factual situation, organizational culture, varying attitudes towards the most recent chief executive, and the dynamics between the board and Staff.’ John W Corwin: Insights about the Leadership Transition Process.

From evidence-based research, it is clear that transition coaching is a fundamental factor in the successful changeover, for the executive and the organisation.  

Leadership is dynamic and complex, and why transition needs to be managed and coached according to the individual and the environment into which they have been appointed.