If you are about to move into a new leadership position, research suggests more needs to be done to make your transition a success. A paper by McKinsey describes how two years after a leadership transition, anywhere between 27 and 46 percent of those transitions are considered to be failures or disappointments. There are multiple contributing factors to this, but many leaders have reported that they feel they’re not given adequate support when they start, with several commenting that they have been left to self-manage their transition. In contrast, according to one study, when leaders transition successfully into a new role, 9 out of 10 will go on to meet their three-year performance goals.
As an executive coach, I believe a leader’s ability to positively engage and influence others are key to a successful transition – with research indicating that poor interpersonal skills are the number one reason why leaders fail to meet the performance expectations of their new role. When you consider the direct and indirect costs of a failed leadership transition, organisations need to do more to support leaders – and this process begins with developing a leader’s interpersonal effectiveness. Although, if you are a leader about to step into your first leadership role and you are being left to self-manage your transition, here are four questions to get you started.
- What are your leadership priorities?
When starting in a new role, it’s natural to want to make a good first impression. In doing so, you will become more conscious of how you interact with others. This is the behaviour of an intentional leader, someone who is more deliberate and purposeful in how they go about leading others, rather than simply being focused on what they want to achieve. One way to develop this intentionality during a leadership transition is to reflect on the goals of your new position and the leadership practices you will prioritise to deliver results. To illustrate: if, as a leader, you believe in the importance of autonomy, you will need to think about the actions that align with this leadership priority – for example, by empowering your team to solve problems and being clear on what decisions they can make independently. Although, in making this a leadership priority, you should be mindful of remaining committed to this approach even in the moments when you feel under pressure to deliver results.
- What behaviours might get in the way?
Starting a new job is a stressful life event. Taking on a new leadership role also brings ambiguities as you get to know your new team and stakeholders, and as you explore what needs to change. This is a challenging period where increased uncertainty will require that you better self-regulate your emotions. This self-regulation comes with greater awareness of the emotional triggers that negatively impact your behaviour. Intentional leaders are practiced at self-regulation by identifying how their own disruptive thinking impacts their performance, and in doing so, they develop proactive strategies to support more effective leadership behaviours. It is this process of self-regulation that will help develop your resilience and ability to positively influence others in periods of uncertainty and organisational change.
- What will you do to empower your new team?
When you transition into a new leadership position it may not feel like the time to show vulnerabilities. Yet I believe that it is possibly the most important moment if you want to benefit from the collective wisdom of your new team. It will be a time when your new team have a heightened need for safety, concerned with managing their reputations with the new boss. To get the most out of a team, intentional leaders show their own fallibility and they signal that people don’t need to feel the pressure to have all the answers. As a leader, you will need to work extra hard to create an environment where people feel secure enough to ask questions rather than be overly concerned with self-protection. As you get to know your new team and importantly, as they get to know you, your ability to mine for different perspectives will enhance the creativity, problem-solving and decision-making that will support you in a successful leadership transition.
- What will be your approach to facilitate change?
When you start in a new role, you may feel the pressure to jump into what needs to change and discount what was achieved in the past. Although in doing so, you may alienate those in the team who are still committed to the ways of working, and the milestones they achieved, that form part of the culture of the team. Instead, a more intentional leader will begin by taking time to connect with each team member to learn about their values, strengths, and what motivates each of them. It is this relational focus that will help you create a genuine dialogue, to lead the team through organisational change. Leaders who are successful in periods of transition are those who partner with their team to develop a shared vision and plans for the future that builds on past successes. A process that takes people on a journey, where you are patient with members of your team who might resist change, seeing it as an opportunity for you to learn from these different perspectives.
In closing, when making a leadership transition, take the time to reflect on how you might improve your interpersonal effectiveness – because for you to be successful in your transition you first need to inspire, influence and engage your team as they move through their own leadership transition. Furthermore, the leaders who are more intentional in their approach will bring greater authenticity, clarity and focus to their leadership – helping to set them up for greater success.