6 Key Challenges for Leaders-in-Transition


As I near the end of my doctorate, it is exciting to be able to start sharing the findings. Here are the 6 key areas of challenges leaders-in-transition faced across my research. These areas of challenge are experienced by both internally promoted leaders and externally recruited ones, during a leadership transition.

Cognitive challenges

The ability to let go of what worked for them before in order to be successful in a new role, requires leaders-in-transition to change their cognitive models. Requirements of previous jobs mould leaders to create certain assumptions and cognitive models. New roles can force them into a new way of thinking. Leaders can struggle to make these cognitive shifts as they often challenge long held beliefs, assumptions and values. Examples of the shifts required include thinking more strategically, managing greater complexity and working across longer time horizons.

Psychological challenges 

Leaders-in-transition commonly experience anxiety, stress, uncertainty, loneliness, isolation and self-doubt. Moving from a place of confidence and performance, to one where they lack the information and understanding to be effective, poses a significant psychological challenge. Leaders-in-transition need to increase their level of self-awareness, emotional intelligence and emotional control to manage the psychological challenges they will face.

Interpersonal skills 

As leadership roles increase in seniority, so do the requirements of strong interpersonal skills. Senior leaders need to be able to influence others, communicate and ‘sell’ their vision, establish trust and build support across multiple stakeholders. Leaders will transition successfully when they can increase their verbal, written, presentation and active listening skills.

Behavioural Challenges

For many leaders to be successful in a new role, new patterns of behaviour must be developed. Some of the behaviours that served them well in the past will not drive the desired outcomes in the new role. Leaders rarely move throughout their career with one set of behaviours Statesman-like is an expression often used by leaders who have managed successful transitions, referring to a deliberate change in behaviour that better represents their new level with the organisation.

Relational Challenges

Leaders-in-transition need to collaborate and align with different people in order to be successful in a new role. They tend to spend more of their time aligning and linking with people in a new role, building new partnerships, appreciating opposing views, dropping old biases and fostering discourse. Some leaders find that they need to align with peers with whom they had previously opposed. For internally promoted leaders the challenge is the change in established relationships due to the new role.

Role Perspective Challenges

Leaders-in-transition need to understand their new role within the context of the organisation and its culture from a systemic perspective. Some leaders need to change the amount of time they spent on different types of work, reducing the time managing tactical aspects, and increasing their time on strategic planning.

*If you or your organisation would be interested in a presentation of my research findings – “An investigation into the inhibitors and promoters of performance in leaders during their transition into a new role” – please email me on twiggins@convergeconsulting.com.au

If this is an area of interest, please feel free to join the discussion at Executive Onboarding & Leadership Transitions

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