Leadership transitions represent a significant challenge and many leaders-in-transition (LIT) experience considerable distress. Many soon realise a distinct divergence between the realities of their situation and their expectations.
They soon learn that in a new context many of their mastered competencies fail to produce the results achieved in previous roles. Often the leader-in-transition loses hope and struggles to cope with the demands of their new role. They lack a viable Plan B, feel lost, helpless, exposed, vulnerable and fearful that others will see them as frauds or failures. Like ducks on a pond, below the calm facades, new leaders are often in a state of distress and turmoil.
How can you tell if your leader-in-transition is in distress?
Before you assess any leader as being in distress, it is important to understand and differentiate between crazy responses to normal situations and normal responses to crazy situations.
Distressed leaders-in-transition will often narrow their focus to fixing a preferred problem and generally a problem they are confident they can handle. They avoid related critical problems where they have little to no prior experience. They will be easily distracted moving from one apparently urgent issue to another and leaving behind them a list of incomplete tasks.
Distressed leaders-in-transition distance themselves from their co-workers trying to avoid embarrassment or exposure, often withdrawing from the people who can help them. They are likely to attach to new people who may be helpful resources rather than critics.
Distressed leaders-in-transition’s job performance often deteriorates in the short-term and they become unreliable resulting in a loss of stakeholders’ confidence. LIT’s performance is best described by the traditional J-Curve, often starting with a dip representing a reduction in performance before gradually moving upward.
Distressed leaders-in-transition’s will experience a loss of confidence in their problem solving and decision-making processes. They will begin to doubt themselves and their decisions attributing equal importance to everything. LIT should understand that their current situation is a combination of things they did in previous roles and new things with which they have limited experience or are poorly prepared.
Leaders-in-transition need support. HR, senior managers and coaches / mentors can help leaders-in-transition through their challenges by helping them to distinguish between their current state and future state. Awareness of the challenges is the first step for any distressed leaders-in-transition followed by assurance that the challenges are common to many leaders undergoing a role transition.