A change is an event that occurs regardless of the person’s willingness, whereas a transition is a choice and a psychological process (Bridges 2003).
All leaders are currently going through a significant change, but are your leaders consciously / proactively pushing forward with the transition or are they being dragged along kicking and screaming? Are they themselves, making the necessary changes required to transition through the crisis or are they waiting for things to go back to the way they were, hoping they don’t get ‘caught out’ in the interim?
One of the main failure points we see with role transitions is where the leader undertakes their new role (makes the change) but stays stuck in their old mode of thinking and behaviour (does not make the transition). The leader now holds a more senior position but is still operating at their previous level, unable to let go of what is no longer working and adopt the new skill requirements to be successful at their new level.
Under Covid-19, the leaders that will perform most effectively both during and after the crisis will be the ones who respond to the challenges and transition effectively through the stages they experience.
Bridges (2003) suggested that a transition contains three phases: an ending, a neutral zone and a new beginning. The ending is indicative of the leader discarding old beliefs, assumptions and behaviours in acceptance of the new situation. The neutral zone involves the leader replacing the old beliefs and behaviours with new ones. This is the most challenging of the three stages due to high expectations, anxiety, uncertainty and a lack of definitive outcomes. Once the leader has grasped the new skills and outlook, they enter into the third stage, a new beginning.
In a role transition this three-phase process generally happens once. As a result of Covid-19, I expect that there will be several transitions your leaders will need to undergo. They are in the middle of the first transition, the initial move to remote working and other aspects of our current state. They will then move through another transition back to working in central locations and then onto the ‘new normal’ which may take months to become clear.
In each stage there will be significant change thrust upon them. To succeed they will need to make the adjustments and adopt new skills / perspectives to effectively transition. Or they will find themselves stuck, less effective and underperforming.
Bridges, W 2003, Managing transitions, Perseus Books, New York, NY.