, Singapore

Towards a successful leadership transition

By Prof Sattar Bawany

Promotions, no matter how fantastic they sound, can pose a serious challenge. Just ask leadership transition expert Michael D. Watkins. This former Harvard Business School professor, who now chairs Genesis Advisers, previously wrote the renowned transition guide The First 90 Days. In his newest book, he chronicles the obstacles that fresh-off-the-promotion leaders face.

Your Next Move: The Leader’s Guide to Successfully Navigating Major Career Transitions explores how to effectively navigate eight common types of promotions. The types of promotions in the book cover common challenges that leaders face, from leading former peers to politicking correctly in your new position.

It is imperative that leaders determine how they need to adjust their leadership behaviors and style to navigate the changes surrounding them. This task sounds easy, but it is often very difficult.

Challenges for leaders in transition

The biggest trap new leaders fall into is to believe they will continue to be successful by doing what has made them successful in the past. There is an old saying, "To a person who has a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

New leaders should focus first on discovering what it will take to be successful in the new role, then discipline themselves to do the things that don't come naturally if the situation demands it. New leaders are expected to “hit the ground running.” They must produce results quickly while simultaneously assimilating into the organisation.

The result is that a large number of newly recruited or promoted managers fail within the first year of starting new jobs. They fail due either not fitting into the culture; unclear about their bosses’ expectations; lack savvy about internal politics as well as no process to assimilate executives into the firm.

Towards a successful leadership transition

In a research published by the author published the book Coaching in Asia – The First Decade, there are three success strategies where leaders in transition could adopt:

Alignment with strategic direction: Individual expectations of the leader as well as the functions must be aligned with organization goals and strategic direction; more importantly, there must be dialogue to create alignment.

Expanding leadership competence: The organization must have absolute clarity on requirements and expectations of the various stakeholders on the leaders, including the articulating the crucial emotional intelligence competencies and leadership capabilities best suited for the role. The Leaders need to develop their own leadership expertise including learning to build an effective leadership team, to manage the performance of others and to effectively delegate and develop others (hence they need to possess managerial coaching skills)

Expanding organization competence: Leaders have to understand the business processes that create economic value for the organization. Higher levels of leadership have to understand when and how to redesign these processes to accomplish the strategy as well as understand the capabilities needed to operate these processes.

The critical transitional skills for leaders in transition include having emotional intelligence competencies in effective relationship management, cross-cultural communication, effective negotiation and conflict management.

The reality for leaders in transition is that relationships are great sources of leverage. By building credibility with influential players, you are better able to gain agreement on goals, and commitment to achieving those goals.

In the leader’s new situation, relationship management skills are critical as they aren’t the only one going through a transition. To varying degrees, many different people, both inside and outside the leader’s direct line of command, are affected by the way he or she handles his or her new role. Put another way, leaders negotiate their way to success in their new roles.

Coaching leaders in transition

Executive Coaching for leaders in transition helps that new leader rapidly gain a strong understanding of the company’s strategic focus and corporate culture, and the ability to immediately offer positive economic value to the company. The process prevents mistakes that can lead to failure and harm the business.

How does Executive Coaching works in this context? It’s a process, a plan, and a roadmap that offers the new leader the ability to navigate his or her way through the challenges of the transition.

It defines critical actions that must happen during the first 90 days to establish credibility, secure early wins and position that leader and team for long-term success. It arms them with the ability to adapt their own styles to the infrastructure of people and strategies already in place.

Having in place the framework and strategies to effectively transition new executives – whether first entering the organization or moving from another position within the company – is critical to the success of the organisation. But an Executive Coach is engaged, it can be assured that the newly appointed leader will be provided with the tools he or she needs to take over the responsibilities and challenges of the new position.


Successfully assuming a new leadership role is almost never easy. It is more often challenging and daunting—regardless of the amount of experience a leader may have.

Leaders in transition must identify the right goals, develop a supporting strategy, align the architecture of the organization, and figure out what projects to pursue to secure early wins.

Leaders at all levels of the organization must demonstrate a high degree of emotional intelligence in their leadership role. Emotionally intelligent leaders create an environment of positive morale and higher productivity and this would result in sustainable employee engagement.

By incorporating Executive Coaching as part of the development of the new leader, an organization makes a bold statement to its employees, customers and competition.

The organization’s decision to accelerate the transition of new leaders with a proven integrated and systematic approach will not only drive improved business results but also allow the company to meet customer needs and win competitive challenges in the marketplace.

Prof Sattar Bawany, Managing Director & Master Executive Coach of Executive Development Associates (EDA) Asia Pacific, Senior Advisor of IPMA and Adjunct Professor of Strategy of PGSM. He can be contacted at www.ipma.com.sg and www.facebook.com/ipma.singapore

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