This is Part III of IV. Click here for the previous post.
Once a robust transition process has been designed, slated leaders are being developed for the role as it will be (not for what it is today), and contextual and relational opportunities have been identified and planed for. Yet one big variable remains: Leaders in the process get to come to their own conclusions and ultimately choose how they’ll behave. Leaders are also regular people. And when regular people experience the stress of being personally implicated, as is often the case during transition initiatives, they can wind up coming to illogical conclusions and behave in ineffective ways. Ironically, these people are also usually the ones who are in support of the transition at its inception.
Executive transitions: Patterns we’ve seen surface that frequently undermine redefining these critical relationships
Through the years we have seen these types of relationships be managed poorly. What follows are a few patterns, what to look for, and how to make sure they don’t undermine your transition success. Leaders get squirrely during transitions because there is so much on the line for them personally. Transitioning executives are wrestling (often unknowingly) with their diminishing influence and relevance while the new leader is eager to prove herself (usually in ways that are a stark contrast to the leadership that has been). Similarly, leaders on the team are faced with the need to shift loyalties—from their existing leader to the newly appointed leader. Some will relish the change, some will bemoan it. Left unmanaged these evolving dynamics are a recipe for disaster.
The graphic below highlights the most frequent patterns we see unfold between critical leadership relationships during such transitions. (For a detailed look at the model, see post titled “Managing Evolving Relational Dynamics of Transitioning Executives Part II of IV”) <<<<INSERT LINK TO POST>>>
Pattern 1: Arriving and exiting leaders lack role clarity and duel over decision rights. At the root of this pattern is what we call dueling decision rights. The transition of decision ownership between leaders doesn’t happen overnight and frequently there is confusion or disagreement about who owns what by when. When these specifics aren’t explicitly detailed on the front end, leaders end up spending more time butting heads, decreasing the quality of decisions, and slowing results. Underneath it all are opposing and often unconscious expectations. Don’t let your transitions get tripped up by dueling decision rights.
- Clarify decision rights and leadership boundaries.
- Clarify leadership expectations of and from the new leader.
Pattern 2: Arriving leader wants to prove themselves and differentiate their leadership from past regimes. At the root of this pattern is the fear that I am not going to be good enough or I am not going to fit. We have seen very competent and seasoned executives sabotage their success because they end up working so hard to try and prove a different, better, new outcome to a story that’s only in their head.
- Help arriving leaders surface their underlying beliefs and assumptions about their entry to the role.
- Help arriving leaders plan to manage the triggers that spark unproductive and ineffective behaviors that may arise as they assume their new role.
Pattern 3: Exiting leader struggles to “let go” and leave, and colludes with past significant relationships. It’s hard to let go and move on. And, at the root of this pattern is the exiting leader’s fear of obsolesce. In cases like these their promotion is usually the reward of a job well done and thus they struggle to let go of what they have helped create because they don’t want to risk…(you fill in the blank). Don’t assume that just because a leader has said they’re moving on, that they will actually do so. Behaviors speak louder than words. Collusive behavior between leadership teams and exiting leaders happens all too frequently.
- Create ground rules about comparison of the arriving and exiting leaders; create forums for candid and honest dialogue about struggles and excitement in a “safe” environment.
- Evaluate the team’s current/needed capability against future business requirements and create an objective starting point for the arriving leader to step in to.
Fortunately, these, and others, are all patterns that do not have to repeat themselves. Through thoughtful and intentional planning transitioning leaders can get out in front of these obstacles and create a more productive way forward.
In our next post we’ll drill down even deeper on the arriving leader and articulate how to effectively embed them in their new role and ensure success out of the gate.
Ron Carucci, Managing Partner of Navalent, is a seasoned consultant with more than 25 years of experience working with CEOs and senior executives of organizations ranging from Fortune 50 to start-up in pursuit of transformational change. His consulting has taken him to more than 20 different countries on 4 continents. He has consulted to some of the world’s most influential CEOs and executives on issues ranging from strategy to organization to leadership. You can learn more about Ron and his work at: www.navalent.com/about/team/ron-carucci.
Josh Epperson has spent the last decade at Navalent helping leaders and organizations overcome their most difficult business challenges. He works with a variety of organizations and leaders ranging from community NGOs, privately-owned family businesses, and multi-billion dollar public corporations. Transformation of these leaders and organizations usually includes strategy articulation, organization architecture, leadership capability or a combination therein. You can learn more about Josh and his work at: www.navalent.com/about/team/josh-epperson.