6 Ways to Ensure a Smooth Leadership Transition [Free Expert Guide]

  • January 22, 2016

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If you are a “next level” leader who is rising up into a role with higher levels of leadership responsibility, you must adopt new ways of thinking and acting, and more important, let go of old ways. Here are some tips for your transitional leadership journey.


It is more than a cliché when Marshall Goldsmith coined the phrase and bestselling book, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”  Yet that is too often the mindset people have because in many ways, being given the opportunity to rise up is largely due to your prior success.  But past success just isn’t enough as you can see in some of the struggles associated with role transitions.


Another problem lies with the way many bosses of transitioning leaders operate.  Unfortunately, “sink or swim” unmanaged role transitions are still the norm in most businesses today.  This means too many transitioning leaders are experiencing high stress, career and reputation risk, slower progress, damaged relationships and a lot less enjoyment by not following a structured leadership transition process.  They are missing out on a surge of valuable learning and increasing the likelihood their transition may be marred by the fallout of highly public trial-and-error learning and lost productivity.

My first coaching client almost 20 years ago was an executive who asked me to help him navigate his transition to becoming the first non-family President of a commercial building company.  He had been through many leadership role changes in his successful career.  He learned the hard way, through trial and error, that the chances of his success would increase with a more planned approach.  We tackled sensitive issues with family dynamics among Board members, conducted team building sessions, developed communications to clarify a new vision and company direction, and established ways to monitor his progress that helped him make course corrections.  At the end of the year, the Board gave the new President high marks for making some important improvements and advancing the growth and profitability of the company. He enjoyed a successful reign as President for many years thereafter.

Since then, I have coached hundreds of leaders to succeed in their transitions, each with their own unique challenges. Over time, I saw patterns that differentiated successful transitions from those where leaders succumbed to common pitfalls and minefields.  This inspired me to develop a wide assortment of tools and a consistent set of practices that have set leaders up for success, and mitigated failure in their new roles.


  1. Rethink what defines success at your new level
  2. Influence action through clear and compelling communication
  3. Stretch your leadership skills to match your new level of authority
  4. Evaluate your progress through quality feedback
  5. Unleash the potential of your team
  6. Prioritize and manage what you can pay attention to and therefore what you can accomplish

Don’t succumb to sink or swim, go-it-alone transitions.  If you are sponsoring a transitioning leader, or are rising to a new leadership role yourself, I invite you to download this free self-coaching expert guide to step you through building a strategy for activating these 6 transition accelerators.


  • Reflect: Read through the guide and prioritize the sections that are most relevant to where you are in your transition.  Many of the tools are designed to anticipate what you will want to do in advance, but if you are already in the first 6 months of a transition, you may find the tools useful to benchmark what you have not yet attended to.
  • Prioritize and Plan: After reviewing the guide, select the most critical topic pertinent to your transition and complete the plan suggested by the tool. Repeat this process until you have tackled each of the 6 practices.
  • Monitor: Schedule 30 minutes at the start and end of each week to continue to update your plans and monitor your progress.  Review all 6 categories of transition strategy to prompt you to attend to each one.  Most of the themes are occurring at some point within a week.
  • Partner: Initiate ongoing discussions with your boss focused on a particular facet of your transition. Several of the tools in the guide have been used with bosses very effectively.  For topics you don’t feel comfortable processing with your boss, you can use to talk over with a coach, HR business partner, or mentor.
  • Document: You will increase the value of using this guide when you record your reflections and responses to the activities either in a journal or directly in the guide. This supports your learning and ongoing monitoring.  Be sure to capture your own best practices.  Chances are also good you will transition to a new role in the future.  Might as well build your own playbook for repeating your success or learn from any failures.

 Are you ready for a smooth leadership transition? Tell us below!

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