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Executive transitions are high-tension, high-stakes events. They are widespread in big corporations if they’re keen to lead a transformational change within the organization. One great example is the largest public transport operator in Singapore called SMRT. In 2018, the company underwent a major leadership transition as it assigned a new SMRT CEO. Neo Kian Hong, the new SMRT chief executive, emphasized that he will keep employees motivated and ingrained with a sense of mission.

Undergoing leadership transitions can be tricky if there are problems left behind and teams have mixed opinions about it. To ensure a smooth transfer of leadership roles, here are the important lessons from leadership transitioning.

Get ready for the mess

According to McKinsey & Company, nearly half of leadership transitions fail. Studies reveal that 27% to 46% of executive transitions within two years are considered disappointments or failures. Leaders regard company politics as the biggest challenge, while other issues relate to people and culture.

But if you’re lucky, your predecessor might leave behind notable legacies with their powerful and unique contributions to the company. As a result, it’s easy to be comfortable with policies and employees that make up the culture, especially if it has been positive. Still, change must be taken in stride, and expect that ugly messes will likely follow.

Leadership transition is a continuous process. It also involves some ugly parts, such as downsizing, restructuring, and failed rollouts. For the leaders who will step down, make sure to extend your support to the new leader once the ugly part emerges. In turn, the successor should never be afraid of seeking help and accept kindhearted suggestions from your predecessor.

stressed businessman

Recognize the deficiencies

Every leader has their own fears, shortcomings, and mistakes, which all outgoing and oncoming leaders should be clear and transparent about.

Outgoing leaders should inform their successors if the team is behind schedule or if there’s a problem that hasn’t been resolved. More importantly, discuss situations where employees are likely to be demeaning, discounting, or dismissive of others. These behaviors can destroy the organization’s culture and can likely affect outputs and profitability.

Incoming leaders have the right to know all the good and bad things happening within the team. They might even have the expertise and skills to handle the problems you left behind. Remember, unresolved problems within the organization can get even worse over time.

Leadership successors also have their fair share of concerns when undergoing a transition. These may keep them up every night as they prepare for the new role. As you condition yourself for the new chapter, take the time to recognize past mistakes as an employee and a team leader. Do you have technical skills you need to work on? Discuss this with the predecessor to provide tips and guidance to improve that skill. They would be more willing to help you transition to your new role.

Every leader and team has gaps in skills and knowledge because all humans are bound to have shortcomings and make mistakes. The only way to foster a collaborative and game-changing work environment is for leaders to acknowledge the organization’s humanity.

Celebrate new beginnings

Whether you’re getting promoted or stepping down, make sure to celebrate moments where employees treat each other with respect, dignity, and trust. After all, newly-elected leaders bring with them more than just the company goals and team strategies. They also possess the team’s culture and energy.

During a transition, it’s important to celebrate and uphold the valuable aspects of a team’s culture. This includes evidence that the culture is productive, purposeful, and positive. Think about how teams work together that energize their members.

Celebrating leadership transitions isn’t about cliches and generalities; be specific as possible. Before a leader steps down, they can show support to their successors by discussing the unique strengths of the team culture. These include shared values that drive teams towards excellence and the behaviors employees should practice realizing these shared values.

Keep in mind that as the management undergoes transition, business tactics also change. As a result, the competitive edge crumbles and should be redefined. In any company, the only thing that remains constant is the organization’s cultural health. When you assume or step out of a leadership position, sustainability and positivity are the most critical leadership values to reinforce the culture’s resilience.

Leadership transitions are a perfect opportunity for organizations to look beyond them as mere promotions. The consequences can be huge, so it’s important everyone is involved in helping them embrace new insights and tactics to be the leader they want to be while driving the entire organization towards success.


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