Leaders in Transition : Progressing Along a Precarious Path

For many of today’s leaders, the corporate ladder is no longer the only way up. The once vertical structure has buckled under the weight of recession and rampant reorganization. Without traditional career trajectories, leaders are stepping off the beaten path and yes, boldly going where few have gone before. 

Progressing Along a Precarious Path Written by: Evan Sinar, Ph.D. and Matt Paese, Ph.D.

For many of today’s leaders, the corporate ladder is no longer the only way up. The once vertical structure has buckled under the weight of recession and rampant reorganization. Without traditional career trajectories, leaders are stepping off the beaten path and yes, boldly going where few have gone before.

FINDINGS AT A GLANCE FINDING 1
Transitions are more complex than ever, and now they are also more frequent and circuitous.

FINDING 2
Transitioning leaders continue to struggle with ambiguity more than any other challenge. FINDING 3
Transitions are not created equal; preparing for each level of leadership requires a unique mix of skills.

FINDING 4
When leaders need coaching and clarity, the last person they ask is their boss.

FINDING 5
More than any other aid, transitioning leaders want more structured development.

FINDING 6
High potentials are unsupported and overestimated in their abilities to figure out the unfamiliar.

FINDING 7
Organizations overestimate the persuasive power of money and overlook the things leaders value most.

FINDING 8
Without choice, quality feedback, and clear expectations, transitioning leaders are more likely

While the pioneer spirit is alive and well, the trailblazing journey is far from a walk in the park.

To capture how current leaders are faring (and feeling)—both off and on the beaten path—we looked anew at transitions. We asked participants to share their biggest challenges, evaluate their preparedness, and examine what they wished they’d known before leaving the familiar for the foreign. They told us who helped them the most (and the least), what skills they needed and when, and what they’d do differently given a second opportunity. We gained keen insights into why one transitioner lands on solid footing, and another misses the mark.

Since our first groundbreaking study seven years ago, Leaders in Transition: Stepping Up, Not Off, much has changed. The pressure on performance has intensified; leaders are required to produce more with a lot less. Organizations are also coping with depleted bench strength. In our highly matrixed business environment, sustainability necessitates a robust supply of ready-and-able leaders. We also see increased fluidity in the workplace. Economic volatility (both up and down) plus expanding globalization equals less people staying put. Of the 618 respondents who had experi- enced a transition at work in the past three years, 64 percent had received one or two promotions. With the merging of markets around the world, transitions have grown in complexity. More leaders than ever before are transferring out of town or across a border. It’s no wonder that 34 percent of our survey participants reported feeling frequently frustrated, anxious, or uncertain.

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