Navigating the Transition to Enterprise Leadership

Compass 1340917-639x615As an executive coach, I have the benefit of working with a wide array of client companies. While they vary in industry, size, “life cycle,” domestic or international reach, and culture, one thread seems to remain constant: Promotion to the top dog position of a major segment in the enterprise (or the total organization) is often a clunky, disconcerting, confidence building-and-breaking adjustment.

I see it with considerable consistency … a strong executive is promoted to run the facility, the region or the global function or perhaps even becomes CEO … and then something goes awry.

It may look like:

Familiarity is Safety – An executive can’t let go of her prior function and meddles with her successor’s strategy, planning and people, often overriding her successor’s decisions and neglecting her new responsibilities.

Fragmented Focus – Overwhelmed with the scope and complexity of the role, the leader fails to make clear strategic choices and avoids prioritizing and decision-making. Often, this leader plays it safe by tweaking the status quo or diving into the crisis of the moment. Ultimately, he accomplishes little and diminishes his impact.

Endlessly On-Boarding – The transition period drags on indefinitely with the executive clinging to the safety of “learning, exposure and data collection mode,” rather than setting a vision and strategy and leading the way forward.

Ego Takes Control – Believing that his own perspective and decisions are better than anyone else’s (hence the promotion to senior leadership) he exerts his will over every decision and every manager – unraveling relationships and slowing the organization to a crawl as people become anxious and fearful of taking action that’s counter to the new leader’s opinion.

What we’re left with is a big question mark around whether or not the right candidate was selected for the role. Even worse, we may see the disengagement or turnover of other key executives as they become exasperated with the new leader’s style.

Each situation is unique, so there isn’t a magic bullet, one-size-fits-all solution. In my experience, however, these scenarios can be avoided with the right advance game plan, and with the commitment and involvement of a few key stakeholders, such as the Board of Directors or the executive leadership team.

Pre-transition coaching can be invaluable to a new leader.  We begin by exploring their existing style against the backdrop of the company’s current environment, organizational culture, and strategic direction. From there, we map out an approach to leverage the leader’s capabilities, proactively manage blind spots and gaps, and step into the role with a clear game plan for authentic leadership in an increasingly complex role and environment.

Once in the role, the coaching focus is on examining the results the leader is producing in the first 3-6 months. That creates space for intentionally course correcting where needed and engaging other key stakeholders for feedback to shape the leader’s focus, development and execution.

It’s usually a mistake to assume that once a person ascends to a top leadership role, they’ve hit the pinnacle of effectiveness and it’ll be smooth sailing from there. The context has changed drastically and, quite often, the leader needs more support – not less – to be successful.

If your organization is contemplating significant leadership changes at the top, let’s talk. Together, we can build a transition approach that increases the likelihood of the leader’s success and brings confidence and stability to the organization.

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