Leading through transition

The only thing that ever stays the same in our working lives - and indeed our lives beyond work - is the fact that everything changes.  Organisations change their perspectives in response to prevailing conditions (political, economic, social, technical, financial and global).  Takeovers, mergers and acquisitions, relocations, downsizings and expansions bring new working conditions and shifts in organisational culture, both explicit and implicit, both designed and accidental.  Executives' personal situations change as careers and career development evolve, relationships develop, partners' careers refocus, and children grow and seek - and find - their own directions.

Change is what happens externally.  Transition is how the individual, the team, the department or the organisation experience that change and how they convert it into actions, behaviour, thinking and  emotions.  Stress is such a response - the 'choice' made by the individual in the face of one more demand, one more difficult conversation, one more instance of not feeling quite good enough, one more drop in a bucket that's about to overflow.  Albeit unconsciously, the individual chooses how to deal with what they experience as 'too much'.

Individuals’ responses benefit from being well managed.

It’s appropriate to look at managing transition through at least two lenses.  The first is at the level of the individual.  There is always room, not to mention necessity, for a leader to build their effectiveness through raising their self-awareness and self-understanding. This means deepening and broadening their awareness of the effect of transition on them. What happens to their energy: does the experience of change energise them or deplete them?  Do they engage in frenetic activity or do they have trouble finding the motivation to address what needs to be done? How does their communication style change – or not?  

If their natural style is extroverted do they find themselves talking more and to more people, and if it’s introverted do they retreat into their own heads? How effective are they at listening to others around them (who are very likely also experiencing change)?  What happens to their capacity to empathise (and remember that empathy is one of the prime qualities that defines an outstanding leader)? Are they able to maintain – and reinforce – their levels of confidence?  What’s their perception of the psychological contract – of the unspoken deal between themselves and their organisations and the expectations that  each side has of the other?

The second is at the level of the system – the web of relationships and influences that each leader operates within, the impacts that they create and the impacts that they experience. What and who might they be unconsciously loyal to, perhaps reaching far back into deeply-rooted influences on their careers and long-standing messages about what is required of them? Where do they perceive their place to be in their new world – and are they struggling to find and settle in that place? How are they going to manage their relationship to the real or actual new hierarchy they find themselves in?  What needs to be acknowledged, albeit that that acknowledgment might confront them with some uncomfortable truths?

The picture is complex.  But unless the leader begins to tease out, surface and clarify at least some of this complexity, the transition will be in charge of them, rather than them being in charge of the transition.  Leading others through transition means above all a capacity to be aware of what is, and what could be, the optimal management of relationships so that a high level of trust (and thus a high level of engagement) is created, the ability to conceptualise and convey a clear and inspiring vision, and the humility and adaptability to flex it while remaining true to the strategic purpose.


t:+44 (0)208 346 3448
e: brendan@smooth-transition.co.uk
e: lindsay@smooth-transition.co.uk