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Managing leadership transitions

Every leadership transition creates uncertainty. Even more so in a remote environment during a global pandemic.

Research shows that having a 90-day plan with 30-day and 60-day milestones along the way increases the chances of the transition to be successful. While these plans are great tools, newly appointed leaders are evaluated from day one by their teams, long before they hit their milestones. New leaders have support from the top, knowing their background and potential. But those reporting to the new leader don’t have the same level of connection and knowledge.

Learning first, acting second

Despite training and experience, 74 percent of new leaders say they are unprepared for the new role, and in 18 months nearly half of them don’t succeed. In many cases, leaders either judge too quickly, making snap decisions or wait interminably to gather more facts, only for the critical moment to slip away. When starting a new leadership role, it can be tempting to start making decisions straight away. But to build trust, it’s important to learn first and act second, and talking to a wide variety of people within the team can help to create an objective evaluation of the status quo, not influenced by one person’s or one group’s interpretation of events.

A recent survey examined what employees would want to hear from a new leader in their first conversation and highlighted two groups – warriors and worriers. Warriors evaluate the leader’s knowledge, experience, and approach, and are keen to understand how the leader will make work-life better. Worriers, on the other hand, are focused on understanding whether the new leadership appointment is a safe investment. While both these groups are focused on different aspects, they both are interested to hear the leader’s story – not just their work history, but also why their new role is the right one at the given time. This narrative allows to form connections but also helps to present the leader’s vision for future success.

Leading people versus managing work

It is influence and inspiration that separate leaders from managers, not power and control. Whilst management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal, leadership is about the individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organisational success. Leaders create value instead of counting value – they lead by enabling others.

One of the most difficult transitions for leaders to make is the shift from doing to leading. Whilst new leaders’ willingness to keep rolling their sleeves up to execute tactical assignments shows commitment, as responsibilities get more complex, the difference between an effective leader and an individual contributor with a leader’s title becomes more evident. Just like many of us confuse being busy with being productive, it’s easy for leaders to see being involved and essential as equal and keep holding on to every aspect of their work. However, leaders need to learn how to be more essential and less involved – and they can do so by learning how to delegate effectively.

New leaders should never assume that their teams will automatically follow their lead just because of their leadership title. Instead, they need to inspire and win their team over. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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