The Importance of Leader Transitions

By: Josh

Fulfilling the responsibilities of “leader” is in fact not one singular role with a set, unchanging job description.  Instead, it is a complex web of many roles that we fill over time – even within the short span of a day.

Leaders must be many things, to many different people, at many different times. Often, we must serve in multiple roles, sometimes simultaneously. 

Think of an executive leader, a senior manager, or even a mid-level manager and all the scenarios they find themselves in within a single day:

Our manager may start the day overseeing a meeting where a project team is not delivering on time or to standard, leading her to have to give some hard feedback and clear expectations for the future.

Then she might interview a handful of potential hires, having to discern applicant intentions, while still representing the company in a positive light to the potential employee.

She could then be celebrating a direct report’s birthday during lunch with the team.

Her post-lunch meeting leads to a huge success where she lands a big-time client, creating a huge win for the company.

But after that, she has a performance review with another direct report where she must let him know that the company is cutting his department’s financial resources considerably for the rest of the fiscal year.

Finally, our manager heads home to learn her son made the school’s varsity team, but her daughter failed a major test in one of her classes. She must manage celebrating her son simultaneously with having to console and support her daughter.

Simply considering these possibilities can be exhausting. She must navigate the roller coaster of emotions and interchange her leadership hats consistently – both at work and home – and return the next day maintaining her optimism, energy, and personal example.

But this isn’t abnormal. Many of us experience a similar sine wave of responsibilities, challenges, and emotions each day. As leaders, we easily find ourselves feeling like a counselor, mentor, confidant, life coach, financial advisor, parent (to other adults…?), sounding board, etc. – the list can go on and on.

In being many different things, even within a single day, leaders must deliberately manage their transitions. How we transition from one situation to the next over the course of a day or week is important. We cannot bring the baggage of a previous situation to the next. We cannot remain excited after a successful client meeting minutes ago as we head into a one-on-one meeting with a direct report where we have to deliver some hard, constructive feedback. Being unable regulate our emotions and behaviors from situation to situation can lead us to come off as aloof, insensitive, or even worse, uncaring.

Leaders ought to think about their transitions over the course of a day and how they are deliberately making those to be present, authentic, invested, and connected with others in every situation.

Of course, there is no right or best way to manage your transition. We are all unique in our behaviors, personalities, and preferences. But I offer a few short, broadly applicable considerations as you explore how you intend to manage your transitions each day.

  • It’s not about you. Remember that the events you engage in are all important to other people for many reasons, reasons you may not even see. We should focus on figuring out how we can add the most value to each situation and person. How should I adapt to each different moment to be present, to serve and support, all while remaining authentic as a leader?
  • Conduct a “micro reflection.” I am not a fan of scheduling back-to-back meetings or events. Allowing me the time and space to transition from one event to the next is one of the main reasons why, even if that transition is a short 10 or 15-minutes. This creates a small, intentional window to allow me to process, reflect on, and make sense of the previous situation, which enables me to transition more purposefully to what’s next. Even taking a few minutes to just think through 1) “what?” (what happen or came of the previous event); 2) “so what?” (why does it matter), and 3) “now what?” can be huge to let you clarify what happened, making you ready for what comes next.
  • Make a deliberate mental shift. Following my “micro reflection,” I take a few minutes to think through what is occurring next. What is happening next and with whom? What do they need from me or who do they need me to be in this moment? What is the background context of what’s happening? How do I need to behave and lead in this scenario? Even just a few simple questions like this allow you to frame the situation and how you are going to shape and add value to it. Personally, I like to jot these notes on a scratch piece of paper to help me clarify and organize my thoughts, allowing me to apply them better. This is a great tool to use in your morning calendar review. When looking at your day, you can make notes – mental or physical – about what your priorities are, how you believe you will be received and what special circumstances revolve in each encounter you anticipate during your day.
  • Recognize the personal daily toll. Managing these many situations in a day, your emotions and behaviors within each one, and making the major transitions from one to the next can exact a measurable toll on our personal resilience. Who is pouring into your cup to help you navigate all these? How? What must you do to remain resilient, authentic, present, and available to others through your leader transitions? We can’t pour from an empty cup.

We have all been making transitions as leaders for much longer than we realize. I hope this argument has led you to recognize the significance of our transitions and compels you to be more intentional in how you manage them from now on. Our people deserve our best; we must be purposeful in being able to provide it in every moment, no matter what is happening now and what occurred before it.

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