LEADERSHIP

Die to self to be a successful leader

Effective leadership flows from effectively harnessing yourself; Leading oneself is not trivial

In Summary
  • Moving up the ladder does not necessarily mean one is extraordinarily smart or great at their job or have the perfect traits or habits.
  • While failure in leadership transition can be attributed to lack of preparation for new executive roles, such failure is also in large part due to inadequate support for new leaders.

Have you changed jobs recently or got promoted to a position with significantly more leadership responsibilities? Perhaps this is not your first transition. But I have news for you!

The skills or traits that brought you this far might not keep you in your new position or take you further. As American leadership coach, Marshall Goldsmith put it; “what got you here won’t get you there”.

A study by Matt Paese and Richard S Wellins is both sobering and revelatory. The study revealed that at all levels making leadership transitions is among life’s most difficult personal level challenges, ahead of bereavement, divorce and health issues.

 

It is estimated that between 27 and 46 percent of executive transitions are regarded as failures or disappointments within two years. Transitions into leadership are brutal.

Moving up the ladder does not necessarily mean one is extraordinarily smart or great at their job or have the perfect traits or habits. It is possible that many so-called successful individuals who transition into executive roles have done so despite a repertoire of disabling traits; abrasiveness, inability to listen, playing favourites, arrogance, and even lack of respect or integrity. Moreover, about 83 percent of new leaders feel unprepared for their new roles.

This high rate of failure in leadership transition is unsurprising. Often, the selection process applies rather blunt tools to evaluate suitability for leadership. Candidates at an interview often overstate their contributions to success in previous roles and take credit that truly belong to others. Moreover, enabled by inept selection processes candidates overstate their skills and understate failures.

Leadership transition failure has consequences beyond carnage of executives. Studies show that when leaders struggle through transition, the performance of their direct reports is about 15 percent lower, compared to high-performing leaders. Their direct reports are also 20 percent more likely to disengage or leave the organisation. It is estimated that about 70 percent of executives reorganise their teams within the first two years often at huge cost to the organisation.

While failure in leadership transition can be attributed to lack of preparation for new executive roles, such failure is also in large part due to inadequate support for new leaders.

Studies show that less than 32 percent of leaders feel that their organisations support new leaders. The hands-off approach to transition assumes that new leaders will “hit the ground running” and self-manage their transition. The typical orientation offered by most Human Resource units is woefully inadequate.

Many books have been written about successful leadership transition. But I think the most important success factor is the ability harness oneself. Effective leadership flows from effectively harnessing yourself; a kind of death to self, essentially the transcendence of the self.

 

Leading oneself is not trivial. It is especially difficult when one’s sense of worth and genius has been validated by a consequential leadership appointment. But successful leadership transition demands that leaders lay aside the old self, which is corrupted with disabling traits. Remember, what got you here won’t get you there.