10 Essential Skills for a Successful Transition


Transitions happen all the time.  It is estimated that a person will change jobs on the average of 14 times by the age of 35.  As a former national director of a ministry, our team experienced several transitions in leadership; some were personnel, others were structural.  We change roles in our jobs, or we may even change jobs.  We get promoted.  These all involve transitions.  In an earlier post, “Transitioning is a Skill”, I mentioned the book I am reading by Michael Watkins, called “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels”.  Watkins is clear that transitioning well is a skill that can be developed much like swimming.  You don’t have to drown in a transition.

Watkins elaborates on 10 skills that you can develop or help another leader develop whom you might be coaching through a transition.  If you are leading at any level, chances are you will transition or you will be helping another leader make a transition.  Here are Watkins 10 skills to develop for successful transitions.[i]

  1. Promote yourself.  When I first read this, I thought it was a little self-serving.  But he is not saying that you ‘toot your own horn’.  He saying that a new leader needs to leave behind his old position; then mentally and emotionally promote himself or herself to the new job.
  2. Accelerate your learning.  Elmer, in Cross-Cultural Servanthood captures this point very well:  A new leader must “learn about, learn from and learn with” the people he is serving.[ii]
  3. Match your transition strategy to the situation.  There is no cookie-cutter approach, one size fits all.  Watkins elaborates on his STARS framework in this section.  Some situations are a new start-up; others are Turnarounds while still other situations are a Re-alignment or simply require sustaining the success of the predecessor.
  4. Secure early wins that will build the new leaders credibility and begin to create some positive momentum and energy toward long term goals.
  5. Negotiate success.  This requires upward aligning, as well as building the relationship and trust with your boss.
  6. Achieve alignment.  The higher your position in the organization, the less of the tactical decisions you will make and more you need to become like an organizational architect: getting alignment on strategies and systems.
  7. Build your team.  Collins calls this “getting the right people on the bus”[iii].  I think anything of significance will be accomplished as a team.
  8. Create coalitions.  I call this building strategic alliances.  To accomplish any great task, you not only need alignment from “inside” the organization, but I found it crucial to have “outside” advisors and alliances.
  9. Keep your balance.  I have found this to be true almost always, and especially in transition.  I have experience more balance in my personal and professional life when I have a developed life plan and am living by it.
  10. Watkins last skill is Expedite everyone.  I must realize that as I go through a transition, so do many others in the organization.  I need to think not only of myself, but also about helping my direct reports with their own transition to having a new leader.

I realize these are brief, but I will be blogging more on the specifics of each of these skills in future posts.  I needed them over five years ago when I transitioned to my role as a National Director; and will need them in the future as a transition.  Finally, those around you and me may be going through a transition.  You may be able to save them from drowning in the deep end!

What skills have helped you in times of transition?  Leave a comment here.


[i] Watkins, Michael. (2003). The first 90 days: Critical success strategies for new leaders at all levels.  Boston, MA. Harvard Business School Publishing.

[ii] Elmer, Duane (2006). Cross cultural servanthood: Serving the world in Christ-like humility.  Downers Grove, IL. Intervarsity Press.

[iii] Collins, Jim (2001).  Good to great: Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t.  New York.  HarperCollins Publisher, Inc.

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About Steve Morgan

I work in Global Leadership Development with Cru with my wife, Terry. We have been married 30 years and have 4 grown children. We have a Masters in Global Leadership together through Azusa Pacific University. I generally write about 5 “L’s: Living Well, Loving Deeply, Learning Continuously, Leading Courageously and Leaving a Legacy. I occasionally write about Laughing Loudly. Subscribe on the right side to receive an email whenever there is a new post. I invite you to leave your comments so we can dialogue on the various topics and learn from each other. If you are new to the site, you might start with looking at some of the top posts or doing a search on the right side bar for one of the 5 “L’s” that interest you. Or you can view the blog archives for topics. Photo Credit: sarahjoellephotography.com
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2 Responses to 10 Essential Skills for a Successful Transition

  1. Donna Webster says:

    Great read Steve . . keep posting!

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