IN TODAY’S challenging economy and hyper-competitive business environment, chief executive officers (CEOs) and senior executive teams are facing enormous challenges when it comes to achieving and sustaining breakthrough operating results.

The intensifying war for talent, globalisation, economic change, more stringent regulations and tougher governance make realising shareholder value increasingly difficult.

But one of the toughest challenges is identifying and developing new leaders — critical for the sustainable competitive advantage of the organisation and its eventual success.

Talent management and retention is perennially at the top of a CEO’s most pressing worries. A company’s leadership pipeline is expected to deliver its “next generation” of ready-now leaders.

The key to ensuring an organisation has the leaders it needs when it needs them is to accelerate the performance of future leaders, including high-potential employees, so that their skills and leadership abilities are as strong as possible when they are needed, particularly as leaders transition from role to role.

The payoff is a supply of leadership talent that simultaneously achieves targets, bolsters and protects ethical reputation, and navigates transformational change in pursuit of a bright competitive future.

Unfortunately, some organisations’ boards and CEOs neglect their talent management accountability. Consequently, their pipelines run dry.

When this occurs, the downward spiral of competitive capability becomes discernable, the edge is lost, and the “magic” disappears. The competition begins to outwit, outflank and outperform these companies.


The current realities

Interestingly, in a Wall Street Journal article published in 2007, Douglas Ready and Jay Conger reported that the vast majority (97 per cent) of surveyed companies do have a formalised succession management process.

Yet, only 3 per cent of these surveyed companies reported satisfaction with their leadership pipeline — the quality and readiness of leadership talent was not adequate.

To address this, organisations can move their leaders through positions of responsibility and challenge to develop talent and ensure capability for the future.  

These transitions are known as “role to role” transitions, in which a leader who is successfully performing in one role takes on another role with different responsibilities.

Actions taken in the first few months of a leadership transition directly impact a leader’s chances of success. Transitions can be times of both great opportunity and great risk.

Transitioning leaders often find the eyes of superiors, colleagues, direct reports and even shareholders firmly fixed on their first moves. Expectations are high. 

So what are the secrets of succeeding and thriving in times of role transition, with so much at stake?


Challenges and pitfalls faced by leaders in transition

The specific challenges leaders face depend on the types of transitions they are experiencing.

Leaders who have been hired externally (on-boarding) confront the need to adapt to new business models and organisational cultures, and to build supportive networks of relationships.

For those who have been promoted internally (role-to-role transitions), the challenge lies in understanding and developing the competencies required to be successful at the new level.

Hence, it is essential to carefully diagnose the situation and craft transition strategies accordingly.

The biggest trap new leaders fall into is to believe they will continue to be successful by doing what has made them successful in the past.

There is an old saying that goes: “To a person who has a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

New leaders should focus first on discovering what it will take to be successful in the new role, then discipline themselves to do the things that don’t come naturally if the situation demands it.


Producing results

New leaders are expected to “hit the ground running”. They must produce results quickly while simultaneously assimilating into the organisation.

There is growing evidence that the range of abilities that constitutes what is now commonly known as emotional intelligence plays a key role in determining leadership success in the workplace.


Article by Prof Sattar Bawany, CEO of the Centre for Executive Education (CEE Global), which offers executive development solutions including executive coaching and leadership development programmes. For more information, e-mail or visit