Article: Transitions are tough


Transitions are tough

A what-to-expect-when-you-are-expecting prescription for one of life’s most difficult transitions
Transitions are tough

Transitions are tough.

Be it from a carefree teenager to a young adult , from a single adult to (happily!) married person , from a DINK  couple to being parents or from an individual contributor to a first time leader – transitions are TOUGH.

To give an example of the last kind of transition lets meet the typical employee – Typo. Typo was just lucky to have his parents, in-laws and “What to expect when you are expecting series” guiding him when he was transitioning to be a parent. While he still had to burn the midnight oil changing diapers and be present for that dreaded Monday morning review meeting at 9, he was lucky to have help in transitioning to an experienced parent.

He was however not as lucky in his transition to first time leader. He thought (and still thinks) he is a nice person. He thought he was very caring and people focused and of course he had the best intentions. He had strong feelings about what a leader should and shouldn’t do and continued to work hard and long – just as he did when he was an individual contributor. He made sure his team had a lot of fun – in fact, he was the ‘chief joker’ in a team where the gender balance tipped towards the ladies. His team definitely laughed the most and the loudest among all teams! He encouraged his team to leave early while he himself stretched to deliver on the tough and new assignments. He fiercely defended his team from the ‘top management’ and thought he was doing a great job… until he realized at performance appraisal time that neither were his bosses happy nor his team which was very clear in the employee engagement survey as well!

His team said that he didn’t set priorities (he thought he was empowering them!), didn’t pay attention to their work (he thought he was being hands-off and avoiding micromanagement!)

He took projects away from them without explanation and focused only on his own work (he thought he was helping them balance work and life!). He realized too late that his style had backfired. He had totally goofed up in his transition as a first time leader – and he got no support from his manager or his company in making this transition.

I see lots of shades of my own story in Typo and I have a tingling suspicion that you’ll also relate to this. DDI’s research shows that a transition to a leadership position is among life’s most challenging adjustments, ranking somewhere between personal illness and managing teenagers. In fact, only one in three leaders feel they handle transitional challenges well.

When I recently read “Your first leadership job – how catalyst leaders bring out the best in you” written by our leaders in DDI  , I was thinking – “why wasn’t this book published when I first became a ‘boss’?” This book is a step-by-step “what to expect when you are expecting” kind of guidebook. It’s based on the premise that the real opportunity of leadership is a deeply human one. But precisely because humans are involved, lots of things can go wrong.

As against the popular media image of a stereotypical boss who tends to be a ruthless gangster, “stresscalator”, (or a horrific monster in the world of digital gaming), this book introduces us to the catalyst leader. “Catalyst leaders represent the gold standard – energetic, supportive, forward-thinking mentors who spark action in others. They help people and organizations grow by intentionally pursuing goals that stretch their skills and test their mettle. And, catalyst leaders are opportunity creators—they open doors of opportunity for others“. While most books write about the great and positive stuff, this book goes further to give tips on how avoid and how to recover from a leadership challenge or defeat.

As a leader, more than half of your day is spent in conversations with others. Your ability to connect with them – by making people feel valued, heard, motivated, trusted, and involved – will go a long way towards making you an excellent leader. This book answers a key question for new managers - what is the secret of great interactions? According to the authors “Great leadership takes place every day, in the smallest of ways” and go on to substantiate it with data collected from eight million leadership interactions and hundreds of studies over four and a half decades .They distill their learning for you into what they identify as “interaction skills” as the essential foundation for all conversations and include tips on how to build these skills and make every conversation count.

YFLJ is written like a learning journey. It gives great tools (the book actually links to a website where you can download and use these tools!), step-by-step action plans, and practical advice and reflection points. This gives you a clear path to navigate the below challenges of first time leader transition flawlessly:

1) Shifting mind-set from individual contributor to getting work done through others

2) Earning the right to lead

3) Developing a wider, broader network

4) Translating strategy into action; and

5) Add your own!

This book reflects DDI’s belief that better leadership is far more science than art. Yet, it is based in a deep respect for and understanding of the people side of leadership. The authors not only believe but have proof that people can transform their relationships in work and life by modifying their behavior in simple, clear and measurable ways.

Unlike my dad who is a physician, I hate to be prescriptive … but I’m going to end this piece with a prescription.


If you are a new leader – get and use the advice in Your first leadership job. If you are an HR leader and have completed your transition to first time leadership , read this book anyway to sharpen some of the still-rough edges and if you find it valuable, give this book to all your first time leaders so they can hit the ground running and enjoy the transition to leadership.


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Topics: Leadership, #Blog

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