How to get the most out of transition coaching

Insight shared by:

Kiddy & Partners

Leadership transitions are more common and important than ever. Just ask Dominic Cummings and maybe Matt Hancock!

Every leadership transition creates uncertainty. Will the new leader uncover and seize opportunities and assemble the right team?  Will the changes be sustainable? Will a worthy successor be developed? These questions boil down to one: Will the leader be successful?

Hardly anything that happens at a company is more important than a senior leadership transition. By the nature of the role, a new senior leader’s action or inaction will significantly influence the course of the business, for better or for worse. Yet despite these high stakes, leaders are typically underprepared for – and under-supported during – the transition to new roles.

Successful and unsuccessful transactions

In successful transitions there is a:

  • 90% higher likelihood that teams will meet their 3-year performance goals
  • 13% lower attrition risk

Whereas in unsuccessful transitions there is:

  • 20% less engagement
  • 15% lower performance 

According to research from CEB(1)

Staggeringly nearly 50% of transitions fail. It would seem that Marshall Goldsmith’s advice – “What got you here won’t get you there” – is fully applicable to executive transitions(2). Despite this compelling statistic only around a third of global leaders(1) feel that their organisations appropriately support new leaders. As CEB puts it, “most organisations approach new leadership transitions in the same way many organisations approach mergers and acquisitions: as one-off events.  The typical unsystematic ‘hands-off’ transition approach relies heavily on new leaders to self-manage their transitions. However, most leaders experience only a handful of transitions … so for them, each transition remains more art than science.”(1)

It is important though to beware of generic answers because every leader’s starting point is different. For some, the starting role is to maintain and improve steadily what they inherited. For others, transformational change in all the dimensions is necessary. Still others face a mix of requirements.

What can you do to ensure that your transition is successful? 

Leadership coaching can contribute hugely to an effective transition. Having a coach by your side makes this journey stress-free and satisfying. Through meaningful conversations that use skilful questioning, your coach can be the catalyst, providing a framework which will enable individuals to reduce the time to takes to get on top of the job and reach a ‘breakeven’ point as quickly as possible. The breakeven point is the point at which new leaders have contributed as much value to the organisation as they have consumed from it. While every situation is unique it is in our experience important to tackle eight core tasks, which are common:

  • Diagnosing the situation
  • Assessing their vulnerabilities
  • Accelerating their learning
  • Working with their new boss(es)
  • Building their team
  • Creating partnerships
  • Achieving alignment with the culture
  • Prioritising to succeed

I would add a ninth which is agreeing how you want your work-life balance to be and how can you build some habits and boundaries in the new hybrid world.

Three underlying cognitive and behavioural mechanisms:

For this coaching to be effective I think it is important to remind ourselves of three underlying cognitive and behavioural mechanisms:

  1. Having a confident and supportive relationship in which to reflect upon and discuss personal and professional issues can relieve stress and anxiety and give individuals the space to consider problems from a range of perspectives. (Myers et al, 1999) (3)
  2. The process of setting personally valued goals and then purposefully working towards achieving them can enhance well-being, build self-efficacy, and help develop solution focused thinking. (Sheldon and Houser-Marko, 2001) (4)
  3. Systematically engaging in such processes along with being supported in dealing with any setbacks can build resilience and enhance self-regulation, both of which are vital factors in successfully dealing with change. (Baumeister, et al 2006) (5)

Transitions are a great opportunity to build a foundation for long-term success, both your own and the organisation’s. Finding the right coach is as important as finding the right organisation and we have written before about how to make sure you provide the right coaching resource to your leaders.


  1. CEB Blogs, “Corporate finance, the cost of poor leadership transitions,” blog entry by Kruti Bharacura and Nitika Dial, October 29, 2013,
  2. Goldsmith, M. (2000). Coaching change. Executive Excellence, 17(6), 4. 
  3. Myers, D. G. (1999). Close relationships and quality of life. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 374–391). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
  4. Sheldon, Kennon M.,Houser-Marko, Linda Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 80(1), Jan 2001, 152-165
  5. Baumeister, R.F., Gailliot, M., DeWall, C.N., & Oaten, M. (2006). Self- regulation and personality: How interventions increase regulatory success, and how depletion moderates the effects of traits on behaviour. Journal of Personality, 74, 1773–1801. 

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