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When the sequel isn't as good as the original- Leadership transitions

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

How to avoid a "Taken 3" or "Terminator: Dark fate" situation in your organization

Isn't a disappointing sequel just the worst? With the high expectations that the original sets, it's often commonplace to expect a better movie or at the very least the same level of quality. Yet, sometimes expectations are meant to be underdelivered on.

It can be interesting how we have similar expectations with organizations and how sometimes we find instances where they struggle to provide the next best leader (sequel).

CEB research, informed by data on nearly 30,000 leaders and hundreds of interviews with recently transitioned leaders at large companies, shows that while only 3 percent of transitioning leaders fail outright in their new roles, as many as 46 percent underperform during the course of their transitions. The performance of direct reports of a struggling transitioning leader is 15 percent lower than those who report to a high performing one. And those direct reports are 20 percent more likely to be disengaged or leave the organization.

If the transition succeeds, the leader’s company will probably be successful; nine out of ten teams whose leader had a successful transition go on to meet their three-year performance goals

Source: CEB Blogs. "Corporate finance: The cost of poor leadership transitions"

The problem with sequels

A movie sequel could flop for a myriad of reasons: Trying to do too much, doing too little, removing everything that made the original great, or simply just not being relevant anymore. Often a director may blame the producer for trying to cram in too much or sometimes someone completely new takes over a franchise and just can't fathom what to do.

Organizations are often similar and in times of leadership transition, must facilitate a tailor-made solution for various different types of transitions. Some common situations faced by organizations include:

"I liked the original better"

Ever notice how Evan Almighty is such a different movie to the original Bruce Almighty? Notice how Tim Cook runs Apple much differently than Steve jobs. Both situations correspond to following in the footsteps of an icon. Cook despite a lot of initial speculation has slowly but surely been able to create his own stamp in the history of Apple's long-standing success story.

A better sequel to a disappointing prequel

It's easy to get mixed up in the fast and furious series given its numerous installments but if you remember the wave that original movie created you know the impact it left on the industry. Then it was succeeded by a very mediocre sequel and yet another sequel which did very little to maintain interest. The franchise seemed dead until they did a soft reboot of the series with the original cast and catapulted the series into the success which it enjoyed over the next couple of years. A beautiful example in the business world is Matt Zames stepping into the Chief investment officer role at JP Morgan Chase after a huge trading loss under his predecessor. Maneuvering the situation by forging new relationships while slowly repairing damaged ones is the need of the hour in these situations.

Breath new life into a series

Remember the George Clooney Batman movies? They were panned as some of the best examples of how NOT to make a superhero movie, being totally goofy and not to the tastes of the new generation. Since then DC movies have come with a grittier, more serious approach that saw great success with "The Dark Knight" series and yet today newer fans want something different again, touting recent DC movies as overtly dark especially in light of the critically acclaimed Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Amidst transition in organizations, it is sometimes very important for the incoming leader to quickly divert direction and respond quickly to different economic situations. Patrick Eltridge’s move from Standard Chartered Bank into the chief information officer role at Telstra, responsible for integrating the information technology organizations and make Telstra more customer-centric. Quickly developing organizational IQ and team-wide synergies while leveraging old networks are important to be leveraged during such points in time.

Creating a brand new sub-genre

Starwars as a franchise needs no introduction but one of the largest reasons for its success was in its ability to be able to create a brand new sub-genre within science fiction- "Space Opera" and be able to define expectations related to this newly created ground.

Transitioning into newly created positions can offer similar advantages, the initial level of certainty can be used to shape and create benchmarks for success by the leaders. Benchmarks will be used during transition and in the future.

Okay I know the problem. Now how do I ensure a smooth sequel?

Often times knowing a problem can facilitate a smart solution. One solution that consistently comes up is transitional coaching.

In a nutshell, providing a Transition coach in the short-term which is focused and designed to accelerate and challenge leaders while at the same time helping them acclimatize to their newfound responsibilities has shown to double the success of leaders and yet only 32% of organizations make use of them. The leader and the transition coach work together to develop a transition roadmap that will define critical actions that must take place to set the tone for the forthcoming years of the organization's future.

Coaches can often help contextualize challenges and provide perspectives to our new leaders thus helping to reduce noise in the leader's vision and at the same time help to ensure the leader isn't exhausting his efforts in the wrong avenues.


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