What is the biggest transition for leaders?

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Many of our clients offer “transition” training programs for leaders making a transition from one level to another.

These might typically be offered:

– When the leader takes on people management for the first time
– When the leader moves into middle management and is managing other managers for the first time.
– When the leader steps up to senior executive level.

These are all significant transitions and the idea of equipping leaders with the additional skills they need at the right time is a great one.

However, there is another major transition that can happen surprisingly early in people’s careers that is often not recognised and supported – the transition to leading an international , virtual or matrix team or organizations.

I remember that transition myself. On Friday I was a manufacturing plant manager where all the people in the building worked for me. They were all from the same culture, in the same place and I could connect face to face every day. It was a high control, high touch environment.

On Monday I was responsible for a virtual team spread over 11 countries with few direct reports trying to carve out a new corporate role through influence and relationships. Few of my existing management tools were available to me in this new environment. It was a steep learning curve and, in terms of travel cost and time alone, an expensive one.

Transitioning to leading across distance, cultures, organizational boundaries, time zones and through technology is a major step and often now well supported.

Applying traditional skills face to face may be unsuccessful or too expensive. We need to develop a whole new basket of skills; influence without authority, accountability without control, working across cultures and creating engagement through technology to name a few.

We regularly meet managers whose first role is leading a global matrixed team. They haven’t even learned the basics of managing a face to face team and they are thrown into one of the most complex leadership challenges on earth.

Often the attitude is “good people will sink or swim” the reality is that sink or swim is not a development strategy – it’s an abandonment strategy. It’s not fair to the individual or the organization that has made a major investment in an important role.

How do you support the transition to leading a global, virtual,or matrixed team for the first time?

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