Transitional Leadership Times Research Paper

Pages: 8 (2338 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Leadership

Transitional Leadership

Times of leadership transition are among the most stressful periods in an organization's life cycle. It is important to understand the variables that precipitate change, the variables that comprise successful transitional leadership during times of change, and interfering variables that might prevent a successful leadership transition. A review of literature reveals several patterns and core issues with regards to transitional leadership.

First, it is important to identify why transitions are important times, and why transitional leadership is a critical issue worthy of investigation. "Transitions are critical time when small differences in the manager's actions can have disproportionate impact on results," (Applebaum & Valero, 2007, p. 1). The relay race metaphor is commonly used when discussing transitional leadership. "It could be said that succession is similar to a track meet. While the runners' speed is important, the critical factor in success is the handoff of the baton," (Farley, 2012, p. 1). Regardless of the sector, and whether it is private, public, or non-profit, transitional leadership can make or break the organization's future. Transitions are times of great vulnerability for an organization and its management. "Leaders, regardless of their level, are most vulnerable in their first few months in a new position. Failure to create momentum during the first few months virtually guarantees an uphill battle for the rest of the manager's tenure in the job," (Applebaum & Valero, 2007, p. 1).

Most researchers define transition as "movement from one generation or style of leader to another," (Farley, 2012, p.1). Transitional leadership is therefore defined simply as leadership during times of organizational change, crisis, and transition. The traditional leadership is by definition temporary, even though it has a long-term impact on the success of the organization.

In addition to general definitions of transition, more specific definitions of transitional leadership is provided in the literature. Medland (2006) notes that transitional leadership occurs within the context of resolved transactions. When the chief executive leaves, for whatever reason, there are ethical and in many cases legal obligations to ensure shareholder and stakeholder value. These ethical obligations, and legal constraints, lead to the need for transitional leadership. Transitional leadership can therefore be defined differently in different situations and for different organizations. Any leader guiding the organization during the time of change -- regardless of the source of cause of change -- is providing transitional leadership. Serving in the role of transitional leader could occur after the death of a CEO as with Apple's loss of Steve Jobs, or after the resignation of a CEO. Medland (2006) points out the challenges specific to transitional leadership: "executives are often faced with the difficult task of simultaneously ensuring their own job security, defending the interests of their employer and maximizing shareholder value," (p. 1).

Core Variables in Successful Transitional Leadership

Ideally, organizations prepare for crisis and change. Organizations that have in place contingency plans for sudden leadership change are in a better position to "pass the baton" efficiently without any loss of momentum, profit, or productivity. According to Farley (2012), there are two basic approaches to pre-change management. First, managers can create "a defined line of succession where persons in subordinate roles have been groomed to advance." This method can prove effective in some cases. For example, the groomed leader has created bonds with stakeholders, and understands the organizational culture well. There are theoretically fewer internal crises, due to the presumed confidence employees will have in a successor who is expected as the new leader during the time of transition.

Yet in other cases, the newly groomed manager repeats the same mistakes that the old manager had executed during his or her period of leadership. The line of succession precludes stakeholders from offering input during the time of transition, too. Stakeholder and shareholder input can be valuable during the transitional stage. Such input can provide guidance and support services.

The second approach to change management is to recruit a new leader from outside the organization. An external approach is risky, in terms of financial costs as well as organizational integrity costs, but the risk could pay off. A new leader offers "fresh blood" and a way to rethink the organization's key strategies and even its mission, values, and goals. If organizational culture and structure were due for a radical change, then this type of transitional leadership might be called for.

Internal Variables

The internal variables that impinge upon the success of leadership during times of transition include trust, momentum, leader expectations of employees, employee expectations of the leader, leader helpfulness to employees, leader isolation, coaching or mentoring, and organizational culture. Trust is among the most important variables during the transitional leadership stage. "It is essential for increased productivity that the employees show a high level of trust towards their leader but he should not hold high expectations of them," (Pecujlija, Azemovic, Azemovic & Cosic, 2011, p. 251). Trust is closely related to issues such as shareholder confidence. During a time of transition, shareholder confidence is critical for the success of the organization. As Farley (2012) points out, transitional leadership can lead to "shifting confidence" among both employees and shareholders (p. 1).

One of the goals of transitional leadership is to retain momentum, and sometimes even to create momentum. "Failure to create momentum during the first few months virtually guarantees an uphill battle for the rest of the manager's tenure in the job," (Applebaum & Valero, 2007, p. 1). Momentum is linked to trust, especially from the shareholder perspective. Shareholders will be more likely to retain interest in the organization if transitional leadership is strong. Likewise, employee retention will be higher during times of transition when the transitional leader ensures the momentum of the organization.

However, the literature shows that employees -- and shareholders -- should not expect too much. Overly high expectations can lead to disappointment, and the perception of decreased momentum. Setting unrealistic expectations is one of Watkin's seven pitfalls of new managers (HCA Online, 2004).

The perception of decreased momentum can cause actual drops in productivity. Thus, "it is essential for increased productivity that the employees show a high level of trust towards their leader but he should not hold high expectations of them," (Pecujlija, Azemovic, Azemovic & Cosic, 2011, p. 251). On the other hand, Medley (2006) finds that expectations of transitional leaders can be matched with a contract for services. Outgoing CEOs can negotiate financial agreements with the company, exchanging transitional leadership services during times of crisis in exchange for severance or other types of payment. When payment is negotiated, expectations can be higher. An outgoing CEO represents a healthy transition because the baton remains firmly in the hand of the back runner while the front-runner becomes prepared and prepped for the future.

Leadership behaviors, traits, and practices are also important during a period of transition. "When it comes to production quality, leader's helpfulness and expectations have proved variables in their behavior that directly influence production quality." (Pecujlija, Azemovic, Azemovic & Cosic, 2011, p. 251). One of the ways transitional leaders can be helpful for their employees is by having high expectations of them and encouraging productivity via empowerment and motivation. Mentoring and coaching are proven methods by which transitional leaders can ensure the future success of the organization. "If mentors and coaches can understand, empathize with, and cope effectively with people in distress without becoming excessively anxious themselves, they can more effectively help managers-in-transition to navigate the promotional crossroads and increase their likelihood of making a successful upward transition," (Freedman, 2011, p. 140). In empirical research, mentoring has been shown to be positively correlated with productivity and quality of work (Pecujlija, Azemovic, Azemovic & Cosic, 2011).

In a survey of 175 managers, Appelbaum & Valero (2007) found that "being isolated" was ranged as the most important problem during transitional leadership. Managers participating in the survey ranked problems according to Watkin's seven common traps and principles of success. Ranked second among Watkin's seven common traps was "coming in with the answer," or an arrogant assumption that the new leader knows what is best without any guidance or support from predecessors or existing employees.

Isolation can result from "over-reliance on reports and analyses, and not enough time devoted to meeting and talking," (HCA Online, 2004). Therefore, companies hiring external transitional leaders or external new leaders may need to be especially wary. Transitional leadership is better executed in a person-centered organizational environment.

Likewise, the role of a transitional leader can mitigate the problems associated with the Watkin pitfalls such as "coming in with the answer." Rather than coming in with the answer, a new leader can learn what works from the outgoing CEO who serves in the role of transitional leader. An outgoing CEO in the transitional leader role can help minimize the stress and uncertainty that surrounds organizational leadership change. As Manderscheid & Freeman (2012) point out, "uncertainty and stress could result from the inability to recognize and manage polarity, paradox, and dilemma," which are three of the most common stressors identified in transitional… [END OF PREVIEW]

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