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Leadership Transition Plans: Core Elements

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Leadership transitions into new roles and organizations can be fraught with hidden landmines and potential career derailers. A surprisingly number of newly hired leaders don't survive in their roles beyond 18 months. To ease this transition, forward-thinking organizations establish onboarding programs that include three critical elements including a leadership transition plan, internal mentors, and executive coaching. 

What is a transition plan?

A leadership transition plan is a valuable document that outlines success outcomes and other factors that could impact a leader's ability to function well in their new role. As an executive coach, I have partnered with clients to help them create a draft plan.

Once developed, it is critical for a new leader to align the plan with their boss initially and throughout the following 6-9 months. In essence, the plan becomes a working document revised as conditions change and the new leader becomes more grounded in their new role.

Elements of a transition plan

There are seven components of a well-considered leadership transition plan. 

1. Key priorities and success outcomes for a new leader 

New leaders must clearly understand and align priorities and associated success outcomes with their bosses. Steven, a new Chief Financial Officer, is accountable for implementing a new financial accounting system and upgrading key business processes. 

2. Time-bound goals and milestones

Time-bound goals delineate expectations for 30, 60, 90, and 120 days that map to the new leader's key priorities. This element for a leadership transition plan helps ensure a new manager is on-track. Steven set the 30-day goal of assessing his organization's readiness for transformational change. 

3. Decision authority

New leaders need to understand their authority to make decisions. This authority could consist of decisions they can make unilaterally and those where they must consult their boss or peers. With Steven, he ultimately owns many decisions but is expected to engage a steering committee, including some of his peers, given the far-reaching impact of a new financial system.

4. Risk factors

Risk factors include issues new leaders face that could derail their efforts to achieve their priorities. For example, Steven's efforts to implement a new financial system could fail based on a series of failed software implementations in the past ten years in his organization. His new organization is in the process of launching three other change efforts that could distract his stakeholders from supporting the new financial system implementation.  

5. Leader strengths and weaknesses

A well-designed leadership transition plan also identifies the skills needed by a leader in light of their risk factors and goals, along with their strengths and weaknesses. Steven realized that his priority in implementing a new financial system would require him to manage resistance and make presentations. His aversion to public speaking and tendency to become overly directive when faced with opposition represented developmental opportunities for him. He and his new boss talked this through, including developmental actions he could take to function more effectively.

6. Key stakeholders 

Key stakeholders represent important people a new leader must engage to achieve success. In consultation with his manager, Steven identified ten key stakeholders that could significantly impact the success of his system implementation efforts. They discussed the personalities and interests of each stakeholder, along with strategies to engage each.

7. Mentors and other resources

A vital component of a transition plan is a list of supportive resources available to a new leader. Steven identified several needed resources, and his boss helped him identify individuals who could play a role in his success. For example, Steven's resource list included well-regarded cultural mentors who understood how to implement change in his organization and various organizational process experts. 


An essential component of a comprehensive onboarding process is a leadership transition plan jointly developed between a new leader and their boss. This plan is often a working document revisited periodically in the first six months of a new leader's tenure. A transition plan as part of a well-designed onboarding process can help new leaders speed their transition to their new roles to feel confident and produce tangible results. 

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Additional resources on leadership transitions and transition plans:

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded

The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan: How to Take Charge, Build or Merge Your Team, and Get Immediate

Dr. Kevin Nourse has more than 25 years of experience coaching leaders who are experiencing transitions to thrive in their new or expanded roles. He is the founder of Nourse Leadership Strategies, a coaching and leadership development firm based in Southern California. For more information, contact Kevin at 310.715.8315 or kevin@nourseleadership.com

(c) 2022 Kevin Nourse


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