Doctoral Research – Leadership Transitions 2018

In the first study of its kind in Australia, the research qualitatively explored leadership transitions in the Australian business community, specifically the aspects that promote or inhibit success during the leader’s transition.  It also examined how the leaders and the organisations measure success during and post the transition period. The research was undertaken by our Principal, Ty Wiggins, as part of a PhD through the Sydney Business School (UOW). The research was completed between 2016 and 2018 and the final paper will be submitted in September /October.

Research Demographics

Gender of Interviewee

The split in gender of those interviewed.

Gender of Subject

The split in gender of the leader being discussed (some of the interviewee’s are senior managers or member of HR talking about another leader’s transition).









Time in Role

How long has the leader (or the leader being discussed) been in their role at the time of the interview and did they consider leaving during the first three months. *To qualify for the study you needed to have been in your role between 6 and 30 months.

  • 3 – 6 Months 23%
  • 6 – 12 Months 27%
  • 12 – 18 Months 18%
  • 18 – 24 Months 23%
  • 24 – 36 Months 9%


Considered Leaving During the First 3 Months

Business Situation

What was the business situation when they transitioned into the new role and have they experienced that business situation as a leader before?

  • Start Up 9%
  • Turnaround 23%
  • Realignment 45%
  • Sustaining Success 23%


Previous Experience in Business Situation

Formal Onboarding Process

Leaders were asked if there was a formal onboarding process for their role.

Happy with Onboarding

If there was a formal onboarding process, were they happy with how they were onboarded?









Level of Effectiveness After the First 3 months

Participants are asked to estimate, as a percentage, how effective they felt after the first three months in the role.  Being effective is not knowing it all, it is the point where you feel you have enough knowledge and support to perform your role and are contributing more than you are taking from the organisation.


Average feeling of effectiveness after 3 months

  • 30% 18%
  • 40% 0%
  • 50% 23%
  • 60% 32%
  • 70% 18%
  • 80% 5%
  • 90% 5%

External Recruit or Internal Promotee

Was the leader recruited from outside the organisation or promoted internally.

External hire, via a Recruiter or Directly Sourced

If recruited from outside was it direct or via a recruitment agency.


External Recruit


Internal Promotee


Via Recruiter


Recruited Direct

P&L Responsibilities

To assess any impact of P&L responsibilities on the leader’s transition, they are asked about whether they have P&L responsibilities in the new and the previous role.


Current & Previous


Neither Current or Previous


Previous not Current


Current not Previous

Change in Staff Responsibilities

Similarly to the impact of P&L responsibilities, what is the change in staff responsibilities for the leader in this new role versus the previous role.


More Direct Reports


Less Direct Reports

Transition Rating

Research indicates that two of the key factors influencing the level of difficulty of a leader’s transition are the change in culture they experience when they transition (not the change that they want or need to make) and the change in skills required for the new role. The below table was created to allow leaders to self rate their transition.

  • Level 1 0%
  • Level 2 9%
  • Level 3 5%
  • Level 4 9%
  • Level 5 14%
  • Level 6 45%
  • Level 7 0%
  • Level 8 5%
  • Level 9 14%

Industry Spread

What industry classification best represents the leader’s organisation.

  • Health Care & Social Assistance 9%
  • Information Media & Telecommunications 18%
  • Financial & Insurance Services 27%
  • Transport, Postal & Warehousing 5%
  • Retail Trade 5%
  • Mining 5%
  • Construction 5%
  • Rental, Hiring & Real Estate Services 9%
  • Public Administration & Safety 9%
  • Manufacturing 9%

Industry Insider

Leaders that have transitioned into the same industry.


From Same Industry

Industry Outsider

Leaders that have transitioned into a new industry.


From Different Industry

Leader Level

Based on the Leadership Pipeline (from the book of the same name), the leader is asked which level best represents their current role.

  • Enterprise Leader 27%
  • Group Leader 9%
  • Business Leader 18%
  • Functional Leader 32%
  • Leading Leaders 9%
  • Leading Others 5%

Organisation Size

Using a the common sizing scale adopted by LinkedIn, what is the size of the leader’s organisation.

  • 51 – 200 23%
  • 201 – 500 5%
  • 501 – 1000 9%
  • 1001 – 5000 27%
  • 5001 – 10000 0%
  • 10000+ 36%

Key Findings

The core questions of the study relate to the factors that promote or inhibit a leader’s success during the transition period, how success is measured and how their level of strategic understanding affected their transition.  Another area of interest is what the leader would do differently if they had this transition again.

What are the Promoters of a Successful Transition

Participants are asked to discuss the things that helped or promoted success specifically during the transition period and the most common responses are:

Inhibitors of a Successful Transition

Similarly, participants are asked to discuss the things that have hindered or blocked success, specifically during the transition period. Most common responses are:

  • Personal Attributes
  • Manager Support
  • Transition Plan
  • Effective Team
  • Industry Knowledge
  • Navigating Culture / Politics
  • Difficult Team
  • Direct Manager
  • Functional Bias
  • Knowledge Gap

Measures of Success During & Post Transition

Measuring a new leader’s success during the and post the transition is something many organisations don’t formally do and this was confirmed in the study.  Where there were measurements set for the transition, the most common were:

What Would Leaders Do Differently

Interviewees were asked “What would you do differently if you had this transition again?”.  Top responses were:

  • Financial Metrics
  • Establishment of Team
  • 360 Feedback
  • Gaining Trust
  • Alignment to Values
  • Make Staff Changes Earlier
  • Work Harder on Peer Relationships
  • Take Ownership / Control Earlier
  • Get More Clarity on Role
  • Request More Early Support


This research is the first qualitative study of its kind in Australia and is now completed (the thesis will be delivered in October 2018).  The hope is that it will help to provide organisations and leaders with tools and approaches to increase the speed to effectiveness and to minimise the risk of early executive departure.

If you would a copy of the findings or to discuss how they might be applied in your organisation or role, please contact Ty Wiggins (

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