Doctoral Research – Leadership Transitions

In the first study of its kind in Australia, the research is qualitatively exploring leadership transitions in the Australian business community, specifically the aspects that promote or inhibit success during the leader’s transition.  It also seeks to understand how the leaders and the organisations measure success during and post the transition period. Special interest is being given to the impact (if any) that the leader’s understanding of the organisation’s strategy has on the new leader’s performance and success during the transition period.

The research is being undertaken by our Principal, Ty Wiggins, as part of a Doctor of Business Administration through the Sydney Business School (UOW). The research component is complete, a draft thesis has been written and the final paper will be submitted later this year.

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).









Role Type

The research sample consists of three groups; a leader who has undergone a transition within the last 30 months, a senior manager who has supervised a leader undergo a transition in the last 30 months or a senior member of HR who has supervised a leader undergo a transition within the last 30 months. *To qualify the leadership role discussed needs to have at least 3 direct reports.




Direct Manager


Senior HR Member

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

Regardless of whether there was a formal onboarding process or not, 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 Questions

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

Influence of Strategic Understanding

The participants are asked about how their understanding of the organisations strategy was formed during the transition, how comprehensive it was at the end of three months and the impact on their transition.  Whilst all participants identified that a clear and early understanding of the strategy was crucial to their ability to make decisions and choices in their roles – the level of understanding varied greatly with several commenting that they struggled to get clarity early (some acknowledging that there was no clear strategy).

Gaining their strategic understanding is one of the areas that new leaders expect to do early in their transition, but often struggle with, as it is not always clearly articulated.  This is a big opportunity for organisations bringing on leaders and a challenge to acknowledge for new leaders – that you may have to start making choices and decisions without clarity about the strategy.


This research is the first qualitative study of its kind in Australia and is ongoing (the research phase will be completed by July 2017 and the thesis delivered in 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 to discuss the findings or explore how they might be applied in your organisation or role, please contact Ty Wiggins (

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