How to Transition to a Leadership Position


One of the most critical aspects to being an effective leader is to make the transition away from being an individual contributor to a facilitator and supporter of followers. If leaders do not see themselves in this light, and more importantly, do not act as such, then followers will have a difficult time seeing them as the leader.

I read an advertisement email a couple of years ago for some leadership training and I was struck by the statistics that they reported regarding the “non-transitioned leader.” They reported that … “Today, 72.3 percent of new first line leaders are still approaching their work like individual contributors even those they have been promoted to a role where they are responsible for leading others.” Their statistics continued saying, “Every one of your leaders who fail to transition ‘significantly compromises’ the performance of approximately 12 people and, on average, the direct reports of non-transitioned leaders under-perform their peers led by transitioned leaders by 15 percent.”

In my own experience I have found this to be correct, at least in the aspect of why some people in leader positions excel and why others flounder. Here are some considerations to think about regarding this transition process, which spans the end of the preparation phase through the early stages of holding a leadership position.

Leaders must understand that a psychological shift needs to take place in your new leadership position. You need to start thinking, feeling and valuing differently as a leader. What are your leadership values? Have you take time to determine what those are? If you don’t know your own values, essentially your compass points for direction and boundaries in your leadership activities, how will others?

Use the word “we” much more than the word “I”. Remember: it is no longer about you, it is about them. Your followers, your employees, are the people who are working to make your agency successful in accomplishing the mission.

Begin measuring the successes of your followers as the indications of your efforts as their leader. Transitioned leaders know that when the team is succeeding the credit goes to the team but if the team is failing the leader will always receive the scrutiny.  Frequently ask yourself this question, “Are your followers succeeding because of you or in spite of you”?

Project comfort and confidence in the role of being a leader. Your attitude about the position and why you’re in it will make all the difference. Assume the job and not just the position. Continue to build and cultivate your integrity and credibility because now is not the time to relax your personal values.

Lastly, avoid regressing to non-leader actions. Participating in office gossip or break room antics or, as my grandmother would say, “tom-foolery,” are often mistakes that new leaders make thinking that it will still show your followers that you’re human or “still one of them.” They do not see you as one of them anyway so it only reflects on your integrity and damages credibility. Stay above all of that and remind yourself that things are different now; you are the leader.

Chuck Bayne is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Joe Raasch

Chuck, you’ve landed on one of the biggest challenges for new leaders: learning to count success based on what the team does takes that mental shift you mention. Leadership is a ‘people’ job, not a production job. Thanks for sharing!

Jan S.

This comment relates to GovLoop articles in general. You routinely provide valuable, insightful and engaging articles. But I have to wonder, where on earth is your editor? Just as our spoken advice has more weight when it is delivered articulately, our written advice is more credible when it is free of grammar goofs, overlooked typos and flawed punctuation. If the goal here is promoting professionalism, GovLoop should model professional communication.

Sandy Davis

This is truly a challenge, and became much more difficult with the phase-out of manager training programs, and the phase-in of “working manager” roles, where supervisor responsibility is tacked on to staff positions. It is especially difficult to learn to separate and be the leader (and think strategically), when you are also expected to be a quasi-peer, and are loaded with production tasks (and tactical thoughts). Leaders who lead well typically come from organizations that value the leader role, and make room for the important work of it (coaching, mentoring, developing), rather than treating it as a trivial task to be squeezed into “spare time.”


This topic creates numerous problems in the “social workplace” which leads to problems in the “production arena”. I supervised a newly promoted manager; this person had great difficulty in transitioning from “one of the guys” to “the leader of the guys”. This individual pointed out that the relationship between them had been long . . .10 years +/- and that relationship could not be jeopardized. The reaction and behavior of both entities e.g., promoted and staff, should be altered to express the new circumstance e.g., shouldn’t the leader be respected as a leader? Shouldn’t the general rules of courtesy be extended? It’s a two way street; those that think, “ah, my friend has been promoted, now I can get away with more”; and the newly promoted asking, ” . . .how do I deal with my employee/friend, he’s just not performing!” Where do the longtime leaders fit into this picture? Maybe a training program on how to transition would be helpful . . .

Chuck Bayne

Sandy, I couldn’t agree more. I constantly tell my students that they should view their role as supervisor/leader as the most important thing they do but unfortunately they, and likely their management, views it as a add-on responsibility that is to get accomplished in-between the tasks of their job as a staff person. Great comment – thanks for the input.

Chuck Bayne

Y- My experience tells me that these kinds of conversations and perhaps early “seminar” type events should take place before anyone is promoted from a long-term worker position into an established work group that the worker has been a part of. There are a lot of considerations in these kinds of situations to account for just as you mentioned; both on the part of the leader and the followers. The expectation of favoritism by workers from a long term colleague now supervisor is very prevalent and hard to control. The only person with the ability to control and manage that is the leader. In your circumstance likely the new manager never considered that aspect or is unable to make the connection and do the right thing by the organization.