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Business Leaders Unprepared for Complex Management Positions

New Research From DDI Reveals Leaders Want More Guidance During Job Transitions But the Last Person They Ask for It Is Their Boss

PITTSBURGH, PA--(Marketwired - June 26, 2014) - Major business events like the recovery from the global recession, increased corporate reorganizations and a looming two-decade retirement wave of baby boomers create significant career opportunities for millions of Millennials and Gen Xers, yet new trend research from Development Dimensions International (DDI) titled, "Leaders in Transition: Progressing Along a Precarious Path," questions whether this new generation of leaders is prepared for new, demanding management responsibilities.

The survey examined 618 individual contributor and manager transitions from multiple perspectives. Participants ranged in age from 25 to 61-or-over and 44 percent were females. High-potentials accounted for 41 percent of those surveyed.

"According to the research, transitioning leaders want and need more guidance than they're getting, but surprisingly, turning to their bosses for it is the last resort," said Evan Sinar, Ph.D., study co-author and DDI Chief Scientist and Director, Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research.

Instead, respondents noted that they seek counsel from colleagues and peers (58 percent), family and friends (46 percent), mentors (32 percent) and even direct reports (38 percent) first. "More and more, career decisions are being viewed as life decisions and, therefore, transitioning leaders are turning to personal networks like they do for other important life milestones and decisions," Sinar noted. 

Another top worry is dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity, as a result of the need for high-risk decisions, navigating organizational and external politics and representing the corporation. The study also reveals that younger leaders in transition have similar stresses -- suggesting that they want a map for survival so they don't get voted off the island. Sinar added, "They want answers now to address career growth issues much earlier on the career path, so they're not still confronting them at the executive level."

Transitioning Leaders Want More Help than They're Getting

The path to the executive level used to be via the corporate ladder. Yet today, career tracks and transitions are no longer vertical, but more like intricate jungle gyms with a series of lateral and frequent steps to result in ultimate succession to leadership. The study shows that leaders are unsure about their career paths. Thirty percent want a cleaner separation between old and new responsibilities and an additional 42 percent say they want a more structured development plan to assure steadier footing in their new roles. Thirty-one percent asked for training to strengthen interpersonal and leadership skills.

In addition, each career transition presents a new web of challenges. Respondents cited that when moving into their first leadership position, strategic thinking (30 percent) and creating networks (19 percent) were essential skills. Operational leaders reported that skills to engage and inspire employees (39 percent) and get work done through others (24 percent) were beneficial in their transitions. Strategic leaders reported benefitting most from skills that would help them navigate organizational politics (27 percent) and manage high-risk decisions (31 percent).

"Nothing is more daunting to a leader in a new role than realizing they don't have the skills necessary to perform well," emphasized Sinar. "Past experience doesn't guarantee future achievement when new jobs require new skills."

Give Them Choice, Quality Feedback and Clear Expectations or They'll Likely Quit

When forced to switch roles, the research showed that transitioning leaders were three times more likely to be dissatisfied in their new positions and more than two times more inclined to consider quitting. Surprise also contributes to transition satisfaction. Respondents who did not anticipate a job-switch were 80 percent "highly satisfied," compared with 66 percent for those who knew change was coming. Assessments are another source of frustration. Eighty-five percent of respondents are given either written assessment results without the benefits of feedback about their results, or no diagnostic assessment at all, leaving them less satisfied with their jobs because this approach left them with negative opinions about the insights and little direction about how to use them.

High Potentials Are at High Risk

High-potential leaders find themselves in even more of a predicament. Compared to their colleagues, high potentials make more transitions of greater complexity and more is expected of them. In fact, they are almost 10 times as likely to move out-of-country and want more, not less, guidance and instruction. Because their new and former managers overestimate the leader's ability to make a transition, they under deliver on mentoring them in their new roles. When we asked what would have helped them the most, almost half the high potentials surveyed said a more structured development plan.

The Guidance Dilemma

A shift in the role of HR could greatly improve the goals and design of leadership development initiatives. HR must anticipate and interpret talent needs and trends in order to create programs that focus on top skills. "Also, organizations need to start the development of leaders earlier and ensure a mix of learning alternatives and resources that transitioning leaders can draw upon as they encounter new challenges," said Matt Paese, Ph.D., study co-author and DDI Vice President, Executive Succession and Development. "This includes formal learning, coaching, mentoring and purposeful networking to cultivate a broad arsenal of leadership support mechanisms. When formal programs to facilitate leadership transitions are in place, there is a positive financial correlation and increase in productivity," he said.

Money Doesn't Drive Satisfaction

When making career transitions, less than 10 percent of study respondents said that it's about the money. In fact, just 54 percent reported any compensation increase with a new position, considering that many leaders needed to move laterally, or in some cases even downward, to advance their career. "Leaders would rather have companies invest in their professional future and in the skills and knowledge needed for a valued career. This is an indirect, but powerful way to put money on the table and give a green light about the importance of the individual leaders to the organization," said Paese. 

Study participants further noted that with good career moves, there are numerous rewards well beyond compensation. Nearly 50 percent said they felt empowered; 47 percent experienced greater self-assurance; 45 percent had better insight into their strengths and weaknesses; and 47 percent saw their personal stock soar as a result of their transition, with others viewing them as higher-status afterward compared to before.

"Our study suggests that for many companies, the corporate aspirations of growth and globalization don't track with the amount of investment and preparation they are putting into their future leaders," concluded Sinar.

Access the full report here, Leaders in Transition: Progressing Along a Precarious Path

Available for interviews:

Evan Sinar, Ph.D., DDI Chief Scientist and Director, Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research 

Matt Paese, Ph.D., DDI Vice President, Executive Succession and Development

Statistical Graphics:

  1.  The Slippery Slope of Leadership Transitions Infographic
  1.  Moving To New Levels of Leadership Requires A Unique Mix of Skills
  1.  Who Has Helped Most In Your Move

About Development Dimensions International

Founded in 1970, DDI is a global talent management consultancy that helps companies transform the way they hire, promote and develop their leaders and workforce. DDI's expertise includes designing and implementing selection systems and identifying and developing frontline to executive leadership talent. Clients include half of the Fortune 500 and multinationals doing business across a vast array of industries from Berlin to Bangalore and everywhere in between. We serve clients from 42 DDI-owned or closely-affiliated offices

Visit DDI's Website

Check out DDI on LinkedIn

Follow DDI on Twitter

DDI Contact:
Dianne Stetzer 
[email protected] 


Lesley Sillaman
[email protected] 

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