Personal transition for better leadership


As a leader, you are almost always responsible for some kind of organizational change. Since change is constantly necessary to stay relevant in our world, if you are successful, you lead change well.

Yet how are you at leading your own personal development? Do you realize that internal (self) change is a key to making external change more effective? To be in sync, to accept and embody, and to lead those external changes you must also put your attention on your own self development. If you don’t, your leadership comes off as insincere and inauthentic and has a greater chance for failure.

You might be surprised to learn that there is no better model to adapt for personal change than the wonderfully simple one William Bridges puts forth in his classic book on organizational change called Managing Transitions, and it just might help you to envision what it takes to understand and manage your own personal transition to better leadership:

Ending, losing letting go: This phase is the beginning of the end of your habits and behaviors that are no longer serving you. This is where you might try to hang onto something that you need to let go of by blaming, justifying, or explaining it away. At some point, you’ve realized you must change.

  • My suggestions to support your success in this phase: Consider your own team, a good friend, your manager, a coach or a significant other to support you in creating an action plan and obtain their agreement to assist you on your transition to behaviors that will lift you and others up.

The neutral zone: This is the in-between time when you know that the old behaviors are gone, but you haven’t yet fully embraced the new ones. New habits have yet to be automatic, without much thought or effort on your part. This can be a dangerous time when your old ways can work their way silently back into how you lead.

  • My suggestions to support your success in this phase: be vulnerable. Let others know your personal change goals and ask for feedback regularly. We don’t always see it when we slip up, but others will. Trust what they are seeing, and go back to your support group to assure that you can move on.

The new beginning: This is the time when you feel energized. Your new behavior(s) run on autopilot without much thought or effort on your part. Funny thing is, others around you seem changed too as you see new purpose and fulfillment in your life.

  • My suggestions to support your success in this phase: Celebrate with those who matter to you. You may have forgotten how hard it was to begin the transition and slog through the neutral zone to get where you are today, but when you raise a glass to those around you who supported your journey, it is a “pay it back” moment that solidifies your work and their future support.

The questions that need to be answered to help you on your journey include:

What do you need to transition out of?

What are your personal goals and action steps?

Who can help you?

How will you celebrate your success?




I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

8 comments on “Personal transition for better leadership

  1. Another helpful post Mary Jo, thank you. You have highlighted an interesting model and one which many people will certainly find useful.

    I find one of the areas some managers and leaders find it most difficult to let go of is the fact that they were previously considered a technical expert in their chosen field and indeed may have defined themselves through such achievement. On promotion it seems fairly common that some managers/leaders can’t let go of that way of defining themselves and struggle with the change to being defined as a manager or leader. The results, among many, are that these people can find delegating somewhat of a challenge and also don’t develop themselves fully to become the expert “leader” – it is an area that they can keep at arms length until they fully accept that as part of the way they are now defined (by themselves but by others too).

    Thanks again. Glenn

  2. I agree Glen. I coach a lot of senior leaders in technical arenas who’ve been away from the trenches and still haven’t let go. Don’t you think this is an arena where an executive coach can come in handy – in terms of working with them not only on the behaviors, but also the emotional part of letting go of what they’ve been recognized for (technical expertise) and stepping up to leadership?

  3. Yes I think a coach can help here … but I would say that wouldn’t I? I think the idea of “mini-deaths” that I have read some work on in relation to “stuckness” can often help position this well with clients who may be unaware or just struggling to let go.

  4. Really appreciated this post Mary Jo as you helped reaffirm the importance of self development.

    Over the past couple of years I have had the privilege of leading a couple hundred of my peers and have noticed that if I am not constantly seeking self development, then my effectiveness as a leader declines.

    Being 25, I am very fortunate to be in the leadership positions I have been in, however I have a lot to learn. Thus I am always reading and wanted to let you know that your blog posts have made a significant impact in my development. Thank you!

  5. Blake, you are a special 25-year-old leader to understand the importance of personal transition and to notice what it does to your effectiveness when you neglect it. Oh, and to know that you also have a lot to learn. I look forward to hearing more from – and about – you!

  6. Wonderful post… Personal transition in times of change is vital. I also believe that offering your team a glimpse of how you are transitioning yourself can go a long way in building trust.

  7. Thanks Karin, I really encourage the leaders I work with to share the personal changes they are working on. As you said, its a great way to build trust but also to model development.

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