From Expert to Leader: Transitioning into an Executive Role with Confidence

From Expert to Leader: Transitioning into an Executive Role with Confidence was originally published on Ivy Exec.

After years as a manager, you’ve finally landed your first executive role! 

This is an exciting development but can also be a difficult one, as not every manager successfully transitions into an executive role. For instance, one corporation found that new executives had a 50% failure rate in their first year, even though the organization prepared managers for years before their promotions. 

Why is this transition so difficult? 

“The responsibilities at the executive level are much greater than at the manager level. The promises are bigger, and the consequences of success or failure have a much bigger impact on the organization as a whole,” wrote Bob Dunham of the Institute of Generative Leadership.

Some of the reasons Dunham thinks new executives fail include: 

  • They overwork, causing burnout and other negative life repercussions. 
  • They don’t prepare effective managers, an important part of the executive role; instead, they’re too used to being leaders themselves. 
  • They don’t contribute to company culture.
  • They don’t lead with the future in mind or innovate.

The most significant difference between managers and executives is that managers coordinate actions while executives plan those strategies. 

“It’s designing the game, not just playing it at a high level. The executive role is also responsible for the culture of the organization and how it faces and generates change,” Dunham said. 

So, as you make the transition into an executive role, what do you need to keep in mind?


📈 Decide what type of leader you want to be.

Some new executives decide they have to change themselves after their promotions.

Certainly, you’ll have to show up slightly differently, but the goal isn’t to change yourself into someone you’re not. 

“You’re always growing as an executive, so it’s natural that you take a lot of insight from your previous role into the new one. But you don’t want to go into a new business and just do what you did previously; you need to tailor your style and approach,” said Daniele Cerutti, IKO’s Business Development Director in Southern Europe.

Before you start your first day, decide what type of leader you want to be before your first day. Who are you? Consider your character and your values, and act accordingly. 

Some new executives want to differentiate themselves, so they do the opposite of what their predecessors did in the early days of their jobs. But if their style was successful, and is similar to the one you’d use, then there’s no reason to alter your practices for their own sake.


📈 Find your people.

To ensure you’re transitioning successfully, you need peer groups with whom you can discuss ideas and strategies.

When Lara Hogan moved into the role of VP of Engineering at Kickstarter, Chad Dickerson, the former CEO of Etsy, gave her this advice about joining a peer group:

“I workshopped everything from organizational structure to key hires to fundraising to broader strategic issues with that group. I noticed a pattern that working through difficult issues with that group led to greater success. I can’t imagine NOT having such a group.”

It’s also important to connect with senior leaders at your organization. The key here is finding collaborators who will help you shape your tenure, not fall prey to simple “business as usual.” 

“Finding the right collaborators means you can perform multiple transformational actions simultaneously, making effective use of time and better guaranteeing the actions that have been announced,” said Nicasio Muscia, Managing Director for Global Consultancy at Accenture.


📈 Connect with your reports personally without oversharing.

New executives may fall into two traps: they either are too cold and impersonal with their teams, or they share too much.

Neither of these strategies is ideal. 

Certainly, it’s important to connect with your colleagues. 

“Research shows that when a direct report has a strong connection with a leader, the report is more likely to identify with the organization, engage in creative behavior, and help others at work,” said David Sluss for Harvard Business Review.

Sluss has talked to professionals who think new leaders should talk about themselves as people, not just professionals. Sharing details outside their working lives can help new leaders bond with their teams. 

At the same time, don’t share too much about yourself. You don’t want your team to know your daily struggles or gripes; it’s certainly possible to know too much about a leader. 

Before you’ve made those personal connections, Sluss suggests, you may not even want to share your executive vision. One of the individuals he interviewed said they wanted their new leader to wait to “give the vision for the department once they know us, the staff, better.”


Transitioning into an Executive Role


Not every senior manager can be an executive.

To make the jump, you’ll need to plan strategy and prepare for the future rather than just coordinating operations at a high level. 

How can you better prepare for this mentality shift? Consider a session with one of Ivy Exec’s executive career coaches.

By Ivy Exec
Ivy Exec is your dedicated career development resource.