6 Pitfalls In Transitioning To A Bigger Role

Updated: Jul 29

Ralph Waldo Emerson captures the essence of transitions in what is now one of my favourite quotes: “Not in his goals but in his transitions, man is great”.


Transitions reveal our strengths and our weaknesses. Beyond everything, they transform us, not only as professionals but as individuals. Therefore, we unlock our potential when we navigate transitions with an intent to learn and change.


That is why we explored some guidelines earlier this week to guide us when navigating your transition to a more significant role. We now look closely at the common pitfalls in such a transition.


Taking on a more significant role is exciting. It also means that your goals, networks and responsibilities are magnified 10x. Regardless of previous experience, these pitfalls are part of the process. When you take the time to properly recognise, understand and create a strategy to navigate them, you create the environment where transformation occurs.


Without further ado, here are the pitfalls when transitioning to a more significant role:


1. Don't make yourself so busy that you don’t have time to think.


Initially, the information you receive in all the discussions you are involved in will seem disconnected. In reality, some common threads connect the dots.

You need time to think intensely about these common themes to synthesize the info. It would be best if you also booked some time to do absolutely nothing. Yes, you heard that right. That is when your brain will start to make those multiple connections that may seem invisible at first.


Being busy may seem attractive because it is perceived as an achievement. And leaders do like an accomplishment. But identifying the underlying challenges your organization or department faces requires dedication to thinking and strategising.


2. Don't miss out on business exceptions as opportunities to position yourself.


During your transition, something will go wrong - either with a project, an external partner, or your team. While exceptions can be very time-consuming, they are also an opportunity for making your standards and expectations explicit. These new standards must align with your new role and not your old way of thinking.


Such exceptions are also the moment when you can quickly dive into the details of the day-to-day operations to understand what led to such exceptions, providing clarity on risks, mitigations, resources, and roadmaps required to upgrade the systems to new standards.


3. Don't forget to ask for help on your journey in this role.


The most common mistake I have personally made is not getting more help. The help I am referring to is not from your team or your stakeholders.


I am referring to having advisors, a coach, or strategic partners to develop my thinking in the new role. The belief behind it was that if I am competent, work hard on it, and am committed to growth; I don’t need so much help.


Once I understood the value of working with people who have walked the path before me, who know the challenges down the line and overcame them, and who were dedicated to helping me on my way, everything changed: for me, my team, and my organization.


When taking significant risks, it’s critical to have a safe base to return to. Creating your home base with the right people will change the entire experience of your transition.


4. Don't spend time on comfortable priorities.


When stepping up into a more significant role, it’s evident that you excel in many areas that brought you to this point in your career. You gain great satisfaction when you do what you are good at and what you like.


Yet, these areas may not be the core of your new role. The nature of your new position may be unfamiliar. So, it may feel uncertain, frustrating, and even inauthentic at first.


But choosing to focus on what only you can do accelerates your transition, building a solid foundation for the future.


5. Don't ignore your personal needs.


After not getting help, this is the second mistake I made in transitions. I assumed that my personal needs could take the back seat if I am a professional with solid experience. Looking back, I now see that I was successful in transitions only after my personal needs were met.


A few examples of personal needs are: to have autonomy in the role, to be valued and appreciated as a person and as a professional, to be respected, and to be trusted or supported.


Everyone has multiple needs to an extent, but each of us has one that is a deal-breaker. Think back to situations when you excelled and when you failed. What are your deal-breakers and other essential needs you may have? Only you have the answer. This is very personal, and you can’t NOT have them.


Identify your needs and communicate them to your line manager and the team before the transition starts. You won’t regret it later.


6. Don't measure progress based on irrelevant measures.


With every transition being personal, estimating how much time and effort will be required to step fully into the new role is very hard. We usually underestimate transition time, with transitions taking 2-3 times more than initially expected. However, leaders in transitions do look at time as a measure because of the high discomfort when transitioning. Other measures leaders in transition revert to are: tracking against their transition plan, the amount of work they get done, or the level of comfort in the role.


But these are just some measures that are irrelevant in the transition process. When leaders unconsciously measure against inaccurate criteria, they also perceive they are failing.


Work together with a trusted partner or your line manager to evaluate progress in multiple areas: personal and professional growth, contribution to the organization, quick wins, foundation for long-term goals, defining a vision for yourself and your team, your stakeholder’s perspective, and others which are relevant for every stage of your transition.


There is much said about transitions, and many professionals prepare long for such moments. Yet, everything feels much harder than expected when they are in the middle of a change because every transition is a transformational step beyond our current limits.


That is why “Not in his goals but in his transitions, man is great”.