“The true dilemma is not the power struggle. It’s the emotional mismanagement of the situations that arise during the transition.”


This article examines how to successfully manage the relationship with the various stakeholders (including the boss, peers and subordinate) during the leadership transition.  

Study after study, not to mention good old common sense, demonstrates the key to exceptional leadership lies in developing the leadership competencies related to people skills.  Strengthening one's interpersonal skills elevates a person's leadership abilities and results dramatically.  These people skills are well defined and discussed within the concepts set forth in the groundbreaking work done by Daniel Goleman on Emotional Intelligence.  Studies have demonstrated that leaders who consistently outperform their peers not only have the technical skills required, but more importantly, have mastered most of the aspects of Emotional Intelligence.

Typically, everyone involved gets anxious, frustrated, worried and even angry at times. It’s bad enough to feel these emotions, but brain researchers have recently found that experiencing them actually inhibits cognitive function. It’s called cortical inhibition, or more popularly “emotional hijacking.” So the old saying, “I was so upset I couldn’t think straight” is actually true. Think about the last time you got mad at yourself for hitting a bad golf shot. What typically happens to your performance after that? It gets worse. When you experience negative emotions, you are not as likely to make the best decisions.

It’s normal to experience negative emotions, but most people don’t know how to positively manage these emotional reactions. The situation often escalates into open hostility or conflict between the leader and his boss, peers and team members.
Managing Emotions – The Emotional Intelligence Way

It seems like no matter what area of life we are in there are always some people who are difficult to get on with. They are either exceptionally prickly, or don't seem to care, couldn't be bothered, or are remarkably self-centered and inconsiderate. We wonder "What's with these people?", "What planet are they living on?", "Do they go out of their way to be especially unpleasant and uncooperative?", "How can someone be so insensitive - are they blind? What needs to happen for them to get the message? What's wrong with them?" They have the potential to take up an enormous amount of our time and energy and we can find ourselves continually in conversations with others about their shortcomings. In doing so we use a lot of the planet's oxygen, and it doesn't change a thing!

Studies have demonstrated that leaders who consistently outperform their peers not only have the technical skills required, but more importantly, have mastered most of the aspects of Emotional Intelligence.  The four main areas of Emotional Intelligence are: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management.

Many of the EI competencies are tightly related to one another, and improving competency in one area will often positively affect competency in another.  Competence in each of these areas will help anyone become better at working with people.  Proficiency in certain sets of these competencies will propel a leader and an organization towards greater productivity, greater satisfaction, and increased profitability.  Leaders who build these relationship competencies find they have a greater ability to improve their organization's profitability, growth, satisfaction, teamwork, and vision.

The term Emotional Intelligence (EI), often interchanged with the term Emotional Quotient (EQ), became popular after Daniel Goleman published his first book called ‘Emotional Intelligence’ in 1995.  In his best-selling book on emotional intelligence, Goleman pointed out that IQ only accounts for 20% of a person’s success in life; the rest is attributed to other factors including EQ.

“Emotional Intelligence (or “EI”) refers to the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, and for motivating and managing emotions in ourselves, and in our relationships”. The discussion of EQ often begins with an emotional challenge from Aristotle, as stated in Goleman’s book:

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy.  But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy”.


Planning for Successful Leadership Transition

As discussed in part one, emotional intelligence involves the control of one’s emotions to fit a particular situation.  This is different from a purely rational or intellectual response to various management situations.  When a leader has a high EQ, that person will react in a proper manner to the individuals in the situation, as well as the situation itself.  A person reacting with their IQ would simply react to the facts of the situation and negate the “total picture”, which includes the irrationality of human behavior.

The leadership succession issue doesn’t have to be painful and difficult. It can be a win-win. How? By preparing for the process of transition. This involves making a plan for succession, including the incoming and outgoing leaders in the process, but most importantly, all involved on how to handle this potentially emotionally charged transition. 

The most successful leadership transitions result when those involved have improved their emotional intelligence (EI) skills. That begins with just acknowledging that a multitude of strong emotions are bound to occur in any leadership transition. Denying that those feelings are there just makes the whole situation more difficult and more volatile. 

The successor also faces a difficult situation. As mentioned earlier, his desire to be seen as an effective change agent, but not a usurper requires him to walk a fine line. If he sees the need to move swiftly with major changes, but he doesn’t demonstrate empathy or nurture relationships with senior team members, he is likely to alienate his boss, the CEO and other senior managers. His ideas can easily be interpreted as a personal criticism of his predecessor and senior team. If he doesn’t use the information about others’ emotions and their ideas in presenting his ideas as solutions, he will face resistance. If his boss or the CEO resists the changes the leader is making, the executive team is likely not to render support or give their ‘buy-in’. 

Sometimes, out of fear, the leader in transition decides to pull back, to act more compliant, because he’s afraid of losing support. This usually backfires for two reasons. First, he’s likely to feel frustrated and angry because he’s unable to move forward as fast as he thinks is necessary. Second, his boss or executive team will see him as ineffectual, and therefore not qualified for the new role or job. 

If the leader has been hired from the outside, as many would-be senior managers are, he’s usually not attuned to the nuances of the corporate culture he’s just been thrown into. Listening empathetically with compassion and actively building and nurturing relationships can shorten the cultural learning curve and increase his likelihood of acceptance.


If the leader is able to recognize emotions, both his and those of the people he’s trying to work with (his boss, peers and subordinate), he can make better decisions about what to do or not do when facing opposition. He’ll be able to spend more time doing his job and waste less time worrying about political maneuvers. He’ll contribute to making the transition smoother, which will help him and the company as a whole.

The leader in transition need to continually develop their emotional intelligence skills as they will still feel somewhat anxious and worried as the transition process unfolds. That can’t be prevented. But the emotionally intelligent executive can positively manage the emotions. He can use the information from his emotions to step back and get a rational look at the big picture and take positive action. 

Using emotions as a source of information and learning to choose emotions in-the-moment allows rational thinking to prevail. Leaders who exercise these EI skills are able to think clearly about how they can work within the changes. They are much less likely to make an irrational decision to leave the company just when they are needed the most.

Article by Dr Sattar Bawany, Head of Transition Coaching Practice at DBM Asia Pacific, a global human capital management consulting firm providing transition services to private and public companies, not for profits and governments. Website: DBM Email: sbawany@dbm.com

About DBM

DBM (www.dbm.com) is a leading global human capital management firm providing transition services to private and public companies, not-for-profits and governments. DBM annually guides more than 7,000 organizations and 250,000 individuals through key transitions caused by significant change events or by the dynamic ongoing employee changes which impact business daily. DBM counsels organizations on aligning workforces with business strategy after mergers, acquisitions and restructurings; transitioning employees for increased speed to competency or improved productivity; and outplacement planning and implementation. DBM has 230 locations serving 85 countries and has partnered with 70% of Fortune 500 and 80% of Global 500 companies.