The number of managers that continue to fail at effectively transitioning to senior levels of leadership still remains unacceptably high, and ultimately impacts company’s abilities to develop succession plans and build effective leadership pipelines. This research project was undertaken to seek insight into the challenges faced by managers as they transition into the role of General Management. The research sought to understand the challenges associated with the transition and identify how successful leaders overcame them.
The research was conducted in two phases. Firstly, a quantitative survey of students attending the General Management Programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (University of Pretoria) was undertaken. The class of 35 students consisted of managers that had recently moved into, or who were about to move into, the role of General Manager and 29 of these students completed the survey. This survey intended to gain some perspective from currently transitioning managers. The second research phase was qualitative in nature and comprised of in-depth, semi-structured interviews, with nineteen (19) senior Business Leaders who had successfully made the transition. This phase aimed to gather the Business Leaders perspectives on the challenges they faced during their transitions, and how these were overcome by them.
The research highlighted the extent and significance of the transition, and identified many challenges associated with it. The findings of the research provided useful insights from experienced leaders about the challenges and surprises they encountered and how they were able to overcome them, and effectively transition into General Management. Moreover it illustrated the extent to which the managers had to change and how their own identities transformed. The need to develop informal relationships and gaining practical experience were particularly strong themes that emerged. In contrast to this, it found that the newly promoted managers did not place as much significance and importance on the transition to General Management as the experienced managers did. This highlighted the extent to which the transition process may be underestimated.