How to transition into a leadership role?

Becoming an expert in any field of study is a daunting endeavour, often requiring years of training, education, and experience. But having a comprehensive understanding of a particular sector doesnt…
Reading time :
21 Dec 2020

Becoming an expert in any field of study is a daunting endeavour, often requiring years of training, education, and experience. But having a comprehensive understanding of a particular sector doesnt always translate directly into leadership in that industry. From economics to engineering to environmentalism, getting into leadership positions can be a challenging task, regardless of the size of the organization. Whether youre just starting to look into a transition, have decided to become the next CEO, or have already been offered the opportunity to move up, here are the three things you should consider when making the career shift into management. At the end of the article, you will find the leadership transition checklist.

Should you become a leader?

Expert profile vs leader profile

Tricky question… The decision to make the transition to a leadership role should be made with careful consideration, especially if youre an expert. If youre a specialist, your natural inclination is to focus on your own work. This means you generally need a high level of autonomy and are likely to have unique perspectives. In short terms, you like focusing on details! 

The logical next step

It’s very common, in our society that experts wind up in leadership roles because « that’s THE logical next step in their career ladder ». But that doesnt mean its the right step for you. Leadership requires a broader vantage point. And that shift can require reconciling a discrepancy between your natural orientation and the reality of your new role. Are you are willing to shift your expertise to a higher strategic level? How will you feel when your focus is diverted from work you typically enjoy? Will you be comfortable with delegating it to others?

Are you ready to get into a leadership position?

There are a few things to consider when deciding to transition into management. Gone are the days in which age corresponds with seniority but your past experience certainly comes into play. Heres some important questions to ask yourself before making the decision to move from direct application to leadership:

  • Have you been working in the field for a number of years? 
  • Do you have a degree in said field? 
  • Have you held managerial positions within other sectors, and are now looking to change industries? 
  • Do you feel you would be adept at directing and guiding dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of employees?

What will it take to become a leader?

Whether youre looking to become the head of your own company or take charge of a large international corporation, making the shift isnt quite as simple as deciding youre ready to move up the ladder. 

For starters, many people who hold leadership positions have specific qualifications in business management, which allow them to do so. 

In addition, there are many aspects of directing an organisation which are not necessarily visible to those on the outside. Legal frameworks, administrative policies, and project management systems are all subjects that leaders must be prepared to confront head-on.

So, how do I start my transition?

There are a few different ways to move into leadership:

Jumping right in

It is possible to simply start applying for leadership roles. This can be the right option for an expert looking to open their own business, or for someone who has already been offered the opportunity to step into a management position.

It can be harder to land a leadership job without proven experience or education, as your profile might not be as competitive as those with formal qualifications. The learning curve is also much steeper with this option, and you might find yourself overwhelmed with the responsibility and project management required. 


  • Going back to school full-time : While this option is extremely thorough in its preparation of future leaders, it can be expensive, and also requires a complete time commitment for the duration of the degree. Its a good choice for those who are either completely new in their field of choice, or who can afford to dedicate all their time and resources to a career switch.
  • Online education : This is a great blend between the two options. You have the ability to develop your skills and knowledge within an online setting, completing coursework on your own time without giving up other important commitments such as family time or career advancement. Important aspects to consider when deciding to pursue online education are the quality of the programme, the number of students enrolled, and the design of the coursework.

EDHECs online programmes not only offer maximum flexibility within each offering, but are specifically designed to be taken online. They are built with human connection in mind, giving students the ability to work directly with professional teachers and within intimate group environments. The Master of Science in International Business Management is a completely online degree programme for those looking to join a global community, providing a prestigious diploma while allowing you to continue in your current position. 

Students will develop cross-cultural aptitude and increase their earning potential by learning the inner-workings of how organisations operate internationally. 

Alternatively, field experts looking to hone their craft can enroll in EDHECs Advanced Strategic Management Executive Certificate. This programme focuses on analysing and resolving strategic problems at both the business and corporate levels, as well as practicing the formulation and communication of strategic recommendations to top executives.

Once you are ready, prepare for change: the leadership transition checklist

The leadership transition checklist: prepare yourself

1. Invest in a Coach to support the individual transition

The benefits of having an external Coach, impartial to the organisation who can work at a deeper level to help transform the mindset of the individual for the good of the business are fundamental for the well-being of the person and in turn will reap rewards for the wider organisation. Its refreshing to be working with businesses who are ahead of the curve and understand this and it can work wonders for resilience and confidence.

This is a change in mindset from tangible expert results to actually understanding the importance of relationship management and how this and others can drive your own performance going forward.

2.See the bigger picture!

It may seem obvious as an established Leader but those just stepping into the role may come with a tunnel vision of short term thinking on tangible results. Theres so much more to business performance than that. Coach them to see this. Coach them to understand that if a delivery is missed for X,Y or Z reason, well actually the bigger picture may be that the recovery of that situation and the credible relationship you have created with the customer will redeem you and thats OK because mistakes happen.

3. Delegate.

It seems obvious but it can be detrimental to the well-being of the once technical expert who was so used to managing their own workload and not that of others I have seen so much of this its a genuine issue which is key to the success of a leader. Help them not to burn-out. Make them aware of the triggers.

5. Strategic thinking does not come naturally to everyone. As business professionals we are consumed with what and how. The shift into strategic thinking requires us to ponder a deeper question, and that is why

The leadership transition checklist: prepare the others

1/ Communicate about the transition

At times, change can be something that makes employees uneasy. The key to a smooth transition is clear communication :

  • clear,
  • concise,
  • and to all affected parties, including the current and incoming leadership and employees.

Naturally, employees may inquire about the details of a leadership transition and how it will impact them. This preparation can allow you to create an in-depth and well-communicated source of information about the upcoming change. 

2/ Develop a comprehensive onboarding program plan for the new leader

If you are managing the new leader, another critical element to a successful leadership transition plan checklist is preparing an onboarding program for all affected parties. What does the new leader need to know to adjust to his/her role? The onboarding program should be an involved process that makes the leader executive feel like a part of the team. Provide him/her with enough information to familiarize him/her with the new team.

3/ Set up goals

The 90-day standard is the length of time that a new executive has to make a substantial impact on the company. This deadline can be seen as very short for many executives. So, how can you set timely expectations without rushing the results? It is better for you to set up SMART goals. While the 90-day limit may work with some very short term projects, it may not work well for long-term goals. 

    The bottom line

    At the end of the day, the path to becoming a leader in any field can differ greatly based on each individuals experience, education, and opportunities. Getting a formal qualification will lead not only to an increase in your salary negotiation possibilities, but it will make your profile competitive for getting into leadership positions. It will also give you the educational background to be able to confront leadership challenges head on, and the confidence to take on a company of any size, be it your own or a multinational corporation. Once youve decided you’re ready to bring your career to the next level, check out the full range of EDHECs online programmes to level up your career from the comfort of your home. 

    Other articles you may
    be interested in

    22.05.2024 - EDHEC
    Read the 7th issue of our EDHEC Vox newsletter
    This month in the #EDHECVox newsletter, our professors and researchers present…
    17.05.2024 - EDHEC
    EDHEC’s open executive programmes ranked among the Top 5 worldwide by the Financial Times
    EDHEC’s executive programmes continue to move up in the Financial Times…
    03.05.2024 - EDHEC
    "Being a top-level athlete means agreeing to repeat the same movement over and over again": Louise Lefebvre, bipalm swimmer
    Tales of sport: a series of testimonies in which EDHEC students – high-level…