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Stressful Transitions Are Setting Leaders Up for Failure, According to New DDI Study

May 19, 2021

DDI’s Leadership Transitions Report 2021 reveals how company support for leaders stepping into new roles dramatically changes their long-term success.

How stressful is taking on a new leadership role? The answer can have long-term consequences for leaders’ success. But it’s up to employers to provide the right kind of support, according to DDI's Leadership Transitions Report 2021.

Part of DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast series, the report examined issues facing leaders as they transitioned into their current leadership role, and the impact on their success. It includes data from more than 15,000 leaders and 2,100 human resource professionals. These leaders represent more than 1,740 organizations across 24 industries globally.

“Whether someone becomes a first-time manager or is stepping into a C-suite role, the transitional period has a huge impact on their leadership brand, their team’s performance, and long-term effectiveness,” said Stephanie Neal, director of DDI’s Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research. “We found that so often, stress and feelings of disengagement stem from a difficult transition into their job. It’s often due to a lack of direction and support, which results in it taking longer for leaders to get up to speed. And because these are leaders, that has a compound effect on their teams.”

The report found that more than one-third of leaders described the transition into their leadership role as overwhelming or very stressful. Of those leaders, five percent frequently thought of quitting. Burnout played a big role in their feelings, with 37 percent reporting they feel used up at the end of each day, compared to 11 percent of their peers who experienced low-stress transitions.

Other findings included:

  • There is a significant risk of a “lost generation” of leaders. Leaders transitioning into new roles during the pandemic reported a significant drop in support, including feedback, development, and assessment. Leaders reported the largest drop happening with leadership training. Prior to the pandemic, 61 percent of leaders reported receiving leadership skills training as they stepped into new roles, but that number plummeted to 48 percent in 2021.
  • Men are set up to succeed more than women. The report found men are 13 percent more likely to receive leadership skills training, 19 percent more likely to be formally assessed, and 22 percent more likely to be assigned a formal mentor than women. Women are also less likely to have clear expectations for success in their new roles compared to men. Furthermore, only 55 percent of women reported they have strong, updated development plans, compared to 61 percent of men.
  • Nearly half of executives are considered failures if hired from outside the organization. Internally, more than one-third of executives are considered failures. These rates are alarming, given the importance and impact of failure in these key roles.

  • Objective assessments significantly boost bench strength. One of the biggest factors that helps leaders transition quickly and successfully is providing an objective assessment. This insight helps leaders know where to focus their energy for growth. In addition, this insight had a major impact on overall bench strength. On average, companies that added high-quality assessment to their development program experienced a 30 percent boost in bench strength.
  • Stress wrecks leaders’ confidence levels. Stress also impacts leaders’ confidence levels. No matter how long it had been since their transition, nearly half of leaders with stressful transitions rated themselves as average or below-average leaders. Meanwhile, only 16 percent of leaders who had low-stress transitions gave themselves low ratings.

“People moving into leadership roles should expect to feel some growing pains, but we found that their struggles are continuing on well past their transitional period,” Neal said. “Leaders often want to make a good impression and might push through to keep up that façade. But without the right support during their transition and as they continue their journey, leaders are going to continue to struggle. Organizations need to make sure they use the right tools, including leadership assessments and development, to ensure their leaders are able to succeed.”

For more information, including the full report, visit ddiworld.com/research/leadership-transitions-report.

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About DDI
DDI is a global leadership consulting firm that helps organizations hire, promote and develop exceptional leaders. From first-time managers to C-suite executives, DDI is by leaders’ sides, supporting them in every critical moment of leadership. Built on five decades of research and experience in the science of leadership, DDI’s evidence-based assessment and development solutions enable millions of leaders around the world to succeed, propelling their organizations to new heights. For more information, visit ddiworld.com.