4 Steps to Turning Leadership Change into Opportunity

An organization’s leadership team is generally looked to as a source of stability and security. Leaders set strategic objectives, establish cultural goals and practices, and are ultimately accountable for organizational performance.

This makes it particularly challenging when a leadership team undergoes turnover — especially unanticipated turnover. Leadership turnover can happen for a variety of reasons; sometimes leaders leave of their own volition, other times an organization wants to make room for new energy, ideas, and risk-taking. Whatever the cause, a shakeup in leadership can and should be taken as an opportunity for organizational transformation.

In a recent Outthinker Strategy Network Forum, a group of chief strategy officers (CSOs) convened around the topic of handling significant changes in leadership, including how to negotiate the process gracefully and how to emerge more directed and aligned than before the transition.

4 Steps to Successfully Navigating Significant Leadership Change

Outthinker Strategy Network chief strategy officers recommend the following steps for navigating significant changes to the executive leadership team:
1. Use it as a chance for realignment
2. Identify allies in C-suite positions
3. Place the right bets—and demonstrate your commitment
4. Be a good partner to new leaders

1. Use it as a chance for realignment

Losing executives means losing people who were torchbearers of organizational strategies, culture, and results. While it can be painful to have these key pieces disappear, it can also prevent a rare opportunity for realignment.

Realignment is always a productive endeavor, and in cases where cultural change is called for, it can be a hidden opportunity. One CSO described a scenario in which a long-tenured CEO had grown complacent in his role — after more than a decade, he had become overly risk-averse — and been ousted by the company’s board of directors. The change presented an opportunity for the company to redefine its objectives and reorient to take on more disruptive goals.

Not every leadership change will lead to a greater emphasis on disruption. However, all leadership changes should serve as catalysts to realign on organizational goals and values.

2. Identify allies in C-suite positions

The leaders who remain with the company during times of executive turnover are the leaders who will be responsible for executing on new organizational goals and values. As a strategy leader, you’ll need help — allies at the leadership level can help you usher in the new era.

This will include activities designed to assess the current state of the organization relative to the ideal scenario you lay out in the realignment stage. If one of your goals is cultural change, you’ll have to gather data to establish a cultural status quo and to understand what change-oriented systems are most urgent to implement.

3. Place the right bets — and demonstrate your commitment

“The right bets” will center on the hires you bring in to replace departed leaders. A new status quo will require new representatives. People who thrive in steady-state environments might not thrive in an atmosphere of disruption (and vice versa).

To gauge what’s needed in new hires, triangulate the needs from three main areas:

• The board’s desires — which center on creating value
• Market data — macro-winds blowing that you could transform into tailwinds
• Business model transformation — the revamped strategic plan for the organization’s new era

One CSO emphasized the importance of demonstrating your commitment to the “bets” you place. As his company added new personnel, he made a point of being heavily involved in each new hire, as opposed to outsourcing it to an HR firm. Tangibly committing to the goal evidenced his devotion to transforming the organization.

4. Be a good partner to new leaders

Bringing in new leaders doesn’t end your responsibility.

The leaders who played pivotal roles in redefining organizational goals and finding people to uphold them also have a responsibility to make sure new leaders are equipped to see the process through.

So, you should work closely with new leaders to ensure their transition is as smooth and informed as possible. Help them develop 30-, 60-, and 90-day plans; give them opportunities to bond with organization mainstays; help them digest and implement the vision that you’ve been so integral to developing.

Making the Most of Change

Leadership change, especially when it’s unexpected, is a painful process. But pain tends to be proof of growth, especially if the leaders who endure the transition take it as a chance to realign, solidify alliances, choose new hires carefully, and bring them into the organization as smoothly as possible.


Claudio Garcia
Claudio GarciaPresident - OSN
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Cori Dombroski
Cori DombroskiMember Experience - OSN
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