What Is a Transitional Leader? (Plus Why They're Important)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 25, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Sometimes a company may need to go through major restructuring periods. There are a variety of methods it can use for the progression period, including hiring people specifically suited to lead in these situations. The role of a transitional leader is a unique position that companies can use to help shape their future success. In this article, we discuss what a transitional leader is, explain why they're important for organizations going through change and list some typical traits and tools for these professionals.

What is a transitional leader?

A transitional leader is an individual an organization hires to identify needed changes in the culture, purpose or direction of the company. A company may bring in these leaders during major transformations, including when restructuring, integrating an acquisition or starting up of a new division. Their major goal is to motivate the employees who work under them through the changes in structure and policies.

What does a transitional leader do?

Here's a list of duties that transitional leaders perform to help a company through major restructuring:

  • Implement changes: A transitional leader can help a company by implementing any changes to culture or policy. They do this by directly informing and enforcing employees of these changes.

  • Support employees: Transitional leaders can support employees through the major changes in the organization. They can do this through various methods like meetings, coaching and relationship building.

  • Monitor performance: A transitional leader can monitor the performances of any employees who work for them. They do this to better understand any challenges the employees have because of restructuring so they can work to remedy them.

  • Encourage innovation: Transitional leaders can work to encourage innovation in a company and its employees. This is so that further changes can result from the restructuring that leads to new ideas, products and projects.

Why is a transitional leader important?

The idea of transitional leaders can be vital for many reasons, especially when companies want to consider employee morale during otherwise challenging periods of restructuring. Here are a few reasons transitional leaders are important:

Raises employee engagement

Employee engagement is the concept of understanding and describing the level of positive feelings an employee has for the company for which they work. Engaged employees can be enthusiastic about their work and tend to have an overall positive attitude toward the organization. This can lead to positive actions that further the company's goals and reputation.

Transitional leaders can help by encouraging employees who are positively engaged with the company by offering reward programs for higher engagement, like metric contests. These leaders can also work to raise employee engagement with active conversations to raise positive feelings and help them feel heard.

Related: 10 Employee Engagement Ideas for 2022 (With Examples)

Exemplifies the company's goals

A company may seek to change its ideas, goals and policies during a major period of restructuring. Transitional leaders can seek to be an active representation of these changes to help employees during the transformation period. This can include actively coaching employees through these modifications, including personal conversations with employees who need further training. They can also schedule collaborative efforts to better communicate and encourage a unified understanding of these new goals.

Transitional leaders can seek to help unify the team under the same ideas, goals and policies the company has by being a representation of these new ideas themselves.

Encourages responsibility

A transitional leader can seek to encourage responsibility in the employees who work under them. This can include enforcing any new rules, regulations and policy changes that can result from the major restructuring of a business. Encouraging responsibility can include leading by example with transitional leaders working to be responsible themselves. They may also seek out the responsibility in others and reward it with pay bonuses, gift certificates or staff announcements.

Companies can appoint transitional leaders who show a high level of competency and responsibility, which can then encourage other employees to be the same through a general understanding that these positive traits have the chance of leading to promotions in the future.

Related: Responsibility vs. Accountability: What's the Difference?

Traits for a transitional leader

Transitional leaders may have a specific set of skills and attributes that help them represent the ideals of a company and help employees during the progression period during restructuring. Here's a list of traits that transitional leaders can take advantage of during their work:

Charismatic

Charisma is a form of energetic charm that tends to encourage positive feelings in others. Transitional leaders can take advantage of their charisma by being a positive force for the employee work base, which can encourage positive feelings in the employees themselves. Charismatic people can appear approachable, which can give employees the comfort of knowing they have someone in a higher position to communicate with. This can allow employees to feel heard, which can raise employee positivity and engagement.

Emotionally intelligent

Emotionally intelligent people tend to have a skill set that includes properly perceiving, understanding managing and handling their own feelings and the feelings of others. Transitional leaders use their emotional intelligence to build better communication between employees by working toward understanding any reservations a specific employee might still have with the period of progression. Emotional intelligence can create leaders with more compassion, which can create further encouragement when it comes to teamwork. This can then lead to an increase in the positive feelings associated with the work environment, which may lead to a rise in morale.

Related: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Curious

Being curious is showing an eagerness toward change and innovation. Transitional leaders can take advantage of their curiosity to experiment with new methods to raise employee engagement. They can work to encourage further changes in feelings, attitudes and methods during a time in the period when the team is unsure of how future operations are going to go. This can lead to investigating any challenges that may result from restructuring and encouraging further innovation to overcome them, leading the team successfully through a period of development that coincides with the major company modifications.

Communicative

Communicative transitional leaders tend to be open to imparting information to those around them. The restructuring may lead to a lot of questions from employees about future goals, modifications and operations, and transitional leaders can use their ability to communicate to answer each of these inquiries. Better communication can also lead to an overall rise in team engagement, which can also raise employee engagement during the transition period.

Transitional leaders can engage employees directly in dialogue, actively share and seek feedback and practice a form of decision making that encourages everyone to participate. This can all lead to a team that feels directly involved with the company during their time of change.

Visionary

Being a visionary means someone who is always planning or considering their future actions. Since some challenges of restructuring can result from being unsure about a company's future, having someone who can actively think about and plan for it can lead to a team that can be confident in continuing forward with any major changes. They can work with employees to look at what direct changes may come in their future and plan to compensate for them. This can lead to inspiration toward future goals, leading to the unification and growth of a company.

Tools for a transitional leader

Transitional leaders can have several specific actions they can take to accomplish their goals of encouraging a workforce during major company restructuring. These actions seek to raise employee engagement, morale and confidence through several methods and can become important tools to help a company flourish. Here are some tools that transitional leaders can use to help a workforce during a period of change:

Active coaching

Transitional leaders can take advantage of coaching techniques to help employees through the changes in policies, ideas or goals. They can choose to provide immediate customized feedback for the sake of enforcing positive changes in behavior that support these new goals. Or they can give information on developing specific skills or competencies that can enforce these policy changes. The primary goal of active coaching is to guide employees toward more productive behaviors that enforce the organization's restructuring.

Related: 11 Coaching in the Workplace Examples

Constant communication

Using constant communication in the workplace can give you the tools to better understand the needs, goals and motivations of the employees who work underneath a transitional leader. It can create a favorable work environment by enforcing trust and productivity. Transitional leaders can use communication to keep their employees informed about the details of any major changes, which can lead to a team that knows to plan for future events and create a smooth development period.

Employee recognition

Employee recognition is the idea of identifying and rewarding the contributions employees make to the workplace. This can include more casual means by offering small physical gifts like gift cards, lunches or drinks or through more formal means, such as employee newsletters or award ceremonies. Transitional leaders can use different creative means of employee recognition to encourage engagement and positive behavior.

Clear goals and objectives

Transitional leaders can create a listing of definitive results they would like their employees to accomplish. This can let employees understand exactly what they need to accomplish and correct their efforts as necessary. This concept takes advantage of all the tools transitional leaders have, as they can use constant communication to identify any barriers to achieving goals. They can also use employee recognition to reward any positive results during the transition.

Tips for serving as a transitional leader

Here are some tips for serving as a transitional leader who properly encourages, motivates and comforts their workforce:

Be a role model

Being a role model means to be an excellent example that others can imitate. As a transitional leader, being a role model means embodying all the goals and changes in behavior the company wishes to entail in their time continuing forward. This can include having a strong work ethic, an organized work environment and distinct priorities, standards and values you set for yourself and your employees.

Related: Q&A: What Makes a Good Professional Role Model?

Stay focused on progress

As a transitional leader, you can continue to communicate when the team meets smaller or bigger goals to ensure they understand they're working toward positive progress. Focusing on this progress can help your team stay engaged by demonstrating that their work is worthwhile. You can also pause and reflect on your goals in case you need to modify them, either by separating bigger goals into smaller, more manageable goals or by rewording or refocusing the goals entirely.

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