Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Sydney Business School


A widely cited statistic on leadership transitions claims that 40 per cent of executives fail within the first 18 months in a new role (Watkins 2003). Leadership transitions—a significant change in a leader’s role commonly associated with being promoted or changing organisations—are occurring more frequently in leaders’ careers and across organisations due to an increased pace of business change influenced by technology, globalisation and merger and acquisition activity. As many as 25 per cent of leaders change roles each year (Watkins 2013) and the resulting leadership transition often ranks as one of the most stressful and challenging experiences that executives have in their careers and lives. When a leadership transition is unsuccessful, the costs to the organisation and leader are significant. The estimated costs for replacing a leader who has failed the transition can range from as low as 30 per cent (Van Vark 2006) to 2400 per cent (Levin 2010) of the leaders’ annual salary. Additionally, the people surrounding the failed leader also suffer and the leader can experience considerable damage to their career and confidence.

Organisations struggle to support their leaders in transition; this is truer for leaders who are new to the organisation and who have a more difficult transition than for leaders who are promoted from within, although both are risky situations for leaders. The programs utilised to integrate new staff into an organisation include orientation, induction, socialisation and onboarding. Many of these programs are effective for general staff, but they fail to meet the needs and expectations of leaders in transition. Externally recruited leaders are often left to ‘sink or swim’ in their new role within a new organisational culture and are without the support of a relational network. Internally promoted leaders also criticise the lack of support provided during their transition into different and more senior roles.

FoR codes (2008)

1503 BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT, 150305 Human Resources Management, 150311 Organisational Behaviour



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.