Four Ways To Make “Invisible” Leadership Transitions Easier


The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way businesses operate, forcing thousands of organizations to digitize their workforces. In the process, job transitions have exploded, and many managers are undergoing major shifts in their roles and responsibilities. In some cases, these leadership transitions are transparent while coming with new titles and job descriptions. Many transitions, however, are becoming “increasingly informal and invisible.” This makes it difficult for leaders and their teams to adapt, according to a recent report from MIT Sloan Management Review.

An “invisible” leadership transition is one where a leader is expected to take on new duties although their official role remains the same. In a recent MIT Sloan Management Review survey, which surveyed 396 managers and leaders in 2020, respondents reported that invisible transitions were on average about 27% harder than transparent ones. This is largely because leaders who undergo invisible transitions often aren’t receiving additional training to help them adjust to their new roles, because their companies tend to expect them to be able to adapt on their own. 

The survey respondents pointed to three major reasons why invisible transitions were so difficult to manage:

1) They didn’t have enough authority;
2) they found communication difficult; and
3) they weren’t getting enough opportunities to improve themselves.

Many of those surveyed said they spent extra energy, resources, and “constant self-reflection” on adjusting to their new roles. “There is usually more change than just the transition and, in my case, more than I asked for,” said one of the respondents.

Additionally, male and female leaders reported differences in the difficulties they experienced. Among the difficulties women reported include not getting enough external support from their organizations along with a struggle to extend their leadership to networks beyond their direct teams. Men reported it was hard for them to adjust to new externally mandated responsibilities that forced them to acquire new skills. For example, many men said they struggled with adjusting to managing workers remotely during the pandemic.

How To Make “Invisible” Leadership Transitions Easier

According to MIT Sloan Management Review’s analysis, here are four ways leaders and organizations can make transformations easier:

Take authority: If you are a leader who has seen your role and responsibilities suddenly shift, take the initiative to address the matter with your supervisor. Discuss the transformation and how it’s affecting you, what needs to happen for the transition to go smoothly, and negotiate as needed. 

Communicate effectively: When you experience an invisible transformation in leadership, good communication is vital to earning and maintaining your team’s trust. This includes practicing soft skills, such as listening effectively and using diplomacy.

Embrace transformation as an opportunity for growth: Being an effective leader often requires you to embrace change. Those who do so effectively can see their careers grow successfully as a result.  

Organizations should make leadership transformations transparent: Organizations and their human resources staff must become better at identifying leadership transformations and communicating these changes clearly to those impacted by them, rather than expecting leaders to simply adjust on their own.

Leadership transformations are often challenging, especially when they lack transparency. However, following these steps can make managing these kinds of transitions much easier. 

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Carnabuci, Gianluca,, Grasselli, Nora, Marquart, Ingo. (6 May 2021). How to Manage ‘Invisible Transitions’ in Leadership. MIT Sloan Management Review.

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