• CALL US +61 2 9950 2000

Navigating Executive Leadership Transitions


The demands placed on today’s C-Suite leaders have evolved dramatically due to increasingly complex, changing and multilayered business environments, combined with the pressures of ambitious performance targets, necessitating a diverse range of skills to meet the current challenges. Additionally, the heightened focus on governance and regulatory requirements at a Board level further intensifies the pressures of executive roles. 

McKinsey research indicates that up to 46% of executive transitions fail. This is an alarming statistic when you consider what is at stake. Beyond the considerable financial burden of executive recruitment, the repercussions on company reputation, stakeholder and customer relationships, organisational culture and business performance can be severe, and long-lasting. 


Strategies for Supporting Successful Executive Transitions 

Having a trusted confidant to explore new perspectives or discuss complex issues with, can dramatically impact an executive’s performance and that of their teams. One of the most effective strategies to support executive leaders transitioning from functional head of department roles to C-Suite or Board-level positions is through executive coaching and mentoring. The first 100 days in particular, can set the foundation for the ultimate success or failure of the transition, impacting future outcomes of the team and the organisation.   

We consulted with two of Stephenson Mansell Group’s seasoned Executive Coach Mentors, Robyn Stubbs and Steve Mann regarding the challenges executives face as they transition to the C-Suite. Robyn and Steve’s extensive corporate experience and current Board-level roles in various sectors, enable them to offer meaningful support to transitioning executives. 


Skills and Challenges in C-Suite Transitions 

Robyn and Steve highlighted the skills required for today’s C-Suite roles, the challenges new executive leaders may face early in their transition and provided some advice for how coachees can maximise their coaching or mentoring experience.   

Given the complexity of environments in which executive leaders operate, challenges can vary by sector. However, there are consistent themes often observed in the coaching space.   

Stepping Up: Both Robyn and Steve identified this as a key challenge for new executive leaders. C-suite leaders often struggle to step up from their functional or business unit roles, to an enterprise-wide, strategic focus. They tend to hold onto old habits that contributed to their success, making it difficult for them to let go and develop trust in their team to deliver. It’s imperative for executive leaders to clearly articulate vision, supported by a well-defined structure, allowing them to step out of their functional or business unit perspective and into the C-Suite. 

Maintaining a Laser-like Focus: New executive leaders can often push themselves too hard in the early stages, trying to understand all aspects of the business and to prove their worth. This can lead to confusion, misalignment of priorities and lack of focus. Executive leaders need to be consistently asking themselves, what are the three things that need my focus? Often, particularly within the first 100 days in a C-Suite role, these fall into the areas of strategy, structure and clarify of roles and responsibilities. 


Insights on Essential Skills and Behaviours 

In her research for the New York Times best-selling book “CEO Excellence”, Co-author Carolyn Dewar, found that more than two thirds of CEOs interviewed felt unprepared for their roles, highlighting the importance of sharing their insights for future executive leaders.   

With that in mind, and due to the skills and capabilities of C-Suite leaders being vastly different from other senior executive roles, we sought insight from Robyn and Steve to understand what skills and behaviours are essential for C-Suite success: 

Strategic Vision: Transitioning from a narrow functional or business unit focus to an enterprise-wide or industry-wide perspective is crucial. This includes managing a wider portfolio of stakeholders such as Board members, strategic partners, customers, team members, peers, investors, government regulators and media.  C-Suite leaders need to be able to think strategically toward 3, 5 and 10 year horizons.  

Self-Awareness: As the number and variety of stakeholder relationships increase, so too does the need for high levels of emotional and cognitive intelligence. Coaches can help leaders uncover strengths like what gives the leader energy, or what depletes their energy, helping them to develop strategies to effectively navigate these development areas.   

Agility and Adaptability:  As new technologies emerge, global economies shift, customer needs change, distribution channels evolve, and health crises impact populations, executive leaders must make strategic decisions that enable their organisation to adapt swiftly and effectively, relying on data rather than opinion.  

Integrity, Empathy and Humility: Building trust with the Board, a committed team, and a loyal customer base are essential for the success of any C-Suite leader. Genuinely caring and setting boundaries both for themselves and their team, can be transformational in delivering outcomes.  Creating an environment of psychological safety will support leaders to reveal underlying concerns, get to the issues quicker, ultimately improving productivity and quality of solutions, whilst upholding the wellbeing of their team, customers and stakeholders.  


The Impact of Coaching and Mentoring 

To assess the outcomes of effective executive coaching, Stephenson Mansell Group surveyed 95 of its coachees in 2023-2024. Key insights from the research revealed significant improvements in role effectiveness due to coaching:   

    • 79% of surveyed clients reported over 20% improvement in their role effectiveness.   
    • Nearly a third experienced more than 30% improvement. 

Common benefits of coaching for organisations and teams include: 

    • Improved talent retention  
    • Increased team engagement and outcomes 
    • Stronger commercial results 
    • Preparedness of team members for promotion, particularly at executive level, reducing the risk of failure. 

A 2022 Randstad Enterprise Survey of 262 HR decision-makers and people leaders across seven countries highlighted the value of coaching: 

    • 93% see coaching as very or extremely valuable 
    • 99% recognised its positive impact on the wider business. 


Advice for Transitioning Executives 

Based off their decades of experience working with executive leaders, Robyn and Steve shared their advice for leaders embarking on a coaching engagement: 

  • Be Open and Reflective: Avoid defensive behaviours. Embrace the support and growth opportunities offered by coaching. The coach/mentor is there to be a trusted confidant, to walk alongside you as you face challenges and help you to navigate your new landscape.  
  • Embrace 360 Reviews: Understand and develop in areas highlighted in feedback.  
  • Prioritise Coaching Sessions: It can be easy to allow other competing priorities supersede coaching sessions, particularly when under pressure. Understand the importance of the sessions and that they’re there to help you address current challenges. 


Highly skilled senior executives are in short supply. Never before has it been more critical for organisations to invest in their people, to build the foundation for successful transitions to C-suite roles. Executive coach mentoring can reduce the organisational costs associated with attrition, particularly at the C-suite level.   

Mentoring of senior executives confirms the respect and regard in which they are held and the expectation that they will continue to be significant contributors to future organisational success.  

Contact us to learn more about coaching for C-Suite transitions. 

Virginia Mansell square


Virginia Mansell, is a clinical and organisational psychologist and Founding Partner Stephenson Mansell Group. 

Steve Mann square


Steve Mann, is an Executive Coach Mentor at Stephenson Mansell Group

Robyn Stubbs square


Robyn Stubbs, is an Executive Coach Mentor at Stephenson Mansell Group


Navigating Executive Leadership Transitions

Navigating Executive Leadership Transitions

Learn from two of SMG's experienced Executive Coach Mentors on how organisation can best prepare their senior leaders for the transition into C-Suite roles, setting up their team for success.

What the Best Leaders do to Minimise Psychosocial Risks in the Workplace

What the Best Leaders do to Minimise Psychosocial Risks in the Workplace

In this month’s feature article, we look at how the best leaders balance the need to create a performance edge, while complying with strict work, health and safety laws.

SMG’s Top 10 Coaching Themes for Senior Leaders in 2024

SMG’s Top 10 Coaching Themes for Senior Leaders in 2024

The ability to build internal and external relationships has emerged as the number one focus area for in a snapshot of 150 senior leader executive coaching assignments in the region. We analyse the data and examine what the top 10 coaching themes mean for organisations.