Your Next Move: The Leader's Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions: Book Review; V4 Issue 4

Title: Your Next Move: The Leader's Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions

Author: Michael D. Watkins

Publication details: Harvard Business School Publishing, United States of America, 2009

Number of pages: 220 pages

How ready are you to make your next move in your career? To make sure you are ready read “Your Next Move”, an excellent guide for leaders navigating career transitions. Its author Michael D. Watkins is a widely recognized authority on the subject of leadership transitions. In his earlier book “The First 90 Days”, a classic of the genre, he identified strategies implemented by all successful newly appointed leaders and the organizations that hire them. In “Your Next Move” he has further developed on that thinking.The book specifically covers eight classic career transitions viz., Promotion, Leading former peers, Corporate Diplomacy ie., having to use direct authority to building alliances and consensus, Joining a new organization, International Move, Having to Turnaround a division in crisis, Realigning a division and Managing a multifaceted Portfolio.

In the introductory chapter Watkins identifies some common elements of successful transitions. According to him the ‘Seven Elements of Successful Transitions’ are organize to learn, establish A–list priorities, define strategic intent, build the leadership team, lay the organizational foundation for success, secure early wins and create supportive alliances. Then he goes on to dedicate one chapter on each of the transitions. With case studies, Watkins illustrates the challenges associated with each type of transition. For example, Watkins says, that in the case of being promoted to lead your former peers, ““you think you know everyone, and everyone thinks they know you. But then those relationships were shaped in part by the roles you previously played. The protocols, perceptions, and interactions must all be different now.” He then provides the insights, strategies, and tools one needs to manage these critical transitions and continue climbing one’s career ladder.

For each of the transitions the book elaborates on the personal and organizational adaptations required for the leader to be effective.. It encourages individual leaders to examine their own skills and development needs and it explores how organizations can help those individuals manage their transitions. For example in the promotion scenario the author suggests that the individual would be required to balance depth and breadth, delegate more deeply, influence differently, communicate more frequently and adjust to greater visibility. To ensure employees are effective when promoted the author recommends that organizations should build and use good competency models and create career development pathways consisting of the right types of experiences like “stepping stones”. “Stepping Stones” refer to a“sequence of assignments each of which represents a significant stretch along one or two of the critical development dimensions but not so much of a stretch that the leader slips and falls.”

Each chapter includes real-world examples to demonstrate the author's practical advice. For instance he writes about the “shadow organization” the informal power structures and cultural idiosyncrasies that exist in every organization and that come into play most strongly during times of personal and organizational change. To work effectively within that shadow organization, he demonstrates how to build one’s own influence network, distinguish between professional relationships and alliances and make changes in leadership style at different levels of an organization.

While the book is focused on the individual development of leaders, it also throws light on the subject of transition from an organizational perspective, thus offering a good checklist for HR managers in charge of career development of employees. And undoubtedly this is a good reference book for anyone who is currently in a career transition, expecting a career transition or simply looking for ideas on how to navigate his or her current position better.

Ask the Expert: Aug '07

I have just become a manager of a set of people and I feel I need to make some changes in the way we work. Unfortunately I am facing a lot of resistance from my subordinates, although I have explained clearly the need for change.

There is a natural tendency for people to resist change even if the changes one wants to implement are essential. Once people adapt to an environment and are sure of their role within it, any change will threaten the needs (comfort, satisfactory relationships etc) that are met by the status quo ie. the way things are. Some ways to make change easier are:-

  • Give your subordinates some time to accept you as their manager. They are still getting used to you. Acceptance of you will lead to a greater acceptance of the changes you propose. Once you demonstrate your job capability, your ability to lead them and your genuine concern for their well being, they will accept you.
  • Anticipate your subordinates’ concerns and address them. Give them opportunities to express their feelings. Answer their questions completely. Assure your full support in all implementation plans.
  • Share your vision for the change and for your work group. Emphasize the benefits the change will bring to each of them.
  • Involve them in decisions whenever possible especially those which impact them directly. They need to own the change to be able to implement it effectively.


One keeps hearing about how continuous learning is important to do well in one’s career. How do I learn without attending training programs which are expensive and time consuming?

You are absolutely right! To grow in your career you must continuously learn and develop your skills and knowledge. The will to learn is important. If you are in continuous learning mode you can learn every month, every week and every day. There are several ways to learn apart from a training program. Some of them are:-

  • Learn on the job by soliciting feedback from others about your work, doing some self reflection of what you did right and wrong, discussing with other colleagues and observing their work
  • Read relevant books and articles. Subscribe to relevant magazines to be in touch with the latest in your industry.
  • Be part of online/offline groups that hold discussions on your area of work.
  • Take an online course which will work out more economical and give you flexibility of choosing the time you want to devote to learning.
  • Find someone inside or outside the company who has already mastered the new skills to act as a coach and clarify your doubts.
  • Exchange questions and experiences with a “learning partner”, someone who is learning the same skill. If you cannot find a learning partner in your group or company, look for groups on the Internet who are interested in the subject.

However for you to successfully learn relevant skills you must identify what you need to learn. Make sure the learning areas directly help in improving your work related skills. Then develop a learning plan that includes what you need to learn, learning resources you will use, a schedule of learning activities and measures of learning achievement.


I know my top management is capable and have employees’ best interests at heart. But then why don’t they communicate important developments to employees. We have to rely on the grapevine to get company updates.  

While it is top management’s responsibility to communicate adequately with employees, don’t let that stop you from approaching them and clarifying any concerns that you have. When you meet them explain your concern positively. Try and understand their perspective on issues just as you want them to understand yours. If they say they will clarify later, ask for their commitment on the same and follow up on the same if you don’t hear from them.  

Mostly top management does not communicate for one of the following reasons:-

  • Certain developments may not be final and communicating it too soon may have a negative impact.
  • If there is bad news, they don’t want to alarm the employees by giving it immediately without having first formed a strategy to address the problem.
  • Overloading employee with information is not good. So, they have to be choosy about what to communicate and in the process topics you are interested in may get left out.
  • Some information by its very nature may not be for public consumption eg., financials of a private company. If you ask them they will explain it to you, but it will not be circulated to everybody to avoid leakage to outsiders etc.

Often information gets distorted through rumours. So, discount any rumours you have heard. You should definitely highlight your concern to top management directly. It’s likely that your manager will also be able to clarify. You may want to ask him/her first.

And, read carefully information about the company that is available to you - company highlights sent on emails and in newsletters, company news in media etc. Often one tends to read it hurriedly thinking it does not affect me.