Learning from George Bush about Graceful Transitions

Last Updated Nov 19, 2008 8:29 AM EST

At one time or another we will all be replaced in our job -- hopefully, it's a transition of our own choosing. I think the manner in which we leave and our willingness to welcome our successor is an important indicator of our own leadership qualities.

We've all seen what happens when a peer or boss wins a new job and has one foot out the door before the ink on the acceptance letter is dry. Productivity sags. We work harder to compensate. And our once favorable opinion of our co-worker is stained.

Leadership expert Michael Watkins gives President George Bush and his transition team high marks for how the switch to President-Elect Barack Obama is being handled.

"I can't help but admire our President's maturity and good judgment during this challenging time," writes Watkins. "And the tone has been set at the top."
There are three characteristics of a successful transition that we can see operating in the Bush White House, and that we all can learn from, he continues:
  • Focus is kept on the greater good.
  • Incumbents accelerate the learning of the incoming team.
  • The transition process is carefully staged.
Read Watkins' blog on Harvard Business Publishing for more detail on the art of the graceful transition.

In your experience, what are some of the best and worst transitions you've seen?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.