Transition Like a Pro

By: Austin Arias

Can you believe it? Another academic year has reached it final few months. Like any student leader, I am sure your year has been filled with some very large highs, some not so great lows and something in between. But, with every year coming to a close also comes the need to transition out of your student leadership role. Whether you are a committee chair or the president of your organization, every role is essential to the organization continuing its legacy for years to come, so transitioning out of your role well is very important. Before the rush to cram for exams and move-out of your residence hall for the summer gets too far along, set your predecessors up for success by following some of these tips, tricks and words of advice.

Why transition?

You may be saying to yourself, “Austin, why should we do this? Isn’t this going to take too long?” or “Austin, I was not transitioned into my role. I just had to figure it out. Where do I start?” These are both completely valid questions. So, let’s start with question one. Why should you do this? Let’s be honest – you care a lot about your organization. You have some moments where you are so proud of what you were able to accomplish individually or with your peers. You have moments where you learned a lot and it made you better as leader. These are the moments your predecessor needs to hear about. Transitioning them appropriately helps them see the potential for growth and take some of those lessons learned and apply them to future decisions or events. When you invest so much time into something, you want it to succeed. Transitioning appropriately helps put closure to the experience, helps you reflect on your own growth and helps you move forward. Yes, this will take time. But it is time well spent. I promise.

And why else should you do this? To prevent question two!! No one likes going into a new situation without a clue of what to do. Think about it this way, if you are going to a new location, you’re likely going to prepare with a Google Map or by talking with some friends about how to get there and what to do. No one wants to just hop in the car and drive and hope for the best. Providing a “map” for the next leadership helps provides direction and a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities at hand. Even if you were not transitioned properly, the time is now to stop that trend from continuing. This will only help everyone in the long run. Where do you start? Great question. I got you covered.

Top Ways to Transition Like a Pro

  1. Reflect and Assess – Take some time to do some personal reflection of your year. This could include journaling, talking it through with a friend or your advisor or any other way that helps you really think. To do this, answer some of these questions.
    • For my position specifically, what went well this year? What am I most proud of? What did not go so well? What did I learn?
    • What ways did the organization as a whole excel? What could it have done better? What could my role do to help the group during these moments?
    • What ideas did you not have time for you think would be great for the new leader to try?
    • Are there things you weren’t expecting to do or have to consider with this role?
    • How did you balance your time? How did you make sure not only your organization succeeded, but your academics stayed strong and your mental health was a priority?
    • Anything else you think the next leader needs to know?
  2. Hold a Transition Retreat – A transition retreat is a great way to get together the current leadership with the new leadership to transition in an intentional way. This retreat should be fun and a time for leaders to share successes and lesson learned. A half-day is a great timeframe. Start the day panel style where the current leadership can share some thoughts. Maybe have your advisor moderate! Then, allow the new leadership to share some of their ideas, they desire for leading and what they are hoping to accomplish. This helps provides closure to the current leadership because they can see the passion of the new group. You don’t want to be that former president who peers on the group’s Instagram and gets frustrated because of where the group is going. After some group sharing time, pair up the current officer with the new officer and allow them some one-on-one time. During this time, the pair should go through the position description of the role, your reflection exercise from above and then allow the new officer to ask some specific questions. After, the transition to a lunch or dinner where both groups can have casual conversation and bond. Food always brings people together and this initial bond will help open lines of communication after the retreat if things come up. End the day by saying goodbye with your fellow current leaders and allow the new group to spend some time with their advisor and game plan for summer and the start of fall. Pretty simple, yeah? This retreat is short, cost-effective, hunger-satisfying and productive. Don’t have time for this? Commit to at least every current officer setting up a 30-minute one-on-one with the new officer where they do something similar. But beware, it is easy to let schedules get in the way and end-of-the-year craziness to prevent this from happening, so stay on top of your current leadership to make it happen. But what if we have current officers returning? Transitioning is still necessary! They may be transitioning into a new role and not understand the inner workings of the new position. Even if they are taking on the same position, walking through all of these steps is still helpful. They can talk through things with the advisor during the retreat.
  3. Prepare a Transition Folder – Take some time before the transition retreat to put together a folder of documents (meeting agendas, one-on-one notes from meetings with advisors, completed event planning checklists or post-program assessments, volunteer lists, emails, budget spreadsheets, etc.), images, design files (provide editable files if your position works closely with marketing so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel) and anything else you think the new officer needs that you may have saved on your personal Google Drive or laptop hard drive. Create a Google Drive folder (we all love some Google!) for your role specifically and share it with two people – (1) the new officer and (2) your advisor. Trust me, both will benefit. Then, take some time during the one-on-time at the transition retreat to go through the folder.
  4. Feel proud, smile and get ready for a new adventure! – You should feel proud of the year you accomplished. Being a student leader is hard work. But now, it’s time to move on and start a new adventure. Have faith that new the leadership will carry on your legacy, will take into account what you shared and will lead your organization well. This is the difficult part. Trust me, there were plenty of times I could not imagine walking away from organizations I spent so much time being a part of. But looking back now, I was fortunate for the experience and felt good knowing someone else would have an equally as awesome experience too.

I think we can all agree providing a proper transition for your leadership role and organization is not only a win for all. You get the chance to reflect, see your growth and be proud. The new leaders get the chance to start the year strong and get excited about their new journey. It may take a little bit of time, but the payoff is well worth it.


SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? The semester is almost over!  It’s time to transition like a pro.