In this month's blog, each member of the consulting staff were asked to share their thoughts on the arduous process of "moving on." Here is what they had to say on a subject each is very familiar with.
Similar to personal transitions (e.g., moving, introducing a new child into the family), professional transitions (e.g., shifts in leadership) will inevitably place a strain on an existing system. When change occurs our natural human response is to reduce stress by restoring homeostasis (same status), or what I like to call is our attempt to keep marching to the beat of a familiar drum.
Organizations are likely to have difficulty successfully adapting to leadership transitions, when attempts to restore homeostasis results in engagement in old ways of working or customary practices that are no longer appropriate or useful given the evolving context. Successfully navigating changes in leadership requires us to:
1. Recognize when change is occurring,
2. Embrace our natural feelings of stress, disruption and resistance,
3. Resist the urge to act to quickly in an effort to maintain the status quo,
4. Be willing to give up the status quo altogether when necessary and,
5. Think critically about what new behaviors and skills will be required to accommodate and embrace the new leadership transition.
Whether you are moving into a new organization or preparing to leave an existing role, reflecting on how you and others have responded to personal and professional life changes in the past will help you to anticipate what is ahead and determine how to assist yourself and others to navigate the transition in a positive and productive manner.
Working with leaders making transitions up, over, or out is the context of much of the work that my colleagues and I do. Based on my personal experiences with change and observing others through the process, I can empathize with the challenges that come with the territory. Maybe you’ve experienced some of these common sentiments, in which case, you’re not alone:
1. Feeling like the transition wasn’t your choice: We rarely make radical transitions without being compelled, and typically change is prompted by external factors. Even when the rationale makes perfect sense, you might feel threatened when your sense of control and stability is compromised.
2. Figuring out what’s next: It’s particularly difficult to transition from one phase to another when you don’t have a clear vision for how the next phase will materialize. For better and worse, what you’re doing today is tangible and familiar. And while the next destination might actually be superior, it’s hard to believe in a hypothetical construct before living it.
3. Knowing that the show goes on: In most cases, the work continues after you depart. When you’ve been an integral part of successful group, it can be sad to leave the mix. It’s also difficult to separate from the benefits of certain situations, ranging from social status to monetary rewards.
4. Worrying that things will fail in your absence: When you’ve been committed to solving problems and tackling challenges as the leader, there is natural anxiety that the situation will become tenuous without you. You might know more about the business’ vulnerabilities than most, and potentially have years of skin in the game. Trusting others to maintain continuity requires a leap of faith.
5. Anticipating that your successor will undo or critique your work: When you vacate a role, it is likely that the next leader will make assessments and judgments about where things stand. Without being present to explain your decisions and offer context, there is some defensiveness associated with showing your hand.
The good news is that these sentiments are natural, appropriate… and temporary. With support, trust, and a plan you can rise to the occasion and surprise yourself with adaptability and resilience!
Leadership transitions can be challenging from many different angles. Leaders who are retiring for example have one set of challenges, while leaders who are joining new organizations have a different set of adjustments to make. Here are just a few examples that that come to mind:
For senior leaders who are leaving the traditional workforce, it can be particularly challenging if they have not taken the time (well before they transition) to explore and consider ideas for what might be next. It is generally a smoother transition away from something very familiar if the leader feels excited and energized about what is ahead – instead of anxious about how in the world they will fill such a big void. This does not necessarily mean jumping immediately into something new in an intense way, but instead taking some time over the years to really consider what could be next. Such personal reflection and broad exploration is necessary and healthy. The key is finding the balance between actively thinking about it and planning the next chapter early in the game, while also giving yourself the license to create some breathing room to slow down, take stock, and really get life the way you want it.
If the leader is transitioning into a new role in a new organization, the challenges are often associated with finding the balance between wanting to make an immediate impact – but doing so in a way that is paced in alignment with the new organization’s norms. While it may seem counter intuitive, taking your time to implement changes is often a better strategy – particularly if you are entering a situation where everyone has a long history together. Additionally, new leaders often try to “go it alone” to show the organization their value, when instead they are generally better served by identifying a small cadre of trusteed insiders who can be sources of insight, wisdom, and nuanced organizational intelligence. The early months of a new leader’s entrée to the organization are a critical time, and everyone is watching.
One of the most difficult aspects of leadership transitions is that other members of the leadership team may need to transition as well...and often are completely unaware of it.
The reasons vary including, leaders that might have been left behind may not work well with the new leader, new skill sets for the leadership team are necessary or simply there is no energy left to accommodate or change for someone new.
It’s one of those moments in life where knowing yourself and what you want can help the leadership transition more successful for you and the company.