Leaving one management job for something else — within management or outside of the profession — generally happens in one of two ways: reassignment for some reason or you choose to change assignments or professions yourself. Both forms of departure involve their own special personal challenges you must navigate successfully if you are to fully take hold of your next endeavor. Beyond the obvious good-byes to colleagues and friends, there is important intellectual and emotional work a successful transition requires.
In a simply marvelous book entitled “Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes”, author William Bridges explores the moving on phenomena that starts with an ending, progresses through a sometimes chaotic period he calls the neutral zone, and terminates in a beginning. According to Bridges, we go through this transition process many times in our lives and navigated effectively, these transitions offer the potential for significant personal growth and development.
I will leave you to explore and appreciate Dr. Bridges’ insights for yourselves, including his more recent book “Managing Transitions: Making the most of Change”. For my part, I wish to focus attention, at a minimum, on a few critical questions I believe you should ask yourself during your time in what Bridges refers to as the neutral zone: that mental — and sometimes physical — gap between the old and the new where the “process of disintegration and reintegration can serve as the source of renewal” (“Transitions” p. 120). It is a time for surrendering the old and for finding the focus, insight, attitude, energy, and appropriate perspective for successfully embracing the new.
ARE YOU FULLY PREPARED TO LET GO?
OK!!!! If you’ve been reassigned you might ask, what does it matter? A great deal, in my view. Being reassigned with what you consider important current work undone or issues unresolved, you quite probably might not feel mentally prepared to let go. You might wish to renegotiate the timetable for your departure to afford you the opportunity to wrap up a few things. Conversely, if moving on is a voluntary decision, then you hopefully have concluded that you are ready to let go.
Letting go means putting the responsibilities — and those undone matters — of your old job behind you and turning over to somebody else everything you put in place during your tenure. And as I have cautioned often, it is always dangerous to keep looking back because you generally will not like what you see: your successor will never do things exactly as you did.
Managers who have difficulty letting go, often spend way too much time thinking — often trying to micromanage — backward, thereby wasting the precious psychic energy and attention their onward undertaking requires. In short, artfully moving on requires the conscious act of letting the past go, no matter how long that takes, or hard that might be.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THE OLD?
Before you completely let the past go, however, your time in the neutral zone is a great opportunity to reflect upon the critical lessons you learned in the assignment you now must leave. This is true whether you are about to assume another management job, or pursue a totally different adventure.
Every day, month, and year in a management assignment offers lessons, both good and bad, worth some reflection. The reasons why certain management philosophies, approaches, and behaviors work and don’t work when dealing with human beings, have broad application no matter what your new beginning will be. The best managers always go to school on their past performances before moving on.
IS THE NEW WHAT YOU REALLY WANT?
Once again, many managers are not given much choice regarding their next move. Nevertheless, it is always worth some hard thinking about what is being offered, or what you have chosen as a next move.
Fully engaging a new beginning will require all your energy and attention, so it is worth measuring the opportunity against your experience, talents, skills, interests, passions, and goals to determine if there is a match. These matches are often hard to see at first, so take your time. I once had serious reservations about an onward assignment but found it suited me to a tee once I fully considered it and was totally engaged.
If you are uncomfortable about some aspects of the move, try following some of Dr. Bridges’ advice: try to identify the source of your discomfort and consider ways to alleviate it, be certain to explore all sides of the change because nothing’s perfect, and find some others to talk to who can add important differing perspectives. (“Transitions PP. 78-82).
Almost any transition in life will present some difficulties. But navigated effectively, they offer the potential for considerable growth and personal fulfillment.