Making a career transition is a challenge for all leaders and can be particularly daunting for those who have been in an organization for a long time and have strong relationships with coworkers. Having coached many leaders through this transition over the years, I have seen specific strategies used to maintain confidence and manage the change. Most recently, I’ve been able to put these strategies to use through my own experience.
Several months ago, I decided it was time to make a transition and was grateful to leverage the successes I’d seen. I emerged from the job change feeling good about the state of my team and the business I left. There were certainly times I doubted myself, and as fears developed, I stayed focused on my vision and my values. But what were those fears, and how did I manage them?
Here are three common fears leaders (including myself) experience during a career change, and specific strategies that are helpful in leading through them:
Fear # 1: If I leave, I will disrupt the business and leave my team in a lurch.
This is a common fear, and I'm worried for any leader who doesn't consider this before leaving his or her organization. Good leaders consider their legacy and are thoughtful about how they are leaving the business. Before and during my transition, I asked myself repeatedly, “Am I leaving the organization better than I found it?” I actually stayed in the organization much longer than I should have because I felt a responsibility to make change and do my part in making the organization better. I stayed longer because I continued to see opportunities to help the organization. For quite some time, I compromised my natural strengths and fulfillment because of my fear that I wasn’t doing my part.
A strategy to manage this fear: Document and submit a detailed transition plan. Identify the areas of work that you are currently engaged in as well as future opportunities to improve your function and organization. Provide a recommendation for how the work should be transitioned and who should lead it — be bold and trust your perspective. Submit your transition plan at the same time you submit your resignation so that the organization (and your boss) is immediately relieved knowing that there is a documented transition plan. If appropriate, build yourself into the plan as a consultant to continue to support the organization in a specific way. Twice in my career, I have left organizations to consult and in both instances, the organizations I left became clients.
Fear #2: I will piss people off and my relationships will suffer.
The day after I submitted my resignation, a senior leader passed me in the hallway and said five words to me without cracking a smile . . . “You are dead to me.” My fear came true and it hurt, but I decided not to take it so personally.
The truth is that you will piss people off and relationships will suffer, but in my experience, the important ones will actually get stronger. There are several leaders from past jobs that I consider life-long trusted advisors and they respect how I left the organization and why. My relationships are actually stronger with them now.
A strategy to manage this fear: Determine which relationships are most important to you (the ones you want to continue) and sit down to talk with these people. Tell them why they are important to you and that you’d like to maintain the relationship. Here’s the kicker: If you tell them that you want to maintain a relationship, you must do that, so don’t tell everyone that — only the few you care about most.
Fear #3: The grass isn’t always greener; there will be things I will miss in the new role.
Just like there are people you will miss, there are things you will miss — perks, nuances of the culture, compensation, etc. Regardless of how exciting the change is, there will always be a sense of loss.
A strategy to manage this fear: Identify what you get from the perks that is fulfilling and identify how to create that fulfilment in your life after the change. Determine how you can recreate the feeling you get as a result of the perk — that is the key! You are in charge of how you feel and what you create in your life.
The organization that I transitioned from is heavily involved in service work and through the organization I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico on mission trips. It was incredibly rewarding, and I grew tremendously as a leader. I’m grateful to the organization for giving me these experiences and teaching me the value of service. I’ve since learned that my service is not dependent upon the organization I am a part of. In my new role, I’ve already engaged in multiple service activities and will always do so, regardless of where I am working.
At the end of the day, your career transition will be whatever you choose to make of it (just like everything else in your life). Pay attention to how you’re talking and thinking about your transition and decide what you want it to look like. You’re in the driver’s seat and can manage all of the crazy thoughts and fears that pop up along the way with intentionality and openness. You’ve got this!