Welcome to my website and my first blog, which I hope will give you a flavour of who I am, my approach to leadership and personal development, as well as my ideas on how to manage change in a positive way.
If you are a senior leader coping with change in your organisation, to your job or in your personal life please read on. As an experienced coach and recently retired senior leader in the public sector I have been reflecting on my own experiences of change, and I hope these might be useful to others.
Just over one month ago I was a senior leader within a council, now I’m self-employed and the transition has been a real learning experience for me. It started in August when I decided to ask for early retirement. I had many reasons for wanting to do this, which I will describe in more detail in a later blog called “Should I stay or should I go? How to find the right answer for you.” However, once I had made this decision and set the process in motion I had no idea how profoundly it would affect me. As I went through the experience I kept a journal and I had certainly not expected to feel completely disempowered:
“I am feeling completely disempowered, aware that my influence and power is fast waning. I am concerned about how to protect a) what I’ve set up to improve outcomes in my sector, b) teams and staff who might lose their jobs, and c) if I’m honest what colleagues will think about me after I’m gone.”
Because it was my decision to leave, one that I had thought long and carefully about, to make sure it was really what I wanted, I wasn’t expecting to feel as anxious and worried as I did. I thought I knew exactly what was happening, but as is often the case, a rational understanding of a situation doesn’t have much bearing on the feelings that arise. Of course I was going through the grieving process, for myself as a professional and a leader, and for the colleagues and work that I would leave behind. What I had learned in my coaching training, such as the fisher-transition-curve-2012bb.pdf didn’t really help at all! This is a key problem. Our emotional response is often at odds with our rational response – it may feel at times a bit like you are watching yourself in a film or on TV and are powerless to act.
The idea that the organisation/team of colleagues could manage without me was not just uncomfortable but also a bit of a shock. I was completely unprepared for the impact this loss of power and influence would have on me.
“I never in a million years realised that it would be this difficult, it’s as though I have already gone.”
As someone who was used to being in control, taking responsibility for important decisions about policy and the wellbeing of others, this was very hard to take. For leaders in the public sector, increasingly there is an expectation and requirement to have to work with others in a way that requires individuals to give up power for the sake of a partnership, and this was something that I was experiencing and perhaps not ready for.
The process of reaching the decision to leave was not dissimilar to the process all senior leaders engage in when faced with critical decision-making moments. It was a lonely and at times emotional experience which was humbling and challenging. It was humbling to realise that actually the world would keep turning if I wasn’t doing my job and challenging as I had to gracefully and tactfully allow others to do what had been my role as part of the handover arrangements.
So, how did I cope and how might that help you, if you are in a similar situation? This is very much what I would like to write about, in this and future blogs. In part it depends on your own coping mechanisms; you may need to find some space (even take a couple of days off) while you go through an important decision; you may, as I did, want to start a journal or a record of your thoughts – ordering your mind in this way can be an invaluable form of support; or perhaps you have a trusted colleague/friend who you can honestly talk to who won’t judge you or give you advice unless you ask for it. Whatever you do it is important to be kind to yourself, to be able to weigh often contradictory and unpleasant thoughts in your mind and give them equal footing, and to give yourself permission to feel whatever emotions you are experiencing. Times of upheaval throw up feelings which can be unexpected and sometimes can feel quite overpowering, but none of these feelings are wrong. It is important to take comfort in the knowledge that these thoughts and feelings are all part of the normal process of letting go.
On my last day I experienced a strange feeling of ‘haven’t I forgotten to do something?’. I had to answer myself with a wry smile: no, this really is it. This feeling was a way my mind found of expressing the difficult thought that I might want to stay after all, a very natural thing to feel at the end of a long career or a rewarding job. In later days the smile turned to worry as I had to confront my future. There were plenty of practicalities to think about and I did have a coaching client the next day, but it was and still is scary. I now had to live with the consequences of my decision.
Any big decision requires us to consider and question our ability and capabilities. In my case I knew that the time was right for me to move on to the next chapter in my life. I didn’t have all the answers and I had to trust my own judgment and gut feeling about what was right for me, whilst at the same time remaining thoughtful and open-minded about various choices I could make. That gut feeling http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/gut_feelings.html was perhaps based on an internal, subconscious ‘knowing’, which is much more than just guesswork. Our brain utilises all our prior knowledge and experience and applies it to our current situation to try to make sense of our environment.
So, what have I learnt? It is hard to say, so close to the experience, but one thing I am fairly certain about is that it’s OK sometimes to go with your gut feeling. Relying on this feeling, whilst also thinking rationally about choices and practicalities, is a helpful three-pronged approach to decision making. You can check out whether decisions are right for you by asking yourself these questions: Does it feel right? How will I feel if I don’t do it? And finally, what’s the worst that could happen?