Transitions can be frightening! Can you relate?

When I envisioned a river crossing two decades ago, I was imagining a small craft, feeling unstable in the middle of a rapidly moving stream, with one or two people in it rather than an organization led by the leaders and teams I currently coach.

A larger boat does not necessarily ensure greater stability and safety, think Titanic and overturned ferry boats (a concern of mine traveling in Asia Pacific just after the death of 300 in one accident). The symptoms and range of emotions mentioned below and found in Bridges’ work, occur whether you are an individual, team or organization in transition and can interfere with focus, sleep (strange dreams, anyone?), performance and productivity.

The other primary updates from my 2001 newspaper column, below, are clear steps to implement along with the internal shift, as well as today’s pace. Instead of having time on new land to get your “land legs”, to adjust and explore, we are now frequently, quickly pushed back into the middle of the river, spending little time if any on the solid shore. “The sea of change” I call it.

Our parents tried to prepare us for our family canoe trip with our cousins by having us sleep out in the tent in the backyard and try out the dehydrated food we would be eating. If portaging (carrying the canoes overhead across land) had been explained, I don’t recall and was surprised by the challenge, especially considering my closest cousin (still good friends) and canoeing partner was over 12″ taller than me at the time. Our paddling was a little off balance also! (end canoe, with my mom) And we were totally disgusted with the leeches and other things in the water.

No matter how much you prepare for transitions, surprises are almost guaranteed. Looking back I feel empathy for our parents, aunt and uncle as leaders in coordinating meals, setting up camp each night, launching in the morning, and portaging with eight children ages five through teens. Their excitement regarding the adventure helped carry us through.

How is your vision carrying you and your team, family, organization, community through our almost continuous, full of surprises transitions? A program on Indigenous Wisdom used the transition metaphor of standing in the middle of the stream, reaching for valuable aspects of the past as well as toward our envisioned future, using both to guide and steady us.

What lessons can you apply to transitions, including the current pandemic and protests?

Steps for being effective Transition Team players:

  1. Choose your stance: you can brace: dwell in the land of complaints (+fear) and overwhelm or choose to embrace: view transition as an adventure, give thanks for your team’s strengths and focus on your inspiring vision! Check in: how clear and inspiring is your vision?
  2. Ask: How can I/we have the biggest positive, sustainable Quadruple Bottom Line* (People, Planet, Profit and Purpose) impact? What is the most loving thing I can do: for the earth, this community, this organization, our team, for others, for myself? My own answers to these questions the past 24 years led me to offer Team Coaching as well as Coaching Leaders and Mentoring and Supervising Coaches. The 2016 Rio Olympics chose to plant one tree for each Olympic athlete. How is your team answering this question? I look forward to hearing from you!
  3. Learn how to manage and communicate* during uncertainty, a key leadership characteristic identified by the Harvard Kennedy School, find 6 steps in my “How To Successfully Communicate While Uncertain” blog
  4. Engage your (intercultural-which is ALL teams when we consider gender, generation, ethnicity, etc; global) team and each stakeholder through (virtual) coffees and frequent intentional contact and communication. “The larger a multinational company becomes, the more important it is to develop a transnational character…Wherever they wish to operate, they must identify the various stakeholders, understand which groups may be supportive of company goals and which are likely to protest or oppose them, and develop strategies to engage each constituency effectively.” in order to succeed, HBR article: Your Company Needs a Foreign Policy, John Chipman. And making sure your diverse teams promote equity, inclusion and belonging contributes to talent recruitment and retention.

Please know, I am thinking of you, and hope you are taking care of yourselves in the midst of our continuous, challenging transitions. I know there’s a lot for us to handle as individuals, teams, and organizations, and it’s changing moment by moment. Please let me know how I can best support you and be of service.

To our potential, prosperity and peace-we are in this together!

Coaches, Don’t miss out on our Culturally Intelligent Mentor Coaching + Certificate Program, it is filling, so don’t delay, sign up now!
Leaders, apply today for an Unlock Potential strategy session, limited availability as the leadership and team coaching  side of my business has expanded this year as well.

I want to partner with you to achieve your vision as I fulfill mine: partnering with coaches, leaders and teams to unlock potential, prosperity and peace (including reducing unproductive conflict)

Marilyn O’Hearne, MSW, MCC, LLC

CQ Master Certified Coach, International Coach Federation

Published July 28, 2020 and updated

Don’t let Transitions Scare You
Kansas City Star 05/12/01

Date: 05/12/01 22:15

Being in transition is like being in the middle of a river crossing. You are not on solid ground and may feel the boat rocking. Entrepreneurs and people who grew up “on the water,” in a state of flux, experience this as normal. Many do not. Understanding transitions can help you maintain your balance when you feel the boat rock.

When you hear the word “transition,” what do you think of? Chances are you remember a transition, recognize one or more present in your life now or are expecting one in the near future. Transitions have been, and always will be, a part of our lives.

Transitions are a natural part of life. Going from staying home with children to re-entering the work force is a transition. Other transitions may not be so planned, such as losing a job through downsizing or a merger.

Many of my coaching clients want to embark on a career transition. What we start with is making sure they have enough support and energy to make the journey. What I hear from them once they have landed on the other shore is that the lifestyle changes they made continue to be one of the biggest benefits of their transition.

What do you experience during transition? A sense of loss for what has been. Back to the “river crossing” metaphor, looking at the shore you have left, you remember what it was like, maybe with fondness, regret, sadness, anger, relief or guilt. You gaze at the other side, and may not be sure yet of what it will be like, leaving you feeling excited or anxious.

The essence of going through a transition is that sense of being in the middle of the river, and can result in your feeling confused, drained, unable to concentrate, preoccupied, isolated, and having difficulty sleeping and eating. In fact, some of these symptoms are the same as those of someone who is clinically depressed. This doesn’t mean you are going crazy.

Organizations find their employees missing more work, or less effective on the job. They find increased miscommunication, staff overload and turnover, disorganization and conflict. Employees may also show signs of self-doubt, resentment and self-protection, according to William Bridges in his book, Managing Transitions.

We know from systems theory that systems resist change, even changes that are seen as positive. Moses leading the Israelites out of years of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land gives us a classic example. Not too far out of Egypt, the people complained about the journey, missing the predictable meals and safety they had before they left for the wilderness.

Do you see transition as negative and transformation as positive? The “in-betweenness” of transition makes us uncomfortable and opens the door for dramatic shifts and giant steps forward. The good news is that while you are experiencing a transition, you are most capable of changing in a significant way. The same is true of your organization.

Clearly, how you or your organization manages a transition will make a difference.