So, if you missed Episode 108, you can go back to catch up on my personal story as it relates to leading while leaving. As I mentioned previously, I had no intention of leaving Rio. In the roles that I had in their Shared Services group, I found real satisfaction and meaning. It felt like I could make a difference and I reveled in the joy of that feeling. Until it all came undone. Leaving when it was not your choice can be brutally difficult.
Change Is Coming
And late in 2017, I could see that everything was about to change again. All I had worked for was about to come to an end but I was actually able to take a different perspective because I had been through several versions of this over the years. It felt like practice. Although, this was also a game I didn’t really want to play.
Nothing good comes from comfort. And while we don’t enjoy being uncomfortable, it creates the impetus for change. In facing the very real likelihood of a premature departure from my plans, my response was different than that of the others in the team.
I had already been through the process that cost me my job and while I might not have handled all of it correctly, I handled it well enough to survive. As a result, I was able to gain a perspective that I could share with others.
Your Experience Can Help Others
And here is why you don’t want to avoid the difficulty: if handled correctly, the experience will facilitate your ability to help others. Because of my past, I could relate to the trauma inflicted on them as they had to deal with something that many of them had never imagined.
The announcement was made in October of 2017 that the Commercial group in Salt Lake City would be merged with several other Commercial teams in other Rio Tinto business units. It was not clear where the consolidation would take place, but we heard a lot of rumors. They were mostly large, metropolitan areas in the northeast U.S. that you would picture being home to financial institutions or other Fortune 500 businesses. What we knew for sure was that Salt Lake City was not being considered, nor Denver (the two locations in the western U.S. where Rio Tinto already had a large number of employees present).
And this wasn’t happening just in the U.S. It was happening in London as well. The Commercial team there knew that consolidation was occurring. And while London would continue to be a headquarters location for Rio, that location would not be considered for the newly consolidated European Commercial team.
It was like a punch in the gut. People were in denial. This is the first phase of the Kubler-Ross grief cycle. People were confused. Why would the business do this? How could this possibly make sense? Our group is closely tied to the operation, so how could we move thousands of miles away into different time zones and still manage to do our jobs? People raised one rational reason and justification after another to explain how this could not happen. Of course, Rio would understand their folly and step away from this monumental mistake, right?!
Believe it or not, denial is a good thing, at least initially, for some people. It keeps you from washing away in a flood of emotion that you aren’t ready to handle. When someone’s first response is “that will never happen” or “this makes no sense” then you might recognize that they are engaging a natural mechanism to protect them from overwhelm.
Everyone knows that denying it doesn’t prevent it. Denial is how they want to see things turn out. It’s not a reflection of reality, but a desire. Trying to understand why they are denying helps you see how to help. Because those hidden or protected feelings are going to start coming to the surface as reality continues to present itself.
It’s important to note here that these five stages aren’t all experienced each time. Nor are they experienced in order. Someone might only experience one or two of the stages. For instance, you might skip denial and go straight to the next of the five stages, which is anger.
So, the leaders in the Commercial group made the decision to consolidate the U.S.-based team members in Chicago. I have some very good friends that live in the Chicago area. They love Chicago and are extremely happy there. If you have spent time in Chicago, you know that there are beautiful areas and friendly people.
Depending on your personality type, life status, role or position in the company, or maybe family history, Chicago might be a perfect fit. For most of the folks in the Salt Lake City or Denver offices, it was not. For a myriad of reasons that included quality of life, access to recreation/hunting/fishing, cost of living, traffic/commute, property values, tax structure, and a million other elements that come into consideration, it simply didn’t make sense for a high percentage of the team members.
When things start to take a turn and you know that you will soon be on the outside looking in, you can feel alone. Abandoned. Disregarded. Even though you may have been the one to choose not to go, you find yourself blaming others. Blaming leaders who don’t know you, don’t know the value you contribute, making decisions without having all of the facts. It makes your blood boil.
No one is listening to you – this is not going to work! And those emotions can boil over onto your family and friends. Unreasonableness. Irritability. Frustration. You might feel like a ticking time bomb.
You don’t want to hear this, but it’s good that you are angry. Dr. Christina Gregory says that as a leader, “you should encourage the anger. It will dissipate. The more you truly feel the anger, the more quickly it will dissipate, and the more quickly you will heal. It’s actually going to do damage if you try to suppress it.”
So help people process their anger. Is it fair? No! Is it right? No! This whole mess sucks! The quicker you can get to the emotions behind the anger, then the quicker you get to move forward from it and watch it diminish.
Next up, the third stage of grief is bargaining. So back in 2008, the outsourcing initiative was in full swing. The end was coming and I knew that by 2009, my job would be gone. This stage of grief is vivid for me as I reflect on my behavior. Let me first say that I’m glad I did what did. As a result, I forced the kind of career change that you would never choose unless you were able to recognize the need for disruption to kill comfort. In hindsight, it was the best thing I ever did. But this stage can present a false hope, that you can avoid grief if you are willing to make a large enough sacrifice.
It’s possible that underlying my decision to take this new career path was some bargaining. At the core, you are trying desperately to get back to the way your life was prior to the event. We had two boys at home and I didn’t want to risk the disruption that could result from uncertainty.
In my opinion, you are vulnerable here. As a result, this can cause you to make short-sighted decisions. Decisions that will cost you in the future. Be careful in this stage. And remember this: nothing is going back to the way it was. Your only option is to go forward the best way you know how.
I took a demotion to keep a job. That created some financial pain over a few years but not nearly as great as what I would have to experience if I didn’t land another job quickly. In my case, the benefits outweighed the drawbacks; however, I know now that this was an attempt to avoid grief.
And that’s okay, but I wonder if I would have dealt with that decision differently knowing what I know now? It caused me to stretch and grow, so I’m glad I did it even though I’m not certain I fully understand my underlying motives at that time.
I imagine that jumping from Anger to this fourth stage is pretty common. Depression settles in when you feel like the circumstance has spiraled out of your control. So, surprise! It never was in your control!
The lonely and desperate feelings that can accompany depression are frightening. Some describe it as paralyzing. As with all of the stages, individuals experience varying degrees of severity. It can be debilitating.
There’s some disagreement about the value of medication. What is not disputed is the value of counseling. There are times when you spiral so quickly, you don’t feel like you can prevent the momentum. Make an appointment and go talk to someone who can help you get perspective.
There is no substitute for being able to talk about and process your feelings. Don’t sit on them. Many employers offer an employee assistance program. You don’t have to be at wit’s end to take advantage of these services.
Go seek out a counselor when you don’t need one. Get a different view of your situation. Above all, do not struggle with thoughts of suicide by yourself. Reach out immediately. Contact your doctor, make a visit to your local hospital, call a suicide prevention hotline, call a friend or family member, whatever. Just please, PLEASE, don’t try to deal with that by yourself.
When you feel down or empty, don’t think you’re alone. This is not abnormal. It can be hard just to get out of bed when everything you’ve worked for feels like it has been stripped away. But this isn’t accurate. It hasn’t all been taken.
No one can take your personal growth. You are handling one of the more difficult challenges thrown at you in life. Losing your role, being forced out, choosing to leave, or however it is that you got here, you can grow as a result. You will be different, stronger, and more capable of handling adversity. That has value which could not be obtained in any other way.
The last stage is acceptance. And here is something else that Dr. Gregory said that I want to emphasize. Acceptance is not saying that this is all okay. It’s not good. It’s saying that this is not okay, but I’m going to be okay.
The new reality is no longer being able to work in the job you love. It’s going through the pain of looking for a new role, possibly having to move and likely disrupting your life. But you will be okay! I wish we had time for me to share with you the numerous stories I have of how these terribly difficult circumstances resulted in new roles with new companies with better outcomes as a result.
You Will Be Okay
It looks terribly bleak when you are in the middle of it. Everything you’ve known has been stripped away. The way you see yourself, the way you imagine others see or think of you has been challenged to the core. Believe me, I can relate to the emotions that flood your soul when going through this. It’s not easy, but you will be okay.
So, work with yourself and with your team to recognize these five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Don’t try to shortcut the process and limit the emotions. Talk through it, experience empathy as you walk with others through their challenges, and don’t set up camp here either.
Next week I’m going to talk about how to get comfortable with not knowing what’s next. I’ll share some great insight that will help you with your time in liminal space. Liminal space? So what the heck is that? Well, I guess you’ll have to listen in next week to find out!
Great leaders have a better future because they create it. Go create yours and I’ll talk to you next week.
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
Srikumar Rao’s YouTube video How to Eliminate Stress and Anxiety FOREVER
The Leader to Leader Podcast Episode 108: Leading While Leaving: My Story
Blog post by Christina Gregory, PhD on psycom.net The Five Stages of Grief: An Examination of the Kubler-Ross Model
The Leader to Leader Podcast Episode 107: Leading While Leaving: Things You Must Never Do
The Leader to Leader Podcast Episode 106: Leading While Leaving: Things You Must Always Do
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