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Change, Part 1 - Endings

Updated: May 19, 2021

“All change is loss and all loss must be mourned.” Harry Levinson

It might seem strange for my first blog post to focus on endings, but this is the first of three blogs on change and I had to start here.

Change inevitably means loss. For a new beginning, there has to be an ending.

It can be easy to only focus on what's ahead - on uncertainty and new horizons - but if we do this we run the risk of leaving unfinished business behind. Without a proper ending, change is only half complete.

There are many reasons we might make a change. The past year has seen many of us grapple with unavoidable or unwanted change, both personally and professionally. For some of us, the pandemic has offered an unexpected opportunity to do something differently. Many leaders are facing difficult choices.

Whatever the case, it’s unlikely that it will be a simple good vs bad equation. Even leaving a situation that is bad for us, or moving away from something that is not working for something that will ultimately be better, doesn’t mean that there is no loss involved.

On a personal level, it might not be obvious, but there is likely to be something that is serving us in some way. Even a job that is unfulfilling and stressful can offer wonderful colleagues or external status.

As a leader, you will be only too aware of the loss that change might mean for those whose roles are at risk. But there will also be loss for their colleagues, who will mourn "the way things were". And you, too, may find yourself longing for the days when these difficult decisions and processes weren't necessary.

You may have come across the “six stages of grief” model identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960’s: Anticipatory Grief, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. If you are implementing an organisational change programme, you should expect to see all of these at some stage of the process. At an individual level, you are bound to recognise at least a few while you process what is happening and work out what comes next.

Acknowledging loss is essential - whether we’re leaving a job, a relationship or a place. By giving space to this loss, we can recognise it, honour it and move on.

Some tactics that might work for you:

Be honest

There's no point trying to deny what's going on. As a leader, you need to be clear and honest about what is being left behind as well as what is coming. As an individual, you need to be honest with yourself about how change is affecting you.

Talk it through with a coach

This can help you pick apart the story you are telling yourself, and others. Are you focusing on the negative? What is it that scares you about moving on? What are you taking with you and what are you leaving behind? An executive coach can help you, as a leader, consider the implications of change on you or others and help you work through the process.

Write a letter of farewell

This is an opportunity for personal reflection. Write a letter to your job, your past self or the organisation in 2019. Acknowledge what you have experienced together, the good and the bad, and that this time is coming to an end. Then seal the letter and put it away.

Have a team event to recognise and celebrate what has been achieved

If it’s not just you that is affected by this change, then there is support and solidarity to be found in coming together to celebrate what has been achieved and mark what is being left behind. Whether it’s a raucous celebration or quiet contemplation, let people know they are not alone.

Endings are important. We need to take time for them.

Does anyone else have any hints or tips on managing endings? Please let me know in the comments.

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