Embracing Your Sadness at Work When a Great Leader Leaves
When we talk about grief, it's generally about losing something so dear to us. However, we also experience fewer permanent losses that can trigger unexpected feelings of hopelessness. One significant is experiencing hearing that your leader with whom you have built trust, the leader who took the time to invest, listen, and guide, and then out of nowhere, they drop the" I am leaving." Look, it's hard finding leaders with the traits of someone who cares, who has compassion, and who has a vested interest in helping team members grow and embrace challenges. Especially if it's a quick and sudden decision, and sometimes it happens, as people say.
However, this can be disrupted and very complicated for the whole team and much broader, and yes, I understand that we have to make decisions, but I also think that we should make more efforts to hold onto these rare individuals. After being in this industry, I have had my share of leaders of all kinds, and quoting the wisdom of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want.” When a leader decides to leave or is laid off, allow time for the team to allow the grieving process sensibly to ensure a smooth transition for everyone involved and have a plan set in place to eliminate the anxiety, fear, and wonder what is what. Remember that it's not just the team but also the new leader who may be new or a leader who inherits the team. Trust me; the new leader has to manage their anxiety and knows they must build trust fast to continue lifting the affected team.
I know we all have experienced this, so how can we help each other and support the new leader coming into this scenario? Here are some suggestions: I have surveyed my excellent network to capture their voices in the industry.
Stay connected with your leader who is leaving; you built a relationship that can grow even more authentic and continue with the relationship you both have created. When such actions are taken and not explained, It may feel like you're losing someone important in your life. Here's the deal, your relationship with them doesn't have to end when they leave. Stay c touch with them to maintain that meaningful connection. After all, they're leaving, not disappearing! Share with them how you value the time you had with them.
When shifting from one leader to another, we should surround the new leader with support and patience—sending the existing leader with the comfort and pride to carry on their legacy of what we have learned from them. I believe this will ensure the new leader is successful.
The team should take the opportunity and celebrate the outgoing leader and embrace the change. This will allows the team to reflect on their time with them with fondness and minimize the risk of a negative transition for the new leader; come on, no one deserves such treatment.
When we downplay the transition internally and externally, it undermines the grief of your team. It makes the transition period less open and collaborative. For this reason, it's essential to keep an ongoing conversation among everyone involved; this is one of the company's most immense missed opportunities.
Through the transition period, you and your colleagues depend on one another to maintain momentum to keep moving forward and new projects. Make efforts to reach out to your colleagues to help balance the workload and allow time to talk about your feelings in a safe space, especially with the ambiguity that follows such an exit.
Please keep an open mind with your new leader; it benefits both. When it comes to loved leaders, they will quickly amass a fierce sense of loyalty among their colleagues. When they leave, there's a chance you and your team may feel lost or even anxious while figuring out how to work with the new leader. While these feelings are valid, a specific set of expectations automatically sets the new leader up for failure, and we keep on following this method. Instead, the teams take the time and build a trusted working relationship with the new leader and allow the leader to focus on the human connection and not so much moving into work, maybe have an impromptu offsite, bonding, listening to everyone, considering perspectives, etc. Remember, this is a time of learning and staying curious on both ends.
Everyone involved is entering a new phase of growth, learning from a leader that can help you continue developing, heck having different leaders is truly a great thing. Allow yourself to be curious about what they bring to the table and check in with them, offer to help, grab a coffee, or zoom chat to build that trust; after all, it's not just you who needs the trust. Of course, not all leaders are the same. Understand that each leader will differ from your past leader's priorities, shifting your team's expectations significantly if ongoing projects may change or even end, processes may vary, etc. That is ok; it might be even better, but you'll never know until you try and trust.
When getting to know your new leader, share your passion, ask what is the best way to communicate, ask about their vision of the team moving forward, etc. Understanding the new leader's vision and how you can help with it would benefit both. Show you care, share your experience, and allow them to get to know you. Know that you can be part of your new leader's success moving forward. Letting them know you're available will help and start building that trusted relationship from the start.
Allow the team time and space to miss the previous leader, but don't allow these emotions to sabotage what you have achieved in your career. Sure, you can be sad, but don't allow the sadness to cloud your judgment. You can best show up at work, draw on the learnings you have gained with your previous leader, and carry on their legacy by continuing your journey. You have worked hard to get where you are in your career, and don't blame anyone for the actions taken; at a leadership level, we aren't privileged with the whole narrative.
Making assumptions makes it hard to embrace change and could cause the wrong impression of others; stay positive and keep connecting. There are ways to express feelings productively. Take time outside your workplace for your mental health, create team time, laugh, celebrate, etc. Connect with your mentor, get their perspective, and reach out to your network so that you have someone to talk through it with, whether a friend or family member; surround yourself with positive folks. We all love leaders who believe in us. When there are changes, it can be stifling, but don't quickly judge, keep positive, and be supportive. Embrace the new leader; look at it as a new chapter of your career. It's not worth staying sad because when we do, we lose out on opportunities in front of us. Change is good, and relationships will last.