What to Leave, and What to Take


“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
–From “The Godfather”

While browsing the website of executive coach Scott Eblin (@ScottEblin on Twitter), I encountered his book, “The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.”  An item about his book caught my eye in particular: Moving successfully to the executive level requires knowing which behaviors and beliefs to let go, as well as which new ones to pick up. Interesting; it so happens my coach and I touched upon these in a related conversation regarding the topic of transitions.  As I wrote in a previous blog entry (see Feedback), Stage 5 in the lifecycle of a team or project is a time for reflection, to capture lessons learned, to celebrate, and to prepare for the transition to something new.  Since others reading this may be preparing for a transition as well (whether due to the completion of projects as in my case, or forced due to impending layoffs), I thought I’d share a framework for dealing with a transition.

In preparing for an upcoming transition, I see it as an opportunity to take inventory of the situation and my perspective of it.  As I hinted at earlier, I can take inventory of those things I wish to pick up and take with me, and those I wish to let go and leave behind.  I see this as a very thinking-oriented perspective.  That’s OK.  If you’ve followed my writings to this point, you realize that I have a feeling-oriented perspective as well, which I assert is quite appropriate for a transition.  So, let’s introduce how I feel about the transition, and take inventory of the situation in very simple terms: thrilled, and sad.  You can see where this is going…four quadrants consisting of combinations:

  • Quadrant 1: Things that I’m thrilled to pick up and take with me;
  • Quadrant 2: Things that I’m thrilled to let go and leave behind;
  • Quadrant 3: Things that I’m sad to let go and leave behind;
  • Quadrant 4: Things that I’m sad to pick up and take with me.

So, here is my inventory assessment, along with actions I can take.

Quadrant 1, Thrilled to Take With Me.  Through this assignment, I built new relationships with key allies and partners that will come into play in the future.  Also, the team achieved an important result that furthers the organization’s goals, and I can point towards my role in leading the team as being an element of that success.  Therefore, it’s the satisfaction of a job well done and the new relationships that I’ll be able to take with me and build upon for the future.  Perhaps others will benefit from the knowledge that lasting partnerships can be built from strategic planning assignments, so I’ll share this in a “lessons learned.”

Quadrant 2, Thrilled to Leave Behind.  The building that housed my team is, for a lack of a better description, somewhat substandard.  (My team would use stronger language, I’m sure.)  I’m not going to miss that building.  My condolences to the team, who will be staying there for the implementation phase of the project.  “At least the parking is close,” I tell them jokingly.  I’ll provide the feedback to the proper facility planners; perhaps something can be done about the building down the road.

Quadrant 3, Sad to Leave Behind.  This is easy: the daily camaraderie with the team.  They are wonderful people and I’m going to miss seeing them on a regular basis.  I can envision getting together with the team for an occasional lunch or happy hour.  Although this is not as good as the daily interaction, it will provide some measure of satisfaction.

Quadrant 4, Sad to Take With Me.  Unfortunately, this one is easy, too.  It’s the external support organization for my team, who will be the support organization for my next likely assignment.  This is going to be a challenge.

In thinking back to my time in NASA’s leadership development program, a phrase from one of the program’s executive coaches keeps coming to mind: “And therefore I’m going to do [X] about it.”  So, what am I going to do about finding a way to improve the level of support from an external support organization?

In conversing with my coach on this point and about my own continued development as a leader, the following came up: Why not join the support organization for a short temporary assignment to help them implement the necessary changes to transition from subpar to excellent?  To make a long story short, this assignment almost came to fruition; in the end, however, I chose not to accept it because the terms offered were not going to meet all my criteria.  Perhaps the universe was signaling to me an important message:

Don’t rush through Stage 5. Slow down, enjoy it, savor the moment, and relax.  When Stage 5 has run its course completely, the universe will signal that it is time to transition to Stage 1 of the next new assignment.

I should listen to the universe more often.

What experiences have you had, good and bad, with transitions?

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What to Leave, and What to Take