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  • Writer's pictureFred Petito

Executive Transitions Part I - Major Career Transitions


Today we’re going to talk about executive transitions – how to approach them, the phases you may go through during a transition, and how to get to an actionable transition plan that you can implement

To start, are there different kinds of career transitions? If so, what are they and how do they differ?

Yes, there are major career transitions that are more akin to life transitions (which is what we're covering today. Transitions into a new role or new organization are different and more tactically focused – that’s what we’re focusing on during our next session.

What types of goals should people have when undergoing a life or a major career transition?

It's really important to discover what you are most passionate about, most committed to achieving, and what pursuits are most in line with your strengths

Talk to us about how people experience major life or career transitions - are there phases or stages that they go through?

Life and career transitions can be difficult and a test of character. In my experience, bringing the right attitude and mindset to a transition is critical to a successful outcome.

That said, I like to share two life/career transition models with my clients to provide context and a frame of reference as we go through the coaching process.

William and Susan Bridge’s Work on Transitions. The Bridges describe three stages of a transition as detailed below. One key insight from their work is that everyone will go through each stage of transition at their own pace. For example, those who are comfortable with change will likely move ahead to stage three quickly, while others will linger at stages one or two. Of course, my goal is to get my clients to stage three as quickly as possible.

  • Stage 1 - Ending, Losing, Letting Go: This stage is about letting go of the past, while retaining proper respect for what you experienced, learned, and achieved during that time. This stage also requires acceptance and acknowledgment that you may experience many difficult emotions during your transition, and recognition of the things you are leaving behind and those that you are not leaving behind.

  • Stage 2 - The Neutral Zone: During this stage, people may experience a feeling of being suspended between what is and what will be. For many, this is a time when forward movement may seem to have stopped and no endpoint is in sight. This is a vulnerable time for some, and if they are not vigilant they can fall back into old habits and patterns and their transition may stall. At the same time, this period can be extremely creative where new possibilities and new pathways forward are identified.

  • Stage 3 - New Beginnings: This stage is a time of acceptance and energy. People at this stage have begun to embrace their transition and are committed to developing the skills they need to work successfully in a new way. Many may start to see early wins from their efforts. Most importantly, people at this stage start to take on a new identity, as well as new attitudes and behaviors.

Frederic Hudson's Model of Life Transitions. This second model identifies four phases of transition that people go through repeatedly throughout life:

  • Phase 1 - Going For It: People tend to be positive, energetic, and committed to their goals. However, over time, we inevitably move into phase 2.

  • Phase 2 - The Doldrums: This is where our goals don’t energize us like they used to. We may begin to feel depleted and trapped and lose the sense of excitement and creativity we used to experience. At this point, people may feel stuck and will begin reevaluating their goals.

  • Phase 3 – Cocooning: In this phase, people turn inward and reexamine their purpose and values. It’s a time of deep renewal that will eventually drive a shift into phase 4.

  • Phase 4 – Getting Ready: This is where people develop a clear idea and vision about their next chapter, and they start taking steps to prepare for it.

According to Hudson, Phase 2 can end with either a mini-transition or a life transition. A mini transition can be a considered tune-up of one's existing life. In the context of career planning, a mini-transition might involve changing jobs within the same industry.

A life transition is a longer, deeper reflective process of seeking a substantially new direction, often with a new understanding of the meaning of one's life and purpose. In the context of career planning a life transition may result in a complete career change.

What kind of aspirations should people going through a major career transition have?

For most clients, the goal of transition planning is identifying the sweet spot among three dimensions:

  • One: Your dreams, aspirations, and passions

  • Two: You as a “product” – your talents, skills, achievements, and values determine how you will show up as a product in the marketplace

  • Three: What the marketplace wants – one goal of our coaching will be to ensure there is a fit between your values, passion, and vision and what the marketplace wants and needs.

Is there a typical process that you go through when working with clients on a major career transition? What are the steps? What should I client working with you on a transition expect?

The first priority of transition coaching is to help clients find a way to combine their passion, commitment, and strengths into a compelling purpose and vision for the next stage of their career. Then we will partner on developing a strategic transition plan that transforms that purpose and vision into actionable steps.

I propose activities concerning the following topics to generate insights into domains one and two, as well as develop an actionable strategic transition plan. We can discuss domain three (marketplace viability) as your vision starts to take shape as that will determine how we approach the action plan.

1. Identifying your entrepreneurial personality type

2. Clarifying your values

3. Determining your strengths

4. Clarifying your purpose and vision

5. Creating the action plan

The following is an overview of how we will approach each topic. The amount of time spent on each will depend on how much self-awareness and insight you have concerning the topic we’re exploring.

Typically we can generate the insights needed without any third-party assessment tools. However, If needed we can use one or more assessment tools for greater insights into some of these attributes (two examples include the Myers-Briggs MBTI for personality type and Gallup's CliftonStrengths assessment to identify your top strengths). A variety of exercises are used throughout the program as well.

One - Identifying Entrepreneurial Personality Type

Understanding a client's personality type will better equip me to coach them and understand the types of choices they will be comfortable making in terms of theor transition.

This typically involves a general question-and-answer format. If needed I use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment. Either way, the goal is to better understand the client's preferences, what they try to avoid, and how they like to live their life.

Two - Clarifying Their Values

A transition plan that is not grounded in a person’s values will ultimately be superficial and ineffective. On the other hand, a plan that is rooted in their leading values will generate commitment and purpose.

There are many types of values – one framework that I like to use identifies six core values, but there are many more values to explore:

  • Personal power - knowing yourself

  • Achievement - reaching your goals

  • Intimacy - loving and being loved

  • Play and creativity - expressing yourself

  • Search for meaning - integrating yourself

  • Compassion and Legacy - repairing the world

Again, this typically involves a question-and-answer format where we explore past peak experiences, and stories from their personal experience to uncover the factors that motivate them and provide meaning to their work and life. Values clarification and self-reflection exercises are also used.

Three - Identifying Passions and Strengths

Identifying a persons passions requires understanding what genuinely inspires them and what they feel most deeply about. Uncovering a passion isn't necessarily easy as it sounds and often requires discovering the deeper parts of a person, who they are, and what gifts they possess.

This phase typically involves the use of open-ended questions regarding past successes, inspiring moments, and challenges to identify and reflect on their passions and strengths. If needed we will use informal assessment tools such as questionnaires or inventories to clarify their key strengths (e.g., Gallup's CliftonStrengths assessment), as well as self-reflection exercises

Four - Clarifying Purpose and Vision

People need three elements to create their ideal life: a purpose, a vision, and a plan. In this section, we focus on their purpose and vision.

A person's values, passions, and strengths culminate in their purpose. Purpose is a central motivating aim for someone's life or career. Defining your purpose is powerful as it helps guide your life and career decisions, provides a sense of direction and meaning, and guides your behaviors.

Once a person’s purpose is clarified it can then be distilled into a vision, which is more precise and tangible, but less precise and clear than your action plan.

Five - Creating the Action Plan

Action planning is the conversion of a person's purpose and vision into a step-by-step process. It is logical and detailed, and it has a timeline.

My role as coach is to help you bring my client's purpose and vision to life in an actionable plan. This will be accomplished through coaching conversations, question and answer sessions regarding the specific steps and actions they will take to implement that plan, and their commitment to holding themselves accountable.


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