Collaborative Leadership Blog

Optimism in a Time of Disruptive Change

It’s one thing to blithely say that “the only constant is change”. It’s quite another thing to be on the receiving end of it. Most of us have been. Whether an executive or a manager, organizational changes now regularly redefine our jobs, work relationships; we may even be laid off. It’s really tough to deal with in terms of finances, relationships, and psychologically. Mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations, new technology, loss of customers—any one of these can turn our lives upside down.

But on top of the obvious physical disruption to our lives, there is another, deeper level of disruption that is far more challenging—the impact on our egos, self-confidence, self-esteem, and identity as a professional, parent, or spouse. If I’ve been demoted or laid off, how do I explain it to my family? If I’ve been reorganized out of my job, who am I now? How do I regain my footing, let alone my sense of self and meaning in my work? My career path, my hopes and dreams, my financial future—all take a beating when my work life is upended. What’s more, none of these psychological impacts are in the HR manual or “the package”.

We’re pretty much on our own to figure it out. Our co-workers may be equally upset. Our friends may not want to hear about it. Our families may be fearful. So, here is a way to think about it, to embrace the change with optimism for the future:

  • It’s Not Your Fault: These changes are out of your control and are based on market forces we can’t influence
  • Take Heart: You are not alone. We all go through one or more of these “identity” challenges
  • It’s a Process: Shock, dismay, upset, anger, and resignation/acceptance are all common and appropriate responses
  • You Are Worthy: Stop and reflect on who you are on this planet, that you have meaning, value, and purpose, and you have skills and capabilities that can be used in a new endeavor
  • Redefine Your Identity: This is your chance to redefine who you are now, and where you want to go. What truly matters in your life? Challenge your assumptions and expectations and see if they need to be recalibrated
  • Put It In Writing: Write down your new mission and vision for your life—where do you truly want to be in 5-10 years?
  • Stand Tall, Like an Oak Tree: As you start your new job or new company, remember that your roots are deep in the ground—values, mission, vision—and that you can withstand the winds of any change

None of need to let constant change rock our world. Carpe diem—it’s a chance to renew and redefine ourselves, resulting in greater faith in ourselves and hope for our future.

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*Dr. Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; he is an executive coach, award-winning author, Top 15 Trust Thought Leader, and Managing Partner of The Marshall Group, LLC. You can contact him at: edward.marshall@duke.edu or  919.265.9616

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