Transitions Need Bridges - My 5 Toughest Changes

It might be helpful to let you know a little more about me.  Rather than start with my approach or background, I want to share some of my toughest transitions so you can understand why I’m so passionate about helping people during theirs.  I remember some of the more challenging transitions I’ve had and I wished there had been someone who could have helped me build the bridge.  Many of my transitions took longer than they should have and I questioned myself constantly.  Am I taking the right approach?  Can I really convince them I have the skills?  Can I do this?  With the right resources, I could have made the changes in half the time. 

There are elements of psychology that often people don’t consider during a change.  We can get into that trough of despair and burn a lot of time and energy.  If we know what’s coming, we can seek out some support to keep us on the right path.  We only have a finite amount of time and energy, so it’s best if we use it in ways that get us closer to our dreams.  Yes – sometimes we need to wallow in our distaste for our current situation and that gives us the sting that we need to move forward.  But – to tell you the truth – I only want the sting long enough to take an honest look so I can build some creative tension between where I am and where I want to be.  Then it’s time to pull the arrow back and let it fly. 

Here are a few of my transitions – all challenging for me - some turned out good and some not so good.

  1. I was late to my first day in the Army.  How’s that for a rocky start to a transition?  And I’m not talking about five minutes late to formation.  I mean over 40 minutes late for my first day of Officer Basic Training.  I had to walk into a room full of 250 of my peers as they quickly figured out who was the dunce of the class.  I went from being an English Major to being chewed out by a Sergeant Major in the blink of an eye.  But I recovered and found a way to excel. 

  2. My transition from the military to business was not easy either.  I worked with a great recruiter who taught me interview skills and set me on a path of reading two business books a month for over 15 years.  But when I lost the power of the rank, I had to learn to lead with more influence.  That doesn’t mean that soldiers will blindly follow the rank.  It’s just a different approach once you are out of uniform.  I had some struggles here at first but figured it out through great coaching, leadership development, and a lot of reflection.
  3. I took over a struggling plant after a merger.  Things were tough – lost time injuries, product quality issues, cost overruns, and bad morale.  This is where I learned how important it is to understand and respect history if you want to make change stick.  I learned how to co-create an organization’s vision, mission, and goals.  Building a great team and getting people involved identifying a positive image of the future can completely turn things around.  I first learned about strength-based approaches here as well.  I use those a lot in my coaching today.
  4. I made a move from one coast to another with a completely cold network.  I had very few connections outside of my company and I was in the “apply, wait, and hear nothing” cycle.  I tried a few new approaches and ended up with three offers on the table from three different industries on the same night.  All I had to do was pick the best one.  The end was good, but the process took me over 9 months.  Today I encourage people to build communities (rather than network), so they have help when they need it.  My community is no longer cold.    
  5. In one move, I had to learn marketing, graphic design, consultative sales, consulting, blogging, and public speaking.  Taking a risk can be a good thing and it tends to dramatically increase your rate of learning.  The tough part is all those things are hard to learn.  I had zero experience in these areas and had to figure them out fast.  This one is still a work in progress, but I have a couple mentors that have put me on the right path.  

Each of these transitions taught me something different about how to manage during the in-between phase.  When you start a transition, you are one shape.  When you complete it, you are another.  It’s that in-between time - when you are morphing – when having support helps you get to the other side.  I’ve learned a lot during my transitions and while helping clients through theirs.  There are keys to success that can help you navigate during career, job role, and responsibility transitions. 

Those are a few of my experiences in transition that should give you a sense of where I’m coming from.  Tell me about your transitions – how can I help you build the bridge?

- Mike Sweeney,

We build too many walls and not enough bridges.
— Isaac Newton