Saturday, February 7, 2009

Free-Fall Leadership Redux

The free-fall continues, as does my role – well, for the next 100 days or so anyway.

Things are unfolding pretty much as I described in my first post on this subject. However, there has been a significant, albeit planned, development: the first round of layoffs has been completed.

Saying goodbye to colleagues under these circumstances has proven difficult for everybody, even though we knew this day was coming. Although some people left even earlier, a large group departed on or about January 29th. The prior week, suddenly, crates appeared in cubes and offices, and the first wave of departing employees became identifiable by the jeans they wore and the cartons they carried.

We'd spent weeks avoiding the fact that many of our friends were on their way out. In the interim, we shared a common destiny: all of us, save a few, knew our termination dates. All of us were part of successful teams tragically linked to a very unsuccessful enterprise, and by and large, we'd come to accept our fate. We leaned on one another for support, and speculated on who might be offered permanent positions, or why the acquiring firm kept one team and not another. We were all in it together.

But this first wave of departures created an earthquake in what was, after all, a fragile and temporary status quo. Prior to this stage, the concept of us all going our separate ways had a surreal quality. Yes, we have been slow to fully internalize the situation, but that's only because we needed some time to process the change.

Now, however, the eschatological nature of our existence demands attention - and acceptance. And the response, as far as I can tell so far, has been anger. Anger at our former leadership, who well deserve it. Anger at our new owners, whose only real crime is being different than what we were used to. Anger at the universe for the way things turned out.

I anticipate, though, that anger will give way to acceptance, as it tends to do in these situations. To help my team get to that place as rapidly as possible, my focus is on counseling them on how to best prepare themselves for identifying and succeeding in new positions. I'll write about that some more in the future.

I'm also very energized by my own thinking about what to do next. I'm far from settled on the direction that I'll be taking, even though I've now got less than four months of employment left. With the economy in the tank, and unemployment approaching 8%, this is not a good time for an executive in his mid-40s to be looking for work. And yet, I'm excited. I like change, and I'm about to undergo a ton of it.

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