The Unemployed Leader
"Can you drive down for a budget meeting?" my boss asked. Even though it meant a two-and-a-half-hour drive, I wasn't surprised by the request. I compiled my budget materials accordingly.
Walking into my boss's office, the President/CEO was there. "He'll be right in," he said. The air in the room felt heavy, and we sat in an awkward silence. Once my boss came in and sat down, I immediately knew the "budget meeting" pretense was a ruse.
Typical start to this type of conversation..."We really appreciate the many years of service you've contributed to building leaders..." I knew there would be a "but."
"But, we are at a place where crunching the numbers has resulted in the fact that we can no longer afford your services."
Dazed and confused, I asked a bottom-line question. "Are you eliminating my position?" Even though I already knew the answer, I needed to hear the President/CEO say it out loud. "Yes."
Followed by "We ask that you do not share this information with anyone until an official announcement is released tomorrow." I was incredulous and offended by the request. "I cannot comply with what you ask," I said in a shaky voice. "I will be contacting my closest colleagues on my way home so they hear the news directly from me."
A few more clarifying questions, a few more tears, and I was sent on my way. Another two-and-a-half-hours on the road home, alone, in tears with absolutely no idea what I'd do next.
Fast-forward a few months. Depression had taken hold, and I found myself in a deep, dark place where I stayed for many months. I was lost, literally losing sight of my true north. As my self-reflection began to become more clear, it seemed that people were handing me a ladder to climb out, one rung at a time. A glimpse of light and a glimmer of hope.
Job interviews were few and far between, and none felt right. In the midst of my frustration, I had an "ah-ha moment": go back to the beginning when my leadership journey began, The Leadership Challenge. Using a deck of Values Cards, I conducted a self-audit -- and realized that I had allowed my identity -- who I was -- to be completely enveloped by my job -- what I did. When "what I did" was taken away, I didn't know who I was. Identifying and defining my values -- family, service, communication, growth, and love/affection -- helped put me back on track.
Fast-forward a few more months. Debating whether to move forward in the hiring process for a nonprofit executive director position, I realized that I didn't want to return to that type of position in that type of organization. In March 2011, Angie Chaplin Leadership Partners LLC re-emerged. And so did I.
Every strength comes through struggle. While in the thick of it, it's hard to see through the darkness -- let your values guide the way.
Photo iStockPhoto © BeyondImages
Thank you for sharing your honest and thoughtful experience as you continue your leadership journey. Your experiences, especially the observations about that depression thingie, resonate with me and I would guess with many others.
So many thoughts come to mind as I reread your words that I will be considering this post and the lessons in it for a while. “Stay tuned”, as they say.
You have done those who are willing to engage in reflective practice and self-exploration a great service ~ thanks:)
Heartfelt thanks to you, John, for your comments. I am grateful that you found value in my post. It was one of the most heartfelt and authentic posts I’ve ever written. Long overdue, but I found myself in a place when I felt comfortable and safe sharing it. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts.
Great post Angie.
I have a challenging question to ask you,
because it sounds like you struggled for a time
and I am doing the same;
how does an unemployed leader
remain an effective leader?
Learning and personal development are wonderful,
but what practical steps do you take?
As I look back on that time in my life, I’d recommend something different than what I did. I disengaged from Facebook, Twitter, etc. I shut out many people and I regret having done so, even though I was humiliated and embarrassed by what had taken place.
One of my baby steps toward the new normalcy was to force myself to get “out there” once again. When I did, the support was remarkable even among those who didn’t really know why I’d left in the first place.
My greatest advice is to STAY CONNECTED. A support system is extremely critical for you to move forward. Like me, I suspect you will be amazed at the outpouring of support that will come your way. I scheduled lunch dates, attended community events, and started sharing my story with the select few whom are my inner circle.
To lead effective, one first must lead him/herself. Once I realized I wasn’t leading myself, it was a wake-up call.
Feel free to contact me directly if you’d like to talk through your situation more in-depth.
I’d add one other thing too… sometimes leading oneself means making the most of a situation. And sometimes leadership is a result of being first. If you simply help the next person, you’re being an effective leader. Leadership is an others-focused activity. Therefore, like Angie stated above, keep your focus on others and look for ways to help. Mike…
Admittedly, it took me many months to finally get the words from my head into words onto paper. Much support from Mike & others associated with the Lead Change Group contributed to my strength in getting it written. Once the words started flowing, I couldn’t stop. My second read-through shortened the piece which (hopefully) didn’t sacrifice any of the content).
As I mentioned to Mike, the process was therapeutic. Even though the stress of building my business is a “good” stress, it’s different from anything I’ve ever experienced. Each day is a new day. YOU choose what kind of day it’s going to be, and you choose who are the key support system members you will reach out to.
Angie, thank you for this post. You might talk more about the deck of values cards. What is that?
Thank you, Mike. The Values Cards, part of The Leadership Challenge collection of products, created the turning point for me. The link for the product is http://www.leadershipchallenge.com/WileyCDA/LCTitle/productCd-0470559705.html; however, I can offer a discount to anyone interested in purchasing the cards.
Each card has a value work or phrase written on it, i.e. freedom, dependability, respect, quality, trust, etc. The activity itself is to put the cards into three piles: very important, somewhat important, and not important. Focusing on the very important cards, the others are put away. The very important are then further narrowed down to the Top Five. This insightful process not only clarified my personal values, but also prioritized my company values.
Anyone interested in purchasing a set of Values Cards can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for sharing your story Angie. In the often intense activity of a job it is so easy to lose touch with who we are and what really matters. Our values are our only true compass. There is a big cost to letting our fear overrule our values, yet it is such an easy trap to fall into, Happy to hear you have chosen a direction guided by your true north. Your story is inspiring.
Thank you, Susan. It was an eye-opening experience. I know many others who have or are going through the same thing, and there’s no one “right” way to get though challenges other than to keep moving forward. Took me a while to get that figured out. =)
Thanks for sharing your very personal story in such a public forum. It’s encouraging to hear that you’ve been able to read your “compass” again. It was always there, but for some reason, it got buried underneath some other “gear”.
Best to you and I look foward to reading more from you on Lead Change.
Thanks for making a good point, Jennifer. You’re right that our compass is always guiding us, but for someone reason we may not read it right, know what direction it’s pointing, or “see” the signposts along the way. I appreciate your comments!
Hi, Angie. Thanks so much for your authentic, heart-centered post. I have taken that journey three times now: job to unemployment, finally another job…to “time to go” message and into my own business. Now, at a “mature age” and business dipping with every plunge of the economy, I’ve put my feet on that path again. Your post was an enormous support for leadership from the inside out–and leading myself–stepping out onto the path of values.
Kate L Williams
Wow, Kate, thank you for sharing your journey with me. I hope you have a strong support system walking beside you every step of the way. You’re exactly right about leadership from the inside-out; we need to work on ourselves before we attempt to work with others. Thanks for taking the time to respond.
Wow, thanks for writing this unemployed leader blog. Your story and mine are remarkably similar esp. since we both have had a faith-based non-profit departure. I have been going my own way as an independent contractor/entrepreneur as well and God continues to bless and bring continuous opportunities and connections through so many of my friends and colleagues from around the country. It’s definitely a much more risky feeling venture, but also more freeing and exciting. I just completed a website for a new non-profit serving young adults on the autism spectrum (www.vergeofindependenceproject.com) and the connections that are being made through that project are continuing to grow. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by the blog. You & I do share many similarities along our career pathways, and there’s much I can learn from you and your experiences. I will check out your website, and look forward to the many differences I know you will make in the world.
Angie, bravo to you for having the courage and heart to share your story with others. What struck me most was how you once defined yourself (and your role as a leader) by your former position. My observation is that you are not a leader because of your past role, but because of how you are leading yourself (and others) by the act of sharing your story and stepping up and out to share your knowledge and experience with the world. Keep up the wonderful work. I wish you much success in your new endeavors! -Sharon
You’ve made my day with your comments, thank you for encouraging my heart. Like many leaders, I find myself referring to my values on a regular basis particularly when faced with difficult decisions or courses of action. The power of values-based leadership cannot be overstated — from a personal and professional perspective. Many of us define ourselves through the outside-looking-in — I’m a ________. I work for _________. While that’s not a bad thing, it’s not the only thing. We need to define ourselves from the inside out. I am a mom. I am intuitive. I am expressive. I am loving.
Thanks again for your comments. Leadership blessings to you!
Angie, I would add one more comment to your reply: It is precisely when we are able to finally shed those external definitions of ourselves, whether by choice or circumstance, that we are finally able to lead from a values and heart-aligned place. Wonderful post! -Sharon
Thanks for posting this wonderful piece. You words, they really have deep insights, they do.