“Should I Stay or Should I Go”

As my email box began to pile up – all from one organization – I knew something was not right. A theme quickly emerged as I read through the emails – their leader was definitely over functioning. The one time much respected leader was now operating in a way that was a significant hinderance to the health and vitality of the organization. How could this cataclysmic shift have happened?

I work with a wide variety of individuals and organizations, and one of the consistent presenting issues is the tenure of the leader. In my experience the arc of leadership unfolds in chapters. The first chapter is on-boarding. The second chapter is vision casting, strategy and implementation. The third chapter is either focused on intentional reimagining, or coasting to organizational peril. Unfortunately, many leaders attempt to languish in early successes rather than making the crucial decision to adapt or go.

As a leader or not, transitioning is challenging for many of us. We often build our lives around our work and at some level of consciousness we in turn build our sense of identity around our work. Many cultures reinforce this work-self identity. Ever notice when you meet someone how quickly the question comes, “So what do you do for a living?” How will my ‘status’ in the world change if I can no longer say, “I’m the President or Doctor or Owner or…”

I wonder what it would it be like if more of our sense of identity was vocational rather than positional. For example, “My vocation is to teach or create, or serve or walk with others, or design or….” Then imagine if we viewed our vocation as transferable, season after season, in our life and in a myriad of contexts. My sense is if we would navigate our lives vocationally, in our transitioning from one reality to the next we would bring much less resistance and more health.

This is what I’ve learned: professional positions and titles are always seasonal. We can hang on long beyond the shelf life of a position, but the organization will suffer and, frankly, so will we. However, if we hold lightly an understanding of the seasonal nature of these leadership positions and if we embrace our God given vocation, perhaps we will live more fully into the wisdom of theologian Fredrick Buechner, who reminds us, “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s
deep need.”

7 thoughts on ““Should I Stay or Should I Go””

  1. Michael S Sirany

    . I am guessing that Parker Palmer’s “Let Your Life Speak” was part of the inspiration for this important and timely message. Thanks for sharing these thoughts about vocational calling.

  2. Richard Norman

    Thank you, Brian! I have seen the truth of this (and lived it). I appreciate your sharing this insight.

  3. This is so useful. In both secular and spiritual/religious contexts; I have personally observed it in both. Thank you for posting.

  4. Debra Denise Gillespie Carter

    Very insightful. I grew up in a military family and then served 20 years in the Navy myself. For so long my identity was wrapped up in being a career military officer. When I decided to retire and focus on being a wife and mom, many of my colleagues thought I was crazy to give up my career. However, in my mind I hadn’t given up a career, I had simply made a career change to a calling that was dearest to my heart. I retired from the Navy in 1994 and have spent the happiest time of my life raising my two wonderful children who are now young adults that make me so proud.

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