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No, I don’t mean quit. I also don’t mean firing yourself in a dramatic, embarrassing, Donald Trump finger-pointing sort of way. What firing yourself really means is clearing the decks for what’s next.
In my last article about your “to-don’t” list, getting ready for a six-week sabbatical particularly inspired me. This was my first experience ever doing something like that.
I am beyond grateful to work for a company that understands the value of allowing their employees to design the lives they want. Since we are in the business of designing the future, it is imperative that we all see it with the freshest eyes possible, and feel positive about it. Innovation is hard, and can burn people out.
However, one of the best ways not to burn out is to set yourself up for a long rest, and set everyone else around you up for your departure. This is very different from quitting a job, actually getting fired from a job or going on vacation.
If you quit your job voluntarily, you will prepare people as best you can to take over. Once you leave, your mind gets filled up with something new, and the concern wears away for how they will do without you. It’s their problem now.
If you get fired by your boss, you basically walk out with your box of toys and go home. Perhaps you wish the organization to fail without you. If you go on a normal vacation, you just deal with the immediate and let the rest sit until you come back, which makes coming back particularly hard as well.
But firing yourself in an organization that you want to stay a part of is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and for your company. In preparing for being away for six weeks, anything good or bad that was going to happen would happen in that period of time.
So it forced a relentless focus on preparing my colleagues. It forced even more trust in their abilities, and also forced letting go of what’s not essential.
You have to prepare as though you are never coming back, and yet still care about what happens to the company and your colleagues. And they will figure out how to get along without you.
Two days before going out, I had a revelation. Our company, an innovation consultancy serving Fortune 1000 companies, was looking to fill a leadership role in an area that had been historically challenging for us: sales and marketing.
I had been involved in helping the company search for the right person. It dawned on me that the reason why this has been so difficult is because the person who is successful in that role needs to understand inside and out (1) what we do and why we do it; and (2) what our market wants and why they want it.
Innovation is complicated: Corporations want innovation and get stuck in so many places, and it is constantly changing. The only reason it became clear is because clearing my docket and my head left a clearing in my heart. So I threw my hat in the ring, and got the job. I now get to work with the same amazingly talented people, but in a new way.
While this does not mean I’m walking away from the role of reinvention in the insurance space, it does mean the opportunity to build a team, to better understand the broader landscape of corporate innovation in many different industries, and to look at all of them with fresh eyes. It also means a deep understanding of what the most important work really is, which is finding and serving like-minded leaders who are clear in their own commitment to create change in their organizations.
So what’s the lesson in all of this? If you want change, you must create a clearing for it. Let go of something big, something you are hanging onto tightly. Enjoy the empty space for a moment, and then watch what emerges to fill it.