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  • Writer's pictureMark O'Neil

Planning for the Unplanned

Updated: 1 day ago

How to Manage Personal & Professional Transitions

Change management is often synonymous with progress and great leadership. It’s also notoriously difficult to manage gracefully. But there’s a difference between going through change and going through a transition; namely, that one is far more difficult than the other.

One of the core tenets of good leadership is the ability to both drive and adapt to change. There are several simple practices leaders should use – although many are easier said than done – to manage change effectively:

  • Involve as many of those who will be impacted as possible in the decision to make a change.

  • Communicate the change as soon and as transparently as possible.

  • It’s human nature to resist change, especially when the consequences are completely unknown to us. So, tell the people involved how change will affect them and involve them in implementing the change.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

  • Find formal and informal leaders to help reduce resistance.

  • Be prepared to change course if it is not working the way you thought it would.

  • Measure the impact of the change on the organization, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

  • Avoid over-commitment to an unsuccessful change and start the cycle of change over if need be.

These are sound principles of change leadership. However, transitions presents a greater challenge. What are some examples of transition? Throughout our lives, we make several personal and professional transitions. We transition from high school to college, from college to a profession, from job to job, and eventually to our post-career time.



Thus, simply managing change isn’t enough. To be effective leaders, we must navigate transitions thoughtfully and deliberately. The success of a transition is often a function of the amount of thought and planning that went into it. Even when transition is thrust upon us, such as an involuntary termination, we can be better prepared to handle it if we plan ahead.

The first step is to have a plan, written in your mind and preferably on paper. As life progresses, these plans inevitably change. Be prepared for this. Answer these questions for yourself:

  • What do I want to do next that is meaningful and full of purpose?

  • How does it align with what makes me and my loved ones happy?

  • What excites me about what I am doing now?

  • What do I need to do to further prepare myself and grow in my personal and professional “being”?

  • What can I tolerate?

  • What won’t I tolerate?

  • What is my personal vision and what growth is needed to achieve it?

This exercise is sometimes difficult to do. Many of us tell ourselves that the future is out of our control, or that we lack the ability to achieve our goals. That’s why making a plan – visualizing what we want and what we need to do to get there – is an important step to start combating our subconscious saboteurs.

If you have that plan in your mind, then when the boss calls you into the office and tells you it is time to move on, or the recruiter calls with an interesting possibility, or your organization merges with another, or the retirement “runway” begins to shorten, your thinking won’t be clouded by the stress of the moment. You’ll have a foundation of what’s best for you already in place.

As you seriously consider your next transition, it is important to confide in the people you trust most so that they can help you along the way. A spouse, partner, mentor, or colleague who knows you well can be invaluable.

When I transitioned from a long-time CEO to a certified executive coach, I leaned on friends and mentors. I also consulted with fellow CEOs who had transitioned to (mostly) retirement. I enlisted my own coach, who knew me personally and professionally. He helped me dig deep into my value structure, ensuring that I kept perspective and balance as I became a coach in my own right.

Over time, our own experiences teach us how to better handle transition. When we need a little extra help, there are colleagues and coaches who can lend a hand. A good executive coach will guide you through a transition with an objective eye, helping you clarify your aspirations and develop a plan for achieving them.

Please feel free to reach out or schedule a call today if you believe I could help with your upcoming transitions, formally or informally. Either way, start making a plan for yourself today!


About Mark

Mark O'Neil is a seasoned healthcare leader with over 40 years of experience. He specializes in executive coaching for leaders facing demanding roles. Having mentored 25 individuals to CEO positions, he provides certified coaching to help leaders reduce stress, identify skill gaps, and achieve their goals. Schedule a call today or call Mark at 601-246-9155 to start your journey toward effective leadership.

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207 views3 comments


Morris Campbell
Sep 25, 2019

Mark, this is well done. I think your program addresses a gamut of what so many of us went through during our professional careers that I wish I knew beforehand and of course, it now help me as a retiree refocus my thinking and planning doing mostly volunteer work. Thank you for offering an easy to follow approach that I feel can help many be more effective and efficient contributors in whatever capacity they find themselves.


william caywood
william caywood
Sep 22, 2019

Thank you Mark - I appreciate the thoughts and the fine distinction between change and transition. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and working on both of these throughout my career, and on a personal level more recently - I’m in the middle of my own retirement-from-corporate-life transition over the next few months. I’ve had a written plan throughout the process to get me ‘to’ retirement. Now I

Need to start work on the bigger plan for 2020 and beyond!

Bill Caywood


Sep 02, 2019

This was excellent, Mark. While we now have a succession planning process in place at LGT (working with Altman & Weil), we haven't effectively addressed one of the most important aspects - the emotional and psychological.

Over the years, especially in my work with the American Bar Association, I've had the opportunity to present with and learn from Rosemary Byrne (Step by Step Coaching).

As you note, here are a number of essential questions we have ask ourselves on a deeply personal level (which lawyers tend to ignore or avoid), to ensure that our retirement plan (or any major transition we face in life) is meaningful, purposeful and intentional.

Keep up the great work! 🕉

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