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opinion

Like many Canadians last month, I was shocked and dismayed when I heard that Lisa LaFlamme was unceremoniously let go from her role as anchor of Canada’s No. 1-ranked newscast, CTV National News.

Not only was I struck by how poorly the communication appeared to be handled, but I also wondered, from a leadership lens: From what outdated playbook were the higher-up decision makers operating? Did they not get the memo that human leadership calls for courage, authenticity and generosity in how one handles the tough stuff of business?

Sadly, the reality is that such situations extend well beyond careers in journalism, and there is a chorus of people who can relate.

In my 20-plus years of experience, I have witnessed and/or coached many leaders who have had the horrible, unsettling experience of being suddenly dismissed without cause, albeit in less visible scenarios than Ms. LaFlamme.

In recent years, large cohorts of senior-level bank professionals with impressive track records and promising career tracks were suddenly let go after decades of service to make room for “a new kind of banking professional” – those with digital acumen who could more deftly manoeuvre through our new, fintech-oriented world.

I’ve worked with star performers from other sectors, too, who were let go when their company merged with another. With duplication of roles, someone had to go.

Sometimes the reasons are more obscure. A more senior leader may rather have someone else on their leadership team, perhaps for more alignment in personality. Or a senior role becomes too “expensive.” Guised in the key message of “business decision,” these situations can be even that much more difficult and traumatizing for the departing leader to process.

A leader I know was in this very scenario recently. Their staff was shocked, and within a day, the leader was without a job. Their planned career path was gone, and their confidence, identity and financial well-being in disarray.

But despite the initial grief associated with this loss, I know that for strong performers there are ample reasons for hope. They don’t suddenly lose their smarts, their experience or their talent.

Here are five steps to help recover and build:

Watch out for the identity trap: You are not your past role, title or job. Rather, you are an abundance of experience, accomplishments and potential. And you have already proven yourself in your past role(s). When you overly self identify with a past title or role, you risk not seeing or actualizing your full potential for new and different opportunities.

Recently, I explored this with someone who had been recovering from her shocking layoff. We looked at how she described herself. Rather than using a label that only reflects her past (for example, I’m a banker, wealth manager or librarian), she needed to reframe this description. For example: “I’m a senior-level professional with a proven track record of performance in the (name sector) and now ready to bring my skills of ‘such and such’ to new terrain.”

Own the experience within the sector. But don’t limit yourself to it.

Do your work internally: Know and own your accomplishments, strengths and successes so that you can convey your transferable potential and worth. Take stock. Dig in. And go beneath the layers of what got done and include how you get it done. Share your values, strengths and approach.

For example: “By fostering an inclusive, collaborative team culture, I built a high-performing team and the department to surpass targets year-over-year by x per cent.”

Performance and results matter, but how you get them matters, too. What traits, approaches make you uniquely you that would be of value elsewhere? It’s up to you to know this and to narrate it.

Get out there and connect: It might be tempting to wallow, but you need to get out and have conversations. Lots of them. My clients are often shocked when opportunities start to quickly appear. Learn from others who have successfully pivoted; get curious and learn about opportunities you may never have thought of. Explore.

Practice positivity. The real stuff, not the fake stuff: It’s normal to grieve. You’ve lost more than a job. You’ve lost your community, part of your identity (but revisit the first point), and more. Acknowledge and feel what you feel. But also make space for some genuine positive activity as well as morale-boosting thinking. This will fuel your efforts, confidence and be the difference in getting to the next opportunity.

Get good support: Tap into all support that is available. If you do hire a coach, make sure they have the specific experience and credentials to support you in all facets of career navigation including internal (know yourself, emotions, values, motivations) and the concrete, tactical and strategic side of career navigation. Talk to as many people as you need to find the right fit.

Eileen Chadnick PCC, of Big Cheese Coaching, works with leaders (emerging to experienced), and organizations, on navigating, leading and flourishing in times of flux, opportunity and challenge. She is the author of Ease, Manage Overwhelm in Times of Crazy Busy.

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