I’ve been in mourning for a few months now, working through the classic stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally now, I am moving into the final stage of acceptance. This period of mourning has been no different from those times when I’ve mourned the loss of a loved one. Quite unexpectedly, this loss has been profound and life-changing.
What I’ve been mourning is the loss of a deeply cherished customer. In my career, I have been richly blessed to work with many truly wonderful people and with hundreds of companies. I have colleagues around the world who are inspiring, intelligent and talented in every conceivable way. I realize that my exposure to so many amazing people is exceptional.
I am describing my good fortune so my next comparison will not sound limited or hollow. What I’m about to say is not an exaggeration. It’s a genuine belief, a heartfelt gratitude, and a deserved recognition. Nearly all the people I worked with during my eight years serving this very special customer… Yes, that’s some 300 people, and nearly every one of them ranks right at the top of people I have met because they are top-notch people and leaders in every possible way. Hard-working. Dedicated. Bright. Creative. Smart. Compassionate. Humble. Other-oriented. Real leaders in every sense of the word because these are people you truly want to follow. These are the kind of people you want in your life because they make you better than you were before.
That’s what this company is made of: people who are extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t expect to see it again in my lifetime.
I’m not alone in my assessment. As I brought others in to provide training and expertise, I heard the same reaction time and again – the initial “is this for real?” puzzlement all the way through to the “how do they do that?” awe.
With people like that, you can just imagine how ennobling the atmosphere was. I felt welcomed and “at home” every time I walked in the door. I marveled at the far-reaching good done in every community served by this company, so much so that I was wholeheartedly inspired to contribute to and volunteer in philanthropic endeavors right alongside employees. I immersed myself in learning the core values, history, culture, products, practices and fabric of this company – not because I had to, but because I had a deep desire to understand what it was that made them so very special.
I suppose I became a bit enmeshed, a little over-involved and too personally invested for someone who was, in fact, just an outside vendor. Along the way, I forgot this was merely a time-for-money exchange. My lack of clear-headedness is why I was so devastated when the inevitable end finally came.
I say “inevitable” because the first thing every self-employed consultant/trainer should know is there is always an expiration date on our usefulness and on our appeal. No matter how good a job we do, there is always something out there that will someday supplant us.
Sometimes, we get supplanted by something that is truly better. It happens when we get complacent and fail to keep up with emerging trends, new research or methodologies, or the evolving needs of our clients.
Sometimes, we simply lose our luster. We are no longer novel and lose our ability to be a “breath of fresh air” because we have been a part of what’s taken shape. By comparison to shiny newcomers, we seem dull and uninteresting.
And sometimes new people in key positions have their own ways of doing things. The moment the new decision maker enters with a decision already made about what to do and who will do it, we are cast aside without even a chance to prove ourselves. We are supplanted by the vendors that the new decision makers worked with before and feel comfortable and safe working with again.
I knew all this when I started my own business with my eyes wide open. I used to be the person who hired trainers and consultants in my corporate role. I knew the risks, and I took them anyway… And I’m glad I did.
You see, despite the sadness in losing these treasured business relationships, despite the financial hardship of being abruptly moved along, and despite the enduring feeling that I may never again be a part (even peripherally) of such an incredible company culture…. Despite all that, I’m grateful for all I learned and experienced while working with this client.
There’s a chorus in a Garth Brooks song that goes like this:
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance
It was a wonderful dance. I’m not sure I exited the dance floor as gracefully as I might have liked when the song was over though. I stumbled because I was slow to fully grasp the finality of the situation. I was clingy, as were some of the people I worked with inside the company. It was a confusing time with a hard push from one direction and simultaneous pulls from other directions.
So my one regret is that I did not remember what I used to know. All good things come to an end. As leaders, it’s not a good idea to get overly attached to any aspect of business. When we do, we lose our objectivity. We can’t be dispassionate when we need to be. We aren’t able to be at our best when we allow blurred lines between what we want and what is right for the businesses we serve.
If I had been operating with a mindset that all good things must come to an end, this would have been an easier time of separation and recalibration. The discomfort of others as they said “good-bye” would have been easier if I had been more clear-headed about what was happening. The conflict that occurred because there was resistance to my departure could have been avoided if I had been more graceful and more aware instead of being in denial.
I would have done each of these amazing people a better service if I would have said months ago what I am able to say now – “You rock, and I will miss working with you terribly. I will never forget you or the work we did together. But you’re going to do just fine without me. And I’m going to be just fine, too. All good things must come to an end so we can have new beginnings, too. Enjoy your new beginnings, and I promise I will do the same.”
Whoever said this leadership thing would be easy?