Career Change: Moving Up, Moving On, Moving Out (Part 1)

Career Change.1

Personnel changes come in three forms – moving up, moving on, and moving out. In the course of a career, most people are subjected to all three. Moving up results in a larger office and paycheck, but the political and personal challenges may be painful and demanding. Moving on to a new position, reduced assignment, or another organization means starting again, learning new networks, and figuring out “how things are done here.” Moving out is painful and frightening, be it from job loss or retirement.

“It is not the changes that get you, it is the transitions,” reports William Bridges , a world-renowned guru in transitional psychology. He continues, “Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new role, or the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.” The old French saying makes it clear, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Change upon change makes little lasing difference unless and until the soul-searching work of transition is completed.

In Israel’s history, the national leadership shift from King Saul to King David was a change for both men and the nation. The difficult, painful, and destructive issues coming out of the change were found in the thwarted process of transition. Unless transition occurs, change will not work. Change starts with an outcome such as David will be king. Transition begins with an ending; Saul will not be king.

To illustrate from another time in Israel’s history, change was moving into the Promised Land while transition was letting go of Egypt. The old country preacher was right in saying, “God’s big challenge was not gettin’ Israel out of Egypt, but gettin’ Egypt out of Israel.” This was the purpose of the wilderness wanderings. A spiritual and psychological change had to take place in the hearts of the people and the heat of the nation before they could enter the new land as free men and woman. The change was in geography. The transition was in self-perceptions, once slaves but now free!

In modern organizations, personnel changes come fast, be it moving up the ladder or out the door. Matt Paese and Richard Wellins, both vice-presidents of DDI international, conducted a study of 385 leaders in transition . The group included CEOs, heads of business units, and individuals moving into first time management assignments. The results of the study apply to those who are moving up, moving on, or moving out:

  • Making a transition is among life’s most difficult personal challenges.
  • Transitional challenges are characterized by changes in political networks, job complexity, and human dynamics.
  • Few leaders report making the transition effectively.
  • The transition required a shift of effort in communicating, planning, and building a team.
  • Very few leaders in transition feel organizations are doing the right things to help.

The conclusion of the study also applies to leaders moving up, on, or out. The difficulties in leadership transitions are due to politics, complexity, and loss of control. Politics are difficult in transition because of “competing agendas, egos, reputations, and a great deal of intellect. ” The complexity of the task increases because “accountability is ill-defined, competition for resources is fierce, and routes to success must be determined anew.” The first time leader who moves from personal production to managing for results through other people will experience a loss of control. A person moving out, through job loss or retirement, experiences loss of control in a different way, but it is loss just the same. Even the individual pushed up the ladder discovers that those at the top do not have nearly as much control as those at the bottom of the ladder imagine.

Copyright © Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.

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Bridges, W. (1991) Managing transitions: Making the most of change. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company: Reading, MA.

Paese, M. & Wellins, R. (2007) Leaders in transition: Stepping up, not off. Developmental Dynamics International, Inc. (

Paese, ibid.

Paese, ibid.

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