True Leadership in Times of Despair
Taylor Antrim, a Vogue contributor, wrote a fascinating comparison between the Obamas’ Christmas party in 2015 and the same celebration one year later, in 2016. He talked about how much of a difference twelve months had made for the first family. How subdued their smiles and positivism seemed to be. At the close of 2016, there was little to celebrate. Antrim described a certain sadness heavy in the air within the White House.
The ”grace under pressure” leadership
Some weeks later, at Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Obamas, Michelle in particular, displayed the same kind of leadership. Grace under pressure. The former first lady tried hard to be reassuring. She spread comfort. Mrs. Obama made it clear that her confidence in America’s prospering future remained unchanged. Judging from her facial expressions during the ceremony, it took quite the effort to display leadership through courage in the most surprising of times. We are not talking the nice kind of surprises here.
Starting with the blue Tiffany box gaffe, Mrs. Obama endured a lot last Sunday. First, it was the young lady who sounded as if she was weeping for America while singing the US national anthem. Quite the stark contrast from Beyonce’s powerful performance of the same song four years ago, albeit admittedly lip-sung.
Then it was the dreariest presidential speech in history. Trump described Obama’s America as a crime-infested, starved and jobless autocracy, where the people had no power. In reality, unemployment was down to 5%, relations with Iran and Cuba had been re-opened, and a historic climate-change accord had been signed in Paris. A worthy legacy, no doubt. Yet, Trump’s portrayal of modern-day America was a slap in Obama’s face. A humiliation, which Michelle handled like a true leader – gracefully climbing up, while others were sinking down.
So if there is one lesson you can learn from Michelle, it’s how to keep your head up as you walk out the office door for the last time. Here are three takeaways to keep you centered during one of the most difficult transitions in life – leaving your job.
1. You will be very, very emotional
Many studies compare the stress of changing jobs to that of divorce or losing a home. When describing her last months in the White House, Michelle Obama talked of being surprised at how many minuscule things made her tear up. However bad the end of your time at an organization you will nonetheless feel nostalgic. Perhaps even grateful for the lessons learned. Expect to be filled with doubt about leaving your job.
There may be weeks in which you give yourself the I-will-quit-today-I-am-so-much-better-than-this pep-talk while in the elevator up to your office. Yet, every time your reach your floor you decide that tomorrow is a better day to leave.
When you do finally muster the courage, look to Michelle for inspiration. Don’t leave mayhem behind – be cooperative and help your team deal with the change. She did, after all, hug the Trumps on the steps of the White House.
2. Take a break
Don’t throw yourself into something new immediately! If you can afford it, take a week off. Go on vacation. Reflect. Plan ahead. Restructure your vision for the future. Follow in Michelle’s footsteps – she announced on January 20th that she will be taking a leave of absence from public engagements. Only to return to her work reinvigorated.
You will need to do the same when you leave a job. It can be tempting to immerse yourself into the next big thing. Try to think long-term. Allow yourself the time to decompose the experiences, lessons, hardships and good times you had at your last job. This will allow you to leave your emotional baggage where it belongs – in the past.
3. Power dress
Making the announcement that you are leaving an organization is a big deal. You are likely to feel scrutinized. There may even be a pinch of guilt, a clenching fist holding onto your stomach. This is the last time that you will be considered part of the team – for the remainder of your time at the company you will be an outsider.
Be prepared and try to dress the part. Power-dressing will give you an extra confidence boost, allowing you to breeze through this complex time. If you are lacking inspiration, look no further than Michelle Obama! Throughout her time as the first lady, she chose to wear relatively unknown designers, who benefited from the attention. Her attire was fun, colorful, feminine, but fitting for the leader she is. It’s no wonder she wore red at Trump’s inauguration – the color of the republican party. Mrs. Obama chose to signify (yet again) her ability to lead by showing respect and acknowledging interpersonal differences. She wore red to signify unity, compromise, and a smooth transition between the two administrations.
For her smarts, style, courage and composure, we applaud Michelle Obama. See you in 2020, Mrs. President!