I imagine some of you, like me, collect leadership lessons—stories, quotes, and quips—like vacation souvenirs. They are reminders filed in color-coded folders and remainders of a provocative book or intriguing conversation that we hold onto like treasured ephemera.
Then there are the lessons we inhabit and practice, so naturally, we don’t need a Post-It or IG post to inspire us. I learned such a lesson seven years ago while working for a local social change organization in Louisville, Kentucky, called the Network Center for Community Change. Our resident coach and graphic illustrator, Luckett Davidson, created a tool called Old Shore New Shore, based on the ideas in William Bridges' classic book, Transitions: Making the Most of Life’s Changes.
Luckett’s illustration of this powerful metaphor for managing change and transition processes is evocative yet straightforward and profound when put into practice.
© Luckett Davidson, TouchStone Consulting | Twitter: @LuckettDavidson, shared with permission
"Old Shore New Shore is by far the most impactful tool in my leadership arsenal."
Old Shore New Shore is by far the most impactful tool in my leadership arsenal. It is neither hammer nor lathe but a well-worn reference book, an atlas of life and leadership. I can pull it out of my proverbial briefcase with its creases and smudges and apply it to almost any situation. It maps the coordinates of every big life decision on your roadmap with pushpins marking critical points of interest, and a compass rose to note your internal sense of direction.
Carry the Banner
Like millions of people in what’s been labeled “The Great Resignation,” I recently decided to leave my job. Just this year, I was named Director of Marketing and Storytelling at Cities United where I’ve worked for the last 5 ½ years. This position was a dream job that came with a salary increase and a team. My job was to build the strategies and tactics to help shift the narrative of young Black men and boys through our mission of helping our nation’s cities reduce homicides and shootings of young Black men and boys and our vision of creating safe, healthy and hopeful communities.
Once Sufficient, No Longer
I work with bold, brilliant, and compassionate leaders on our team and in our national network. Some days are heartbreaking, mind-blowing, and gut-wrenching; every day is awe-inspiring. At some point, however, I began to view my “dream job” thru the Old Shore New Shore lens. Like those transparencies in anatomy textbooks, where you can overlay the circulatory system onto the digestive system and discover new pathways and connections within the delicate intricacies of the human body, I realized the anatomy of my life was missing a system.
Let it Go
Having embraced Old Shore New Shore as a guiding metaphor for years, I felt more prepared for this significant transition than I have in the past. I’ve left organizations before, but this time was different. I didn’t have a position waiting for me on some new shore or even a boat full of supplies to keep me safe as I searched for land. I didn’t decide to leave my dream job, steady income, and benefits with the forethought or forecasting one might expect. I’m not even sure I decided as much as declared. For the first time in my professional career, I wasn’t motivated by a desperation to leave or even a recognition that it was just time to bounce; I was moved in my gut and soul by a deep desire to go.
I looked out across the water and, seeing nothing, wondered what might be out there instead of wandering back down the beach, returning to the tasks at hand. If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that the fact of change doesn’t have to precede the feelings of transition. If you’re close enough to the water’s edge, you can feel the waves before they wash across your feet. You can smell the water and sense powerful currents without getting wet.
Rest in Peace
I shared my news with friends and colleagues, who both congratulated and questioned my decision, not asking why but rather how. They intimated their inklings and hinted at their hopes. 2021 was to be the year we all bounced back from the drama and dismay of 2020. The notion that “you can’t step in the same river twice,” attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, applies to shores too - you will never step on an old shore twice; there is no going back.
It takes courage to wade into the unknown in search of the unseen. It takes compassion to know when to leave things unsaid and undone and when not to. Courageous, compassionate leaders understand a shore they declare old is still new or now to those who remain. From their boat, taking only what they need and entering the transitional waters, they offer a model of leaving and leading in their wake.
Bless and Release
I’ve learned from many great leaders how to live, learn, listen, and love, but the greatest lesson may be how to leave. Old Shore New Shore taught me there are rituals necessary for good endings. How you leave is the best indication of how you will land - not where but who you will be when you do. I am actively preparing a way for those who will remain and those who will soon arrive. I am consciously releasing regrets and blessing the bounty I know will come in my absence. Leaving can be hard and being left even harder. Always do the hard work of leaving gracefully and gratefully. Good leaders are great leavers.