April 22, 2024

Navigating a Role Transition: A Framework for Healthcare Leaders

Clinician Leadership

Reading Time: 5 minutes

pexels ono kosuki 5648403

With all of the turbulence in healthcare, many leaders find themselves facing a transition from their organization either by choice or through a separation initiated by the organization. This can be a time of significant stress and provoke a broad array of emotions ranging from a sense of loss and self-doubt to excitement about what lies ahead. In my coaching work with clients navigating a role transition, I encourage them to embrace that positive mindset and to approach the process with a forward-looking, optimistic point of view, seeing the transition as a wonderful opportunity to thoughtfully craft the next chapter of their professional life. In a sense, their new “job” as they enter the transition is to take intentional steps to optimize their success in defining and launching that next chapter. 

With that in mind, if you are facing a role transition, here are a few suggestions to help you navigate the journey, presented in three categories: inner work, outer work, and general suggestions.

Inner Work:

The notion of inner work is taking time for deep, thoughtful reflection to you help define the set of “design criteria” you will use to establish your future direction. As you consider the following questions, focus on capturing a positive description of what you desire in a new role, rather than negative things you are seeking to avoid. Keep yourself in the mindset of moving forward as you consider the following:

  • What have I come to understand is my personal purpose — the difference in the world I am called to make?
  • What intrinsic capabilities do I have and what skills have I developed which represent the gifts I bring to the pursuit of my personal purpose?
  • When I reflect on the nature of the work I have done in my career, when did I feel I was at my best, most fulfilled and most effective? 
  • What are the organizational conditions in which I perform at my best? Established market position with formidable financial strength? Start-up firm establishing market position? Financial turnaround?
  • What are the organizational cultural values which most align with my leadership philosophy and style, and my core values?
  • What kind or organizational context fits best for me? Large multi-entity firm, small regional system, free-standing entity?
  • What am I looking for in the leader/board to whom I would report? 
  • What are my expectations around the state of the leadership team? Evolving a stable, high-performing group? Building my own team?
  • How does my life outside of work impact my thoughts about the next chapter of my professional life?
  • What is my attitude and tolerance for professional risk?
  • Based on the above, what are the design specifications, broadly stated, which should guide my consideration of future opportunities relative to organizational mission, nature of the work, character of the setting, character of the leader and team, organizational culture and market position, location and lifestyle impact, etc.?

Outer Work:

The notion of “outer work” is that you will be better able to determine the right next chapter of your professional life if you can gather real, experiential data to augment or test what you have defined through reflection. The book Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra may be a helpful resource in that regard. To that end, you may wish to consider:

  • What kind of opportunities/roles do I find most intriguing and why? How can I get a deeper understanding of those roles beyond my impressions? With whom might I connect to discuss/shadow/volunteer to do so?
  • With whom might I network well outside of my normal circle to broaden my exposure and deepen my understanding of areas that interest me? Don’t hesitate to ask for connections and introductions. In most instances, people will respond generously if approached in the spirit of seeking their insights; not a job offer.
  • What reading and research would help inform my understanding of areas of interest, opportunities and organizations that interest me?
  • What events/conferences/meetings might I attend to gather substantive knowledge and be interact with people who can expand and enrich my thinking?
  • Are there interim opportunities to work under contract or in other arrangements which allow me to gather direct, relevant experience in areas of interest? Don’t feel compelled to jump back into work if you need time for healing and recentering. It’s okay to take time, although it may seem unsettling going from a schedule of intense workdays to no formal obligations. 
  • What additional education/certification might I pursue to prepare me for opportunities of interest?

General Suggestions:

  • As always, but particularly in this period of transition, prioritize self-care through positive practices around sleep, nutrition, exercise, emotional well-being and stress management. The evidence is overwhelming that when we are depleted the quality of our thinking and decision-making declines. For this transitional journey you want to be at your very best.
  • Let go of the worry that you will lose relevance or market credibility by taking time to step back and take a deliberate approach to your transition. The world is different now. Job transitions are quite common for any of number of reasons and there is little stigma associated with them. The expertise you have developed through years of growth will not diminish in the time you are taking to manage this process thoughtfully and deliberately.
  • Vigorously strive to stay on the positive side of the emotions associated with this transition. While it is natural to be disappointed in what has occurred, it is important to fight against that inner voice expressing unjustified and exaggerated doubts that eat away at your confidence. As always, be open to what you can learn from what has transpired but rely upon your own objective assessment and the voice of those you trust and who know you well to keep things in an appropriate, healthy perspective.
  • Treat the past with gratitude and respect and avoid, except in the most private and safest of places, engaging in any of the understandable negativity you may feel about what has transpired. While those feelings are natural, they will not serve you well as you move forward. Focus on your excitement for what lies ahead.
  • Work at becoming conversant in telling your story in a way that conveys how your experiences have shaped you as a person and a leader. Rather than conveying a chronology of events, think of each phase of your career as a chapter in a story and share the lessons gleaned from each chapter as building you into the person you are today — your purpose, your values, your leadership philosophy, your “brand.”
  • While it is important to be guided in your journey by a clear set of design criteria, be open to the wide array of opportunities through which they might be achieved. The healthcare world in particular is in a time of fundamental transition and there is no reason to limit your search at this stage to roles similar to those you have held in the past. Be open to the possibilities of where your exploration may take you.

As you investigate opportunities that intrigue you, you are likely to hear that inner voice raising an array of objections and fears that can tend to hold you back and limit the scope of your exploration. One helpful practice when that occurs is to explicitly capture those fears, the “boulders” standing in your way. 

After capturing them, subject them to reasoned, thoughtful analysis to assess how real they are and, to the extent they are real, how you might address them should you choose to move forward. 

In most humans, that inner voice tends to greatly exaggerate reality and is much harsher and more pessimistic than justified. By calling out and evaluating those objections you are likely to have a much more accurate picture from which to make a thoughtful decision. A good question to ask might be: “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”

Looking ahead, the next stage in your career is one full of opportunities to do work that lights you up, make a lasting impact and be the kind of leader you’ve always wanted to be. We hope this season of transition and self-discovery goes smoothly, and invite your questions if we can be of assistance. Here’s to a successful next chapter!

Related Resources:

Begin the conversation

Share this!

About the author

Robert "Bob" Porter, JD, MBA, PCC

Robert "Bob" Porter, JD, MBA, PCC is an accomplished organizational leader with over 30 years’ experience in health system leadership. Bob has extensive experience in working with senior leadership executives in complex organizational settings, with a proven track record for engaging diverse stakeholders in the redesign of organizational systems and processes to achieve breakthrough improvement in performance.

Related content