Leaders in Limbo: Actionable Items for Times of Uncertainty

How Healthcare Leaders Thrive Through Mergers and Acquisitions

Are you a leader in an organization that is involved in a merger with another organization? If so, you may be feeling uncertainty around your organization and your role. As an executive coach I often see very talented leaders in this situation. And I frequently hear them say something like, “Well, I guess I will just wait to see what happens and what role the Newco has in mind for me.” It may start out OK but goal-oriented executives can quickly become frustrated “being stuck in limbo.”

This is what author William Bridges refers to as the “Neutral Zone” in his book Managing Transitions. The Neutral Zone, as defined by Bridges, is that in-between time when the old is gone (“Ending”) but the new (“New Beginning”) hasn’t yet become fully operational. It can, indeed, result in a state of limbo.

Most leaders dislike this phase, characterized by uncertainty, inaction, and waiting. They’d like to skip over it, move on with things, and get to the new beginning, whatever that may be.

If you find yourself in this situation. I’d like to offer a perspective for your consideration. I’d suggest that you challenge your thinking and work to intentionally reframe it as a time of opportunity.

Why settle for being stuck in limbo? You deserve better.

What keeps you stuck in limbo?

Feeling stuck in these situations frequently comes down to one or two things. Self-imposed doubt or limitations based on existing beliefs, and fear. The stories we tell ourselves, and that little voice in our head, can be very powerful.

Consider this: our thoughts and beliefs lead to behaviors and actions which create our results.

We spend a huge percentage of our time, sometimes up to 95%, on auto pilot. Basically, we find it is easier to keep doing what we are accustomed to doing, instead of pausing and actively seeking to understand what is driving our outcomes.

To understand what is keeping you stuck, you’ll have to do a little thinking work.

Dig Into your Situational Beliefs

Let’s get at this. Turn off the auto-pilot, stop for a moment, and think. Think about your current situation.

What beliefs do you hold? Write them down so you don’t lose them.

If you’re struggling, below is a list of beliefs I often hear from leaders who describe themselves in a stuck situation. See if any of these resonate with you:

  • If I’m patient, put my head down, and work hard, then everything will work out.
  • The situation is out of my control. There is nothing I can do.
  • I don’t have the authority or responsibility to shape my role.
  • It’s easier to just stay the course and see what happens.
Now Dig Deeper – Examine your Fears

Deeper than your thoughts and feelings about your situation exist your beliefs about yourself. What stories do you tell yourself about yourself? These stories are where self-doubt and fear begin.

They may sound something like this:

  • I’d like to do something to shape my role in Newco but I don’t know how to go about it.
  • I’m not sure I have the right skills, knowledge, educational background, connections, etc. (Fill in the blank with your own self-limiting thoughts.)
  • I don’t want to seem too pushy.
  • I might make someone upset.
  • What if my role is changed and I fail?
 Reframe your Thoughts

FEAR has two meanings – Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. The choice is yours. – Zig Ziglar

 Now that you’ve done some work identifying your current belief systems, it’s time to challenge yourself. Reframe your thoughts around your current situation. See it as an opportunity to act. Even if it’s a different type of action than your typical daily work:

  • Keep yourself and your team fully present, engaged, and focused on what can be controlled and reasonably influenced.
  • Determine what goals/results you can achieve together as the Newco is still developing.
  • Develop a clear vision for yourself as a person and a leader. (What is your Why? What motivates you? How can you bring more of that to your life, your work?)
  • Network and build a relationship with someone / a few people at the Newco as well as outside your organization. (Who would this be? What are some important strategic relationships for you? Why? How can you get to know them?)
  • Take stock of and develop a list of your strengths, skills, abilities and interests. (No one knows these better than you.)
  • Understand the Newco vision and purpose and think about structures and strategies that will help it achieve its vision. Determine how you can help with this.
  • Identify where your unique traits and skillsets can add value to the Newco.
  • Take responsibility for your mood and how you show up as a leader with your team during this time of uncertainty and transition.
  • Serve as a positive role model for others.
The Bottom Line

Don’t wait for the right opportunity: create it.  – George Bernard Shaw

When a new organization or new teams are forming; strong, courageous, and inspiring leaders are needed. It is an ideal time to identify ways to create new value and to develop new roles.

I encourage you to reflect on these action items and create your own action plan. Engage an accountability partner or executive coach during the process. Challenge yourself to be intentional, take action, and move beyond the path of least resistance.

You deserve better than being “stuck in limbo.”

As George Bernard Shaw said, “Don’t wait for the right opportunity, create it.” Think about who you are as a leader, why you do what you do, what you can create, the results you and your team can achieve now, and how you add unique value. These will help you regain a sense of purpose and control as well as build confidence and momentum.

And remember, fortune favors the bold!

Kathy Gibala
About the author

Kathy Gibala is a leadership coach and strategic advisor with 25 years of healthcare industry experience encompassing leadership, consultant and operations management roles with premier academic medical centers, non-profit health systems, and hospitals.
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