During a coaching session a few months ago, I was meeting with several women working in the education sector who were struggling with their current roles. One was experiencing what I would call the “old guard” impact, where new ideas weren’t welcomed and consistently back-burnered in light of everyone being too busy to rethink plans or processes.
Another was experiencing the challenge of being a senior female, working with all males (both above and below her in the organizational pecking order). She was experiencing what I would call the “bypass” challenge, where her authority and, more importantly, her knowledge was bypassed by her team to go directly to her supervisor (as reported back to her, “because they were the guys that are used to running things”). Still, the other was struggling with the mean girl syndrome, where breaking into the conversation among female leaders was proving challenging.
As we digested each individual pain point, I randomly had the idea that clarity might come a little easier if they put pen to paper. Instead of generating a list (that I knew would weigh on the negative), we took a five-minute break for each of them to write their letters of resignation. Would they turn them in? No way. Would it be somewhat therapeutic and a whole lot enlightening, yes.
I spent about a minute talking about what a general outline could be, and off they went to write a letter no one would ever see.
When we came back together, they chose to read their letters aloud. As the rest of us listened, we identified key themes. Each was poignant, passionate, and gut-wrenchingly honest.
Listening to them explain their fictitious leaving in a narrative form brought new light to how each loved the work but felt frustrated by the circumstances, power dynamics, and lack of real teamwork. They were astonished that they had learned so much and walked away with actual action steps. As we debriefed and shared themes, we saw each of these strong, amazing women were able to identify key components of their jobs that they needed to either change, accept, or divert their attention and workflow from.
Some of the items that fell into the change category included:
- Lead to their capacity and stop trying to fit into a role that was made to determine a function, not a person.
- Stop being frustrated alone and bring the concerns to their teams with open, honest, and somewhat
- Acknowledge that their emotions and feelings are valid and don’t need to be justified to anyone.
Some of the items on the accept list:
- Organizational change is hard, and communication and planning are key to helping the change-maker.
- You can only do so much, if missteps happen, there is a discussion to be had. If opportunities are missed, there is a discussion to be had. Sometimes reflection is more profitable than actually doing the work when it comes to changing mindsets.
- If there is a glass ceiling, realize that some organizations are stepping stones, and others are where you go to grow.
Some of the items on the divert list:
- Create a workflow where you can still have a collaborative spirit but help your team learn to give quality feedback (set some boundaries and expectations).
- Disengage from drama, walk away and don’t be a part of it.
While I had no idea that the quick act of drafting a resignation letter was so powerful, these ladies walked away with actions that they had in them but couldn’t quite pull up since they were so clouded in frustration.