Strengthen Your Leadership During Your Career Transition

How do you stay at the top of your game and even move forward in your leadership skills while you’re in between jobs?

Red Pencil Standing Out From CrowdLosing your job may seem like a major bump in your road. But if you’re a leader, it may help to remember that you’re traveling on two roads at the same time throughout your career.

The first road is your career progression. This is about roles, titles, compensation and organizational responsibility. You have influence, but not control, over your progression up that road.

The second road is your leadership development. This is about you getting better at leading. You are in control of that – even when you hit a bump in the first road.

Here are two tips for moving forward on your leadership development path.

1. Demonstrate key leadership attitudes and behaviors when it’s the most difficult.

It’s important while looking for a job to give extra attention to a few key leadership attitudes and behaviors that are visible to potential employers and others who will recommend you to them. The challenge is that these are difficult to demonstrate while dealing with the stress, emotional roller coaster and uncertainty that you likely face.

  • Executive presence – It’s tough – even for highly competent and successful leaders – to project a mature self-confidence when you’re reeling from being laid off or rejected by a prospective employer. If you’re running low in confidence because you aren’t “feeling the love” from employers, remember the unique skills, experiences and contribution you bring to the table. And anchor back to your greater purpose and identity beyond your latest job title. If you are confident in you, others will be more confident in you.
  • Energy and enthusiasm – A normally energetic and optimistic executive, three months into her job search, introduced herself at a group networking event in a way that seemed like someone let the air out of her tires. Whether or not she realized it, her deflated attitude was obvious to the rest of us. I hope she’ll recharge her batteries before her next opportunity comes.
  • Positivity and optimism – It can be difficult to stay positive and optimistic when you’re not seeing any attractive jobs on the horizon or, worse, when you’re going for those jobs and not getting them. It can help to focus your thoughts and attention on constructive thoughts, e.g. “I will practice my answer to that question and nail it in the next interview.” versus “I messed up and lost my only chance at a decent job.”
  • Authenticity – If you have safe and supportive people and venues where you can be vulnerable and open (where you are not concerned about how you come across) then you’ll be more able to be both real and positive when you’re on stage.
  • Social and emotional intelligence – Listening with empathy and a genuine interest to help others speaks volumes about your ability to collaborate, team and influence. Yet many of us need to remind ourselves of this and tend to our own well-being, too, in order to focus on others.

These leadership behaviors are above the water line; others can see these. The following tip relates to areas below the water line but just as important to leadership effectiveness.

2. Strengthen your leadership core.

You have to be fit to lead yourself in order to be in a position to lead others. How would you rate how you’re doing in the following core areas of self-leadership?

  • Physical – Are you exercising, getting rest and eating well? One study by the Center for Creative Leadership showed that leaders who exercised regularly received higher ratings on 360 degree assessments by colleagues.
  • Intellectual – Are you staying current in your field? How? Is it time to take a class or earn a credential?
  • Emotional – How are you – really? It’s normal to go through a grieving process when facing a job loss. Where are you in this process? And if you just left a toxic environment, are you doing what you need to do to detox? One leader in transition spent our entire coffee meeting venting about his previous boss and situation. He was bitter and stuck. And he would have shot himself in the foot if he went into an interview then without tending to his emotional well-being.
  • Social – Are you spending time fostering the supportive and encouraging relationships that you need? You most likely need them now more than ever. Now’s your chance to collaborate to be your best.
  • Strategic thinking, organization and discipline – Are you applying these skills and behaviors to your job search with the same rigor you would if you were employed?

Don’t let unemployment sideline your leadership development. Take an honest personal inventory of how you’re doing in key leadership behaviors and core leadership fitness areas. Then take action to help yourself not only land your next role but also hit the ground running when you land it.

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults and a Leadership Consultant and Executive Coach. He also serves as Board President of Executive Leaders in Transition Exchange (ELITE), a non-profit organization that helps senior HR and finance leaders find jobs through networking.  You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr. Sign up to receive his and his colleagues’ blog at Current.