The Bench

Definition: “Sports Bench:  to remove from a game or keep from participating in a game”

What do you do when you find yourself sitting this one out?  You are on the Bench, in between gigs, and unsure of where to from here.

Whether you have taken a juicy or unplanned redundancy, completed a contract or chosen to make a career shift, the Bench is not a place to kick back and chill out.  Many leaders speak about their time on the bench as having been some of their most productive.  A place where they found the time to prepare for the next move in their careers.

View of the Bench

How you approach the Bench depends on the lens through which you view the experience.  Everyone will have their own response, however from the conversations I have with leaders who have been on the Bench, responses appear to fall into six broad groupings:

Armageddon: This is the end of my career
Anchors Away: I feel totally out of control
Shame: What will people say behind my back
Relief: I was in over my head
Opportunity: Time to pivot
Celebration: I finally took the step

Finding ourselves on the Bench has a significant impact on us in the moment. There is real power in acknowledging how we feel about finding ourselves here. The power comes from what we do with these feelings and how we move forward.

Acknowledge the Bench

Once on the Bench, you are not alone.  You have joined an illustrious line of leaders who feel that rather than a seat of shame, time on the Bench is almost mandatory in the development of a leadership career.  How many of your colleagues and mentors have a Bench story to tell?  It’s what you do with this time that will determine your own story.

Have you been on the Bench? If so, which of the groupings best resonates with your experience? 

For many, the immediate impact is to fear our careers will stall and lose momentum. This is a good time to connect with mentors and/or trusted colleagues who can provide balance and be a sounding board as you work through your feelings. 

It can be useful to do some mind-mapping at this stage. This process helps us to get things out of our heads and onto the screen or page in front of you. I use mind-mapping as a major tool, whether working with my clients, or when I am working on my own business.  My preferred mind-mapping tool is X-Mind but there are many in the market from which to choose.

Reframe the Bench

To avoid becoming stuck on the bench, it is necessary to make the shift from reactive to proactive positioning. This may require some reframing and creativity to generate the energy and focus to move forward. The Bench is not a comfy chair into which you settle. It's hard and unyielding and you spend as little time here as possible.  A couple of articles about this stage include Stephanie Vozza's article in Fast Company on Three Ways to Reframe and Crosina and Pratt’s article on Redirecting Careers in HBR.

Read and speak broadly in this stage and take ideas that resonate. It's about reinvention and one simple approach to get your imagination charged is:

Identify your ideal role. 'My ideal next role is........"

Mind-map the components of your 'ideal role'.  Are you fully equipped right now, or are there one, two or three degrees of separation between this role and where you are now?

Identify the separation points by overlaying this map onto a map of your current strengths, skills and experience.

Finally, identify the gaps. Are these gaps you can fill in the short, medium or long term?

From Bench to Field

The simple process above can serve to open your mind up to possibilities.

Whatever action we decide to take, the way to get off the Bench and back onto the field of play is to continue to play an active role in the development and growth of our career - wherever that takes us.

And the real opportunity lies in recognising the blank canvas offered by the Bench.

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