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Endings and beginnings

I put this post together based on an assignment for my Ohio University online coaching education program. The prompt was to write a “leadership minute.” I selected the topic of “endings.” My high school team’s season ended last week – a win on Senior Night but no playoffs this year. The ending was “planned” – we knew this would be our last game. But, it is always awkward as a coach from going full-time, full-speed to being done. The effect is magnified after a playoff loss, when the season suddenly finishes.

With players, the social unit that carried them through a period of months, and the opportunity to be together, vanishes. For the high school players, they will return back to their club teams – a new beginning (or at least a restart). With club teams, the awkward transition between seasons is usually forgotten when the new team is formed and has started their beginning.

I wrote this response in the context of business leadership but the theme is very applicable to the sports coach.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
– Seneca

A great deal of research has gone into the topic of project planning. Forecasts, market studies, technology evaluations, resources, and hiring are some of the areas considered in the business world when launching a project. During the project’s execution phases, task outcomes are continually being assessed, changes in market direction and corporate strategy considered, and impacts of competition and customer feedback may dictate changes in plans. While the process of beginning and executing projects has broad scope and visibility, the topic of endings if often overlooked or avoided. The “wrapping up” of a project usually has broad implications on the success of future plans and impacts the well-being of the affected individuals.

Consider the project team that has spent “24/7” working on a project advertised as critical for a company’s success. Or the sports team that has been together, through success and adversity, during a season. In the latter case, athletes are often measured by their daily output and come under scrutiny from owners, coaches, teammates, fans, and the press. The ending of a project (or season) can leave social, emotional, and potentially financial holes for the participants. Some endings are planned, such as the ending of a project, whereas others can be sudden such as a corporate layoff or sports playoff exit. Planning for the steps after “the end” provides closure for the individuals and an opportunity to create new beginnings.

Recognition of the contributions of the team members is an essential part of the ending process. In a sudden ending, individuals may be unsure of their value and future opportunities. Identifying positives, determining the next steps, and providing constructive and honest feedback are important elements of closure for team members. Listening to individuals is also essential to decide on organizational “lessons learned” for future projects.

The importance of first impressions has been noted throughout culture. The importance of final impressions, how endings are handled, is critical to the future success of organizations and their individuals. Planning for endings is a vital responsibility of leaders within organizations.

On the morning after a stormy night, the clear skies, sweet-smelling air, and rainbow are signs of renewal and new beginnings. A recognition of the opportunities ahead and reflection of the lessons learned from a managed ending allow the individuals and organization to move forward to new challenges.