Traversing the Trapeze Bars of Transition

Traversing the Trapeze Bars of Transition
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

Trapeze artists defy death.  They swing high above the ground.  They pry their fingers away and let go of the bar of safety and security.  They leap into the unknown of mid-air.  

And they do all of this without a net!  One slip, and their act comes to an end.

If you have ever navigated a transition, you are ALSO a trapeze artist.

  • You somehow convince your fingers to let go of the bar of your known present.  
  • You fly into a period of disorientation, where plummeting seems possible.
  • And yet, you fiercely grabbed onto your future and now that bar is your new normal.

As I work with leaders and teams facing transition, the trapeze leap becomes the model.  I’ve created it from the work of William Bridges, in his 1991 book "Managing Transitions."  Bridges writes,

"Change is something that happens to people, even if they don't agree with it.  Transition is internal: it's what happens in people's minds as they go through change.  Change can happen very quickly, while transition usually occurs more slowly."

In my experience, navigating change is pretty simple.  GIve us a whiteboard and an hour or two and we can sketch out a change.  But the TRANSITION carries an impact that, if not navigated with intentionality, can leave us stuck.

Like that trapeze artist’s leap, any transition involves three phases.  

1. Ending or Letting Go

2. Flying Through the Air

3. The New Beginning

While each person or organization will progress through these phases at their own pace, all three phases are important to recognize and navigate through.

Let me unpack these phases:

1. Letting Go of the Bar

This phase is filled with emotion because you are letting go of what you know.  Whether the transition is planned or unplanned, chosen by you or chosen for you, you are leaving something.  

All leaving is losing.  All change is experienced as loss in some shape or form.

  • You are losing position.  Decisions you used to make are now not yours to make
  • You are losing relationships.  People you led, teams you served with–these are going away.
  • You are losing identity.  The box of business cards with your title goes in the trash, and with it, a part of who you are as well.
  • You are losing a future.  The vision, plans, dreams of what was next have all shifted to a future you are no longer a part of.
  • You are losing control.  This is probably the hardest for leaders, especially if they were also founders.  You no longer get to control where this organization goes.

You don’t cross the line separating change management from transition management until you have asked “Who will lose (or has lost) what?” -William Bridges

When I left a 25 year career as a pastor, I underestimated the impact of loss this had on me.  Even answering the question, “So what do you do?” was tricky.  “I used to be a pastor…”


Rather than brush these losses aside, or to cover them up with a “But things will be better,” platitude, it is important to name and navigate these losses.  Especially with the team left behind.

2. Flying Through the Air

This is the season of disorientation.  The old is gone; the new has not yet come.  Limbo.  People experience:

  • Confusion “Who does this report go to now?”
  • Uncertainty “Where are we headed…Where am I headed?”
  • Priority shifts “What’s most important, right now?”
  • Distrust “Does leadership know what they are doing?”
  • Low Morale “Things just don’t feel like they used to.”

It is important to care for yourself, and care for the team, during this season.  It is also key to bring clarity to what is, and is not important, what needs to be done and what can be pushed off  (I call this “Transition Triage”).

Increased communication, including check-ins and feedback, must take place.  It is also a time to begin to give shape to the transition, including naming your transition, establishing timelines and benchmarks, and celebrating milestones.

During this time, you will want to keep revisiting why you are transitioning, and what you are transitioning to.  

3. Grabbing on to the New Normal

This is the upswing season, when your grabbing of the new bar brings with it momentum and energy.  It is where you begin to settle into your new normal.  And you begin to see how you have replaced what you have lost with something new…or you have learned to let it go.

This is a time to celebrate, to give rest to those who carried extra weight during the transition, and to begin to accept and implement what life looks like in this new beginning.

Change is simple; transition is hard.  Help yourself and the team you lead by recognizing and spending time letting go, making the best of the time in the air, and grabbing solidly on to your new normal.

Two Action Steps:

1. Consider transitions you or your team have made in the past.  How do they resonate with this model?

2. Consider an upcoming transition.  What phase do you need to lean into yourself, or lead your team through, to make the leap well?

Thomas helps leaders navigate what’s next.  If he can serve you in this, reach out to him at 

Photo by Miikka Luotio on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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