Disconnecting, unplugging, and walking away – this is what we do every two/three years. We are trained to deep dive into a singular subject, and we spend countless hours doing so. Then after a few years, we are told to move on. Some of us gladly throw the lighter down on the ground and let it burn off, but most of us want to see our efforts continue. Therefore, how do you graciously walk away from an assignment as an AFRICA OSC?
For most people, it starts when you receive your next assignment notification. A mon avis, it begins when you arrive. Everything you do for the next two years will establish expectations for years to come, and you should understand that as you go through your assignment. You may be a better or worse officer than the person you replaced, that happens more than we want to admit. The person who replaces you may be a better or worse officer than you, that happens more than we want to acknowledge also.
Eventually, the moment comes when you realize that you are now transitioning and moving on. You are either excited about your next assignment or disappointed. Your motivation levels based on the previous sentence will play out over the next six months as you prepare to PCS to your next duty station. That is the most critical moment of reflection. You shift from doing to maintaining, and then to transitioning – this is a cycle we all go through.
Your engagement from there on out will reflect this optic. You are more prone to push something off for the next person than to engage with all your efforts. It would be best if you prioritized what efforts must be written, submitted, etc. before you leave. If there is a gap between when you depart and when your replacement will arrive, then you must focus on all written products because physical (written) continuity provides more than you can imagine. At worst, it is best to email your replacement everything. This helps as they can save these emails and reflect on them later. Eventually, though, you have to get on the plane and leave. Whether you are blowing up a firebomb behind you as you leave, or regretting the missions you weren’t able to accomplish, you eventually get on the plane and move on. Both of these examples of your exits will say a lot about you and your performance during your assignment. How you depart contributes to that. More than likely your evaluation has already been written, but your next review and reputation depends on how you walk away.
So how should you walk away?
There are three critical points to walking away from an assignment: 1) Update the share drive – put all your files on your desktop onto the share drive; 2) read the Continuity blog on this site and attempt to do what it suggests (Note: it has been the #1 read blog so far); 3) realize that your replacement is not you, they will have different perspectives and possibly a better, same, or worse capability; and 4) if contacted later about a situation or person, sit down and write an email to help your replacement gain more knowledge and insight. Number one and two are manageable, number three and four take dedication. We get caught up in the goodbyes and don’t think about the hello of the next person. Be a professional and take a little bit of time and write out the information you have captured. If you are leaving on an emergency, email them everything. Either way, information, and continuity is the key to a stumbling block during a transition.
I suggest preparing two critical documents for your replacement before you walk away. First, when our Presidents leave their office, they leave a letter to the incoming President. This is an excellent example of a way to give your best advice to your replacement. You can do it in an email, a document, or a phone conversation – whatever you and your replacement’s personalities require. Second, if you have a transition of one or two weeks, write out a schedule and make sure your replacement meets every single one of your contacts. If you don’t have a transition period, still make that schedule for your replacement, but you’ll have to put in all of the POC information for them to make the appointments. I suggest to make the appointments ahead of time as a forcing function – they will not be happy with you in the first couple of weeks, but it will work out later.
How should you reflect afterward on how you walked away?
Depending on how you left the assignment and what your transition was with the incoming person will outline how you reflect on how you left. I think the key here is self-reflection. If you don’t do this, then you won’t succeed in the military – A mon avis. If you don’t do an After Action Review (AAR) of yourself and your actions, then I would say there is a problem. Smart leaders know their weaknesses and try to address them or apply countermeasures to them. We are all human, we are not the same, and we all have our quirks. Acknowledging and knowing that is key. It would be best if you did not mass announce yourself awareness though – that would be counterproductive. Sometimes it is okay to accept that you’ve reached your ceiling in the U.S. military, some other times with a few corrections you can breach that ceiling.
Did you pay all your bills, finish all the necessary evaluations, and clean out your desk thoroughly? Did you leave the office a better or worse place than when you arrived? Did you make the unit better, and did you improve the relationship with the partner nation? If you felt the need to throw the lighter on the ground and burn the place down, why was that? It happens to the best of us, and sometimes it is just a bad mix of personalities or a coup. Walking away is good and matures us to move into our next role and job.