Don’t just do something….sit there
Often in our work with executives we meet people with the habit of burning the candle at both ends. They experience a sense of great urgency, they’re restless, impatient and competitive. Business leaders who are something like dynamos. They are used to being task oriented, supremely focused, and working hard – and these are the attributes which have built their success in the past.
With the loss of a role through an acquisition or a merger or some other unexpected event, their natural tendency is to throw themselves into this next challenge – that of capturing another career – using exactly the same competencies and approach. They feverishly fire out CVs. They call on multiple search consultants. They often sign up for the first offer on the table, which is usually remarkably similar to the role they left behind. They feel guilty when they relax. They hop quickly back on the treadmill.
The executive who takes this approach then appears in the market as overly anxious, with a garbled story about their departure from their last role. All too often this leads to the executive taking on a less than optimal role for the sake of having “a role”.
Our experience tells us there is another way. We put the view that a little time doing some quality thinking, analysis and intelligence gathering now will lead to a much better quality outcome.
An unexpected period out of the race should be a time to pull back and work out a strategy. This may be one the last chances to think deeply about the next career. To figure out something with more variety, more richness in feeding personal interests, greater meaning in terms of purposes which are important to you, and better value in terms of relationships. If executives think that they’ll have more time and energy to reflect later on they are misguided, because back at work life only gets more demanding. A quick grab at another job like the last one might appear to work, or be achievable – but will you be doing yourself justice?
Not that we are saying rest on your laurels. With the people we get to advise, we do encourage “work” – but it is new and different work from the past. We do suggest some different rhythms and practices for a time, so that this period will allow for some creativity and reflection as well.
Initially the work we suggest entails unpacking the experience of the past. Building clarity around values, interests, professional skills, achievements and capabilities. Articulating what this unique individual can deliver and what work actually feeds their inner interests and strengths. Working out how best to represent their interests and skills to others. Being creative and widening the canvas of alternatives to consider.
We then support some efforts in exploring and testing markets of interest. Where are these “markets”? Which “employment envelopes” will work best? Should this be in the form of regular employment, self-employment, directorships, portfolio careers, new business formation? In new sectors or industries? How is this research best done? Who do I talk with? How do I run effective intelligence gathering interviews? How do I deal with search firms? Board Chairs? How do I approach a community organisation with my interest in a board role?
Later on, we focus on interview skills, negotiation and some of the more practical tools of value.
We know that there is no such thing as a “typical” career transition. Flexibility is important should an opportunity present quickly, or should other issues intrude. Sometimes the people we are working with are doing several things in parallel. We encourage the exploration of multiple pathways. But we also encourage invite clients to take the long view. This can mean one short term transition, with a longer-term one (such as a group of directorships) being also worked on concurrently.
Our overall message is to take a deep breath and take your time. At these times it is important to take stock and to work out a new pathway. This is an opportunity to design something richer and better for the future and to broaden the canvas of career alternatives. We find that often when people rush into another role…for the sake of having a role… they tend to find themselves questioning the decision later down the track. While we are not advocating significant navel gazing we do think it is important to take the time to map out a clear strategy.