Last week I watched William Hague MP on the box. He was speaking about a potential intervention in Syria – an attempt to halt the terrible civil war that’s emerging there. Hague was both articulate and persuasive – as you would imagine from the former leader of the Tory Party. He resigned from that job following a landslide defeat by Labour in 2001 and now seems to be thriving in the role of Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State. I’ve never met him – so perhaps that’s not the case – but that’s how it seems from a distance. Closer to home I know a HR Director who, when she had a baby, decided to return to work in the number 2 HR slot. She loves the company but didn’t want the long hours and stress which go hand in hand with holding a senior executive role. William Hague and herself share the fact that they moved from the ‘top’ to a ‘lower’ level position; both seem to be doing grand.
Position Handcuffed: Fifty Shades of Grey has become a publishing phenomena – as the fastest selling book of all time. While that tome refers to physical handcuffs, mental restraints have the same effect on many senior managers. I recently met the leader of a Not-For-Profit organization who wanted to leave. She was terribly conflicted, caught between her wish to move on and the notion that she would somehow be seen as a fraud. In walking away from a range of projects which have recently commenced, she worried that her core commitment to the organization (including fundraising with external people) would be seen as false. People would ask: ‘Was she sincere’? We spoke about what she had already achieved (rather than focusing on what was left to do). But, more centrally, she needed to shake off the concern about what other people would think of the move. Because…the answer to that question is unprintable.
Giving Up: Many CEO’s and senior executives feel trapped. They look back at a happier time in their careers when they were Marketing or Finance Managers and secretly long to go back there. Sometimes they can’t because the mortgage and school fees won’t allow a downward climb on salary. But, for some, the block is not financial, it’s psychological. They have scaled a career Everest and don’t want to descend to Base Camp 4 – for fear that they will be seen as ‘unable’ to compete at the top. But don’t confuse unable to from unwilling to.
Perfect Life: If you buy the idea that you are the ‘CEO of your own Life’ – you need to make decisions that suit you, not someone else. Having a perfect life and a perfect CV are not always the same thing. The Psychotherapist and Management Consultant Tom Jordan holds that, for most of us, seeking contentment is a more realistic aspiration than perfection. Over many years he has been consistent in a simple message: ‘listen to yourself’. You have to determine the ‘sweet spot’ in your own life – not continually try to impress others about how much of a ‘player’ you are, like some overgrown schoolboy who never learned to accept responsibility for his own life (the point applies equally well to women in executive roles).
Move On: If you’re in a job and not enjoying it, provided it’s not just a bad week or a rough patch, then move on. If your gut is telling you that you are in the wrong place, listen up. Elevate your level of happiness above the level of your career. It was Benjamin Franklyn who said: “When you are finished changing, you are finished”. Perhaps there is another move in you yet – but that move doesn’t automatically have to be ‘upwards’. Sometimes, in order to step up, you have to step down.
PS Lighter Note: The Bathtub Test. During a recent visit to my doctor, I brought up a difficult subject based on concerns about my Uncle Thomas.
“Doctor, how do you determine whether or not an older person should be put in an old-age home?”
“Well,” he said, “we fill up a bathtub. Then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the person to empty the bathtub.”
“Oh, I understand. A normal person would use the bucket because it’s bigger than the spoon or the teacup.”
“No” he said. “A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want me to book you a bed near the window?”
PPS: Fantastic response to the stuff last week on poor listening – I hadn’t realized that it was an epidemic! I’d mentioned that being on the receiving end of a 3+ hour monologue was a new ‘personal best’ and asked if anyone could top that? One respondent (I’m open to bribes on revealing his name) recounted a non-stop flight from San Francisco in which he’d had an 11 hour conversation (also non-stop) with the person sitting beside him. During that longest flight of his entire life, he uttered the single word “Hi”. Serves him right for getting on a plane without a key piece of travel kit – noise cancelling earphones! It’s not just the engine whine you want to shut out. Keep those stories coming….
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