“Don’t ever let a bad experience at work define you.” That is the advice I’ve given to several leaders who have faced challenges transitioning to a new job after leaving an environment and culture that simply wasn’t ready for what they had to offer. In many cases, their employers didn’t quite understand the value of their skills and talents. Some only realized it after they were gone. Of course, there were also employers that did understand their value but yet determined that they were not a good fit for the company.
I’ve found that many high performers can find themselves in this predicament, and being let go is extremely difficult for them. In addition, the pain of trying to understand how and why it happened. Many had done their very best to comply with what was being asked of them, even though it was not always aligned with their core beliefs and standards. They had lowered their standards and we’re operating in denial, believing that their situation would change. They had allowed the role to redefine them.
In our conversations, I asked why they felt they needed to do this, and in most cases they were operating out of fear. They did not want to lose their jobs. There were a few other key questions I asked that took the conversation deeper and seemed to help them better understand why they responded the way that they did, instead of just reading the writing on the wall. The answers that I received differed based on each individual’s situation or how they dealt with overcoming it.
Below are some of the questions and answers to one of those conversations.
Q: Was your last job the one you’d always hoped for?
A: I thought it would be at first, since they had made promises to me that would allow me to use my skills and talents to the fullest. However, I soon realized that it was an immature environment that wasn’t quite ready for change. It also turned out to be a hostile work environment where employees were treated poorly and disrespected. After a few months, I guess I really didn’t even want to be there.
Q: Should you have left as soon as you recognized the issues and realized that there weren’t any other solutions to your problems?
A: Yes, but for some reason I ignored reality and decided to stay. Although I was unhappy, I thought that there might be hope and that my situation would change. If I am ever faced with a similar situation, next time I will accept the reality that was staring me straight in the face.
Q: What did this experience teach you?
1) I will not be afraid to ask more detailed questions during interviews that will help me determine whether the role is a good fit for me. Especially, around the corporate culture, strategic goals and organizational readiness for change. Some of this was shared, but not nearly enough.
2) Regardless of the salary and incentives sold to me by the recruiting team, I will not allow these things to cloud my judgment.
3) As soon as I learn that the role doesn’t meet my original requirements, I will STOP and decide at that point what my next steps should be and not ignore my gut!
Q: What kind of role will you seek in the future?
A: I will seek a role where my skills and talents will be excercised and valued. I will continue to be a high performer and therefore will try to find an employer that will appreciate my efforts and commitment.
This conversation was easier than most because the individual had high self esteem and a good understanding of the situation with which they were faced. I could have asked more questions but felt that they were in a good place. They had overcome their hurt and achieved peace of mind in knowing that it was not their failure. They were still the same dependable, transformational leader they had always been.
Throughout our careers we will continue to encounter challenges in the workplace that will not always align with the vision that we have for our lives. These may be extremely challenging to overcome. Have faith, there is always a way of escape. You just need to find the courage to pursue it. Sometimes it’s better to temporarily take a different or even lesser role where your skills are valued and respected, than to work for a company where they are not. I know that this decision can be humbling, but knowing when to “Let it Go”, could be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made. It will not only help you, but also those you’ll mentor along your journey.
What are some other thought provoking questions or words of wisdom that could help someone get through this situation?