The Truth Can Be Bitterer than a Sweet Illusion

Bitter Pill - The truth can be bitterer than a sweet illusion

In 1998, as CEO of 1-800-Flowers.com, Jim McCann could not bring himself to let one of his senior executives go. McCann and the rest of his leadership team understood that this senior executive was neither right for the job nor performing well.

For McCann, the biggest hindrance was that he was friends with this executive and had spent time with his family. McCann agonized over being heartless to a friend and couldn’t bring himself to dismiss the executive.

Unexpectedly, McCann met General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch at a dinner party and discussed this dilemma. Welch advised, “When was the last time anyone said, ‘I wish I had waited six months longer to fire that guy?’ Always err on the side of speed.”

Urged by Welch’s counsel, McCann deftly dealt with the situation. Initially, McCann felt that being tough was unjustifiable and was pained by the loss of a friendship. He was hurt but relieved because firing the executive was the right decision for everyone.

On a happier note, the former executive soon got a new job that better suited his background. Their friendship stood the test of time and they eventually made up.

Firing is awful—indeed, it’s the most difficult thing managers have to do, especially for those who encourage camaraderie and treasure loyalty. As in McCann’s case, if you think an employee isn’t up to par and you may fire him/her within the next year, it’s always better for management, the employee in question, and other employees to take the right actions promptly.

Idea for Impact: Don’t Be Conflict-Avoidant

Confront the Bitter Truth The truth is that the truth hurts sometimes. Even if the truth can be bitterer than a sweet illusion, delaying action will only make things harder.

Making the right decision and taking the action may involve unpleasant confrontations. Though conflict can be emotionally distressing, being decisive and doing what’s best eventually works out well for everyone.

Instead of being hyperconscious of other’s possible judgments and avoiding conflict, do difficult things as soon as practically possible.

When dealing with difficulties involving others, there is nothing more insidious than unresolved conflict and inaction. Read “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” (by Patrick Lencioni) to understand how to engage in conflict in a way that nurtures (rather than harms) relationships. Also, read “Crucial Conversations” (by Kerry Patterson, et al.) on how to conduct effective discussions by stating the facts, speculating possible remedies, and then skillfully leading the other person to a course of action. Stick with facts to reduce defensiveness. Have the other person develop and commit to a course of action on his/her own.

Lessons from the Biography of Tesla’s Elon Musk

I recently finished reading Ashlee Vance’s riveting portrait of Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, CEO of SpaceX, chairman of SolarCity, and previously the founder of PayPal and other companies.

Musk has emerged as the foremost superstar/visionary-entrepreneur of Silicon Valley since Apple’s Steve Jobs passed away in 2011.

'Elon Musk' by Ashlee Vance (ISBN 0062301233) Vance’s biography reveals how Musk’s “willingness to tackle impossible things” has “turned him into a deity in Silicon Valley.”

Vance’s biography portrays Musk as an obsessively focused and a remarkably driven entrepreneur, but one who is almost unbearably difficult to work with. Musk is tirelessly demanding of employees, has low tolerance for underperformers, and does not like to share credit for successful ventures.

The book’s key takeaway is actually an admonitory lesson: Elon Musk may well be one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time—if your characterization of success is rather narrow. However, having an extreme personality and attaining great success come at the cost of many other things. In his drive to win, Musk sacrifices friends, business associates, and even his family to get what he wants. The story of Elon Musk exemplifies what happens when an overachieving leader regards individuals as tools and attaches more importance to his projects than to his people.

Complement Ashlee Vance’s “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” with biographies of two other entrepreneur-visionaries with aggressively competitive personalities: Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” and Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store” Like Elon Musk, both Jobs and Bezos are reputed for their personal influence on every aspect of Apple and Amazon’s products and services. They are described as being demanding and demeaning to people who helped them realize their visionary aspirations.

Starbucks’s Comeback / Book Summary of Founder and CEO Howard Schultz’s “Onward”

Starbucks founder, Chairman, and CEO Howard Schultz’s “Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul” is an interesting case study of organizational change as orchestrated by a passionate entrepreneur. The book covers the first two years of the turnaround of Starbucks after Schultz returned as CEO.

'Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul' by Howard Schultz, Joanne Gordon (ISBN 1609613821) In 2007, in the face of falling consumer spending and the upcoming Great Recession, the consumer discretionary sector was hit hard. Like other companies in that realm, Starbucks’ sales and profitability had dropped. The company’s stock price plummeted after Wall Street pared the rich valuations (high price-to-earning) of the company’s once-hot growth stock. Through these trials, Schultz worked at the company’s Seattle headquarters as chairman. Even after retiring as CEO in 2001, he had never left the company entirely and had even interjected often during Starbucks’ presentations to investors.

Starbucks’ financial under-performance was likely as much due to the economic slowdown as it was self-inflicted. In an apparent instance of misplaced cause-and-effect, Schultz blamed the company’s leadership for focusing too much on rapid expansion, opening too many stores, and diluting the in-store Starbucks experience. Behind the CEO’s back, Schultz started working with strategy consultants and other board members to develop a “transformational agenda” centered on the core values of the company he had founded in 1982.

In January 2008, Schultz invited the CEO home on a Sunday evening, fired him, and assumed the CEO position for a second stint. Over the next two years, Schultz rejuvenated the company’s mojo by making operational improvements and focusing on employee engagement, Starbucks’ specialty coffee products and its distinctive in-store customer experience.

Schultz’s vision, focus, and execution of this transformation makes up the bulk of “Onward”. One dominant theme in the book is founder’s syndrome—the intense reluctance of entrepreneurs like Schultz to cede control of their businesses.

Starbucks founder, Chairman, and CEO Howard Schultz

Towards the end of 2009 (when “Onward” was authored,) the economy started to improve. A measured recovery in consumer confidence invigorated the fortunes of most consumer discretionary companies that had suffered during the downturn. At Starbucks, customers returned to stores and spent more. Sales and profitability improved. The company’s valuation on Wall Street soared again. Conceivably, Starbucks may have enjoyed a comeback even if Schultz had remained just the chairman, retained and supported the CEO, and worked with the company’s leadership team to initiate course corrections.

That Starbucks continues to be an American success story and has done extraordinarily well to date under Schultz’s leadership is one more instance of a beloved fairy tale in the world of business—that of a company in distress rescued by the return of its visionary founder.

“Onward” is Schultz’s somewhat grandiose narrative of his return as CEO. The 350-page book is brimming with peripheral details, self-congratulatory superlatives, recurring claims, and Pollyanna-isms that are illustrative of a charismatic entrepreneur and a brilliant corporate cheerleader.

Recommendation: Skim. (For Starbucks aficionados: Read.)

Lessons from a Social Media Disaster

30-year-old Justine Sacco made headlines in December 2013 for insensitive remarks on Twitter during her journey to visit family in South Africa.

  • Sacco tweeted about a fellow passenger on her flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, “‘Weird German Dude: You’re in First Class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.’—Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank God for pharmaceuticals.”
  • And then, during her layover in London, she tweeted, “Chilly—cucumber sandwiches—bad teeth. Back in London!”
  • Subsequently, before boarding her aircraft for the final leg of her trip to Cape Town, she tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Justine Sacco published a tweet: 'Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm White!'

Sacco Should Have Known Better

Justine Sacco was the senior director of corporate communications at the digital media conglomerate IAC/InterActiveCorp. Her career centered on managing the intent and vocabulary of internal and external communications at a large multinational company.

Sacco’s last tweet sparked an immediate furor. By the time she landed in South Africa, thousands of angry tweets responded to her remarks. Reactions ranged from “Sorry @JustineSacco, your tweet lives on forever” to “How did @JustineSacco get a PR job?! Her level of racist ignorance belongs on Fox News. #AIDS can affect anyone!” to “I’m an IAC employee and I don’t want @JustineSacco doing any communications on our behalf ever again. Ever.”

IAC/InterActiveCorp, her employer, tweeted, “This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question currently unreachable on an intl flight.” By the time she landed in South Africa, IAC had fired Sacco and released a statement saying:

The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question.

There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally. We hope, however, that time and action, and the forgiving human spirit, will not result in the wholesale condemnation of an individual who we have otherwise known to be a decent person at core.

That One Stupid Tweet Blew up Justine Sacco’s Career

Lessons from Justine Sacco's Social Media Disaster Justine Sacco later apologized for her insensitivity and stated, “Words cannot express how sorry I am, and how necessary it is for me to apologize to the people of South Africa, who I have offended due to a needless and careless tweet. … For being insensitive to this crisis … and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed. … This is my father’s country, and I was born here. I cherish my ties to South Africa and my frequent visits, but I am in anguish knowing that my remarks have caused pain to so many people here; my family, friends and fellow South Africans. I am very sorry for the pain I caused.”

Sacco is now a communications manager for a small startup in New York. Even if she realized social media’s power in the most awful way possible and learned her lesson the hard way, the chances of her ever getting another significant job in corporate communications or public relations are remote. Presumably, it will take a long time for her to rebuild her career.

Alas, Humor is a Difficult Thing

Sacco probably isn’t racist or one who doesn’t sympathize with people with AIDS. Her tweet was simply a bad tweet.

Sacco, who deleted her Twitter account right away, had a history of tweeting sarcastic remarks and offensive little jokes. “I was so naive,” she later admitted to a Gawker columnist, claiming she never expected that her tweet would be misunderstood and misconstrued in such a way. She insisted her message was an attempt to mimic what a truly racist or ignorant person would say.

The Pitfalls of Social Media

Three Lessons from Justine Sacco’s Tweet: The Pitfalls of Social Media

  • Companies, publish social media guidelines for employees: Social media users easily blur the lines between their personal and professional personalities by openly declaring their affiliations on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other sites. Consequently, when they use social media in their professional or personal capacities, they can seriously harm their employer’s reputation. Whereas policing technology use or monitoring all published content is impractical, companies must educate employees about the pitfalls of social media. For example, the U.S. Air Force has a thorough handbook to help its employees engage online (and offline) communities in a positive way.
  • Folks, be mindful of your digital footprint; watch what you write. Social media has not only made us more accessible to one another, but also more accountable. Many prospective employers search social networking websites and the internet for more information on job candidates. Your online presence can be an asset or a liability. Any remark you post in the public domain can be distorted or misinterpreted. Refrain from venting complaints, writing crude posts, portraying organizations and individuals in negative light, bad-mouthing, and posting opinions on sensitive topics. Maintain a professional tone and post insightful content that appeals to prospective employers.
  • Be cautious with humor and sarcasm. “Humor is inherently ambiguous. That’s how it works. You’re saying more than one thing, and it’s never clear exactly what the message is,” says Prof. Rod Martin, who has researched the nature of humor at the University of Western Ontario. It’s amazing how quickly a well-intentioned remark or an offhand comment, when taken the wrong way, can completely derail communication. Humor and sarcasm are complicated. No matter how funny you think you are, you’ll stand the risk that people won’t “get it.” This is especially true in written form, which lacks the helpful subtext of tone and facial movement. It can be very difficult to foresee how others may receive humor or sarcasm: as a clever comment, show of callousness, or as passive-aggression. Exercise caution when it is necessary to use humor; don’t let it get out of control.

Idea for Impact: Social media mistakes may have serious consequences. Once made, those mistakes are not easy to fix. Be mindful of what you share on social media.

Postscript: While I understand the power of social media as an efficient medium for how our world currently interacts, I must admit I don’t understand why intrusive micro-blogging on Facebook (and worse, Twitter) is interesting. Personally, I find social media a gross distraction and invasion of privacy. This is besides the fact that, frankly, nobody cares where I am or what I am doing on an hour-by-hour basis. I deliberately choose to reduce my technological footprint and connect with people in more thoughtful and meaningful ways.

Wife asks “When is it going to be time? Our time? My time?” and Google CFO chooses to retire

To supplement yesterday’s article, “When Can Your Loved One Become an Important Client?” on making time for ourselves and our loved ones, here’s a memo published yesterday by Google CFO Patrick Pichette announcing his retirement after a 30-year career that he deemed left him with too little time to pursue anything else.

Google CEO Larry Page called the memo “a most unconventional leaving notice … Well worth reading — it will warm your heart.”

Google CFO Patrick Pichette and wife atop Mt. Kilimanjaro

A trip to Africa in September 2014 was the genesis of Pichette’s choice to retire at age 52. One morning, Pichette and wife Tamar were watching the sunrise from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and appreciating the expanse of the Serengeti Park beneath. Then,

And Tamar out of the blue said “Hey, why don’t we just keep on going”. Let’s explore Africa, and then turn east to make our way to India, it’s just next door, and we’re here already. Then, we keep going; the Himalayas, Everest, go to Bali, the Great Barrier Reef… Antarctica, let’s go see Antarctica!?” Little did she know, she was tempting fate.

… then she asked the killer question: So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time? The questions just hung there in the cold morning African air.

A few weeks later, I was happy back at work, but could not shake away THE question: When is it time for us to just keep going? And so began a reflection on my/our life.

… I am completing this summer 25-30 years of nearly non-stop work (depending on how you wish to cut the data). And being member of FWIO, the noble Fraternity of Worldwide Insecure Over-achievers, it has been a whirlwind of truly amazing experiences. But as I count it now, it has also been a frenetic pace for about 1500 weeks now. Always on – even when I was not supposed to be. Especially when I was not supposed to be. And am guilty as charged – I love my job (still do), my colleagues, my friends, the opportunities to lead and change the world.

Third, this summer, Tamar and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. When our kids are asked by their friends about the success of the longevity of our marriage, they simply joke that Tamar and I have spent so little time together that “it’s really too early to tell” if our marriage will in fact succeed.

If they could only know how many great memories we already have together. How many will you say? How long do you have? But one thing is for sure, I want more. And she deserves more. Lots more.

Allow me to spare you the rest of the truths. But the short answer is simply that I could not find a good argument to tell Tamar we should wait any longer for us to grab our backpacks and hit the road – celebrate our last 25 years together by turning the page and enjoy a perfectly fine mid life crisis full of bliss and beauty, and leave the door open to serendipity for our next leadership opportunities, once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted.

… In the end, life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of trade offs, especially between business/professional endeavours and family/community. And thankfully, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I no longer have to have to make such tough choices anymore. And for that I am truly grateful. Carpe Diem.

Pichette has sounded affable when I’ve heard him lead recent Google corporate earnings calls. CEO Larry Page hasn’t been talking at events since 2013 because of vocal cord troubles; Pichette has been the one to answer for Google’s large spending and disappointing earnings numbers. He has persistently defended Google’s moonshot projects and speculative investments in many new products and acquisitions that haven’t made money for stockholders.

Pichette’s memo is perhaps the finest “spend more time with family” message ever written in announcing a retirement (or resignation.) Although it’s “carpe diem” for the immediate future, he’s left the door open for more opportunities “once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted.”

Idea for Impact: Get Your Priorities Right

Undeniably, Pichette’s decision to retire and my own ‘retirement’ for identical reasons (my decision came about on a trip to Alaska in March 2009) are outside the realm of possibility for 99% of people. Yet, this inspiring memo serves as a reminder to us to invest more time on our loved ones and on ourselves. We don’t need to constantly succumb to the demands of the world at the expense of the needs of our loved ones and our own deep-held aspirations.

Better to Quit while You’re Ahead [Leadership Lessons]

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO If you are the CEO of a large public company and the news of your exit causes your company’s market cap to swell by $24 billion on the morning of this announcement, you’ve made the right call.

On 23-Aug-2013, Microsoft’s shares gained 8.9% in pre-market trading when the company announced that Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer would retire within the next twelve months. During Ballmer’s 13-year tenure as CEO, Microsoft continued its dominance over the traditional segments of computing, but could not grasp changing consumer preferences. Despite stellar profitability, strategic missteps have forced Microsoft to play catch-up as Apple, Google, and other competitors dominated the new world of mobile devices, social media, search, and internet advertising.

In interviews with Wall Street Journal, Ballmer admitted: “Maybe I’m an emblem of an old era, and I have to move on … As much as I love everything about what I’m doing, the best way for Microsoft to enter a new era is a new leader who will accelerate change.”

Successful professionals know when to make the move: While they are ahead

There is a time limit to success at any leadership position. If a leader is any good, after the initial rush of process improvements, business turnarounds, organizational transformations, and program initiations, familiarity sets into his job. At that point, diminishing returns set in: established routines, processes, and employee networks take over the execution of the change the leader might have initiated.

There is a natural cycle of rapid growth and sustenance to most leadership roles. Stay as long as you need to establish direction, put your ideas into action, and institute the momentum of change. Then, undertake new challenges in your existing job or explore new career opportunities. Plan ahead—the right opportunity may not emerge quickly.

Don’t Hang on

Another lesson from the imminent transition at Microsoft: when you find yourself in trouble and can’t seem to make an impact despite persistent attempts at change, do not wait to get the push. It may be difficult to let go, but don’t hang on.

Three Leadership Lessons from Ron Johnson’s Debacle at J.C. Penney

Ron Johnson's Debacle at J.C. Penney

Monday’s dismissal of J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson comes as no surprise.

In late 2011, J.C. Penney had hired Ron Johnson from Apple to revive the sagging fortunes of the storied retailer. He was deemed as a retailing genius who had proved himself by creating Target’s hip-yet-inexpensive cachet and then by leading Apple’s highly lucrative retail stores.

During his 17-month tenure, Ron Johnson had poured hundreds of millions into rapidly remaking the retailer. Mostly, his attempt at the high-stakes makeover of J.C. Penney hadn’t worked. Revenue deteriorated sharply, feedback from customers and employees was persistently negative, and the J.C. Penney share price declined by over 50%.

Lesson 1: Don’t disenfranchise your traditional customer base

Over the years, J.C. Penney’s economic moat had declined considerably. J.C. Penney lost customers to higher-end retailers and specialty stores who had started to offer better value at lower prices. At the other end, Wal-Mart and Target wooed price-sensitive customers with better-than-basic goods.

When retailing relatively undifferentiated merchandise, one of the key levers to revenue is discounts and promotions. Like other retailers, J.C. Penney had trained its customers to buy largely when its stores had a sale. Shoppers recognized that J.C. Penney’s tag prices were made-up to be marked down during sales events and were fixated on coupons, discounts, and promotions. Shoppers had come to regard of shopping at J.C. Penney as a treasure hunt for significantly marked-down merchandise.

Discounts and Promotions at J.C Penney

Within weeks of joining J.C. Penney, Ron Johnson observed that three-quarters of everything sold had been discounted by at least 50% from list price. Instead of marking up the tag prices and then using deep discount sales to attract customers, he initiated a new “fair and square every day” pricing strategy. By offering good prices every day he attempted to change customer bahavior and dissuade them from waiting for markdowns. Further, by minimizing sales, promotions, and coupons, Ron Johnson eliminated the thrill of pursuing markdowns, a key characteristic of J.C. Penney’s conventional customer. When the pricing strategy flopped, Ron Johnson reinstated sales and coupons, and even brought back “fake prices.” The successive changes confused employees and customers. Additionally, J.C. Penney stopped carrying some traditional brands that many of its long-time customers had favored and injected trendy brands to appeal to younger customers. Ron Johnson’s team created exciting marketing and advertising that was seen as too edgy and further confused traditional customers.

Lesson 2: Don’t be so hubristic as to wager big on hunches without prototyping

At Apple, Steve Jobs frequently shunned extensive consumer research because he had the exceptional genius to introduce the right products, with the right features, at the right time. Drawing from his success at the helm of Apple stores, Ron Johnson was perhaps overconfident that he had all the right answers and could therefore forego the crucial feedback from employees and customers before embarking to “revolutionize retailing” by “teaching people how to shop on their terms” and “fundamentally disrupting the traditional retailing paradigm.”

The gravest error Ron Johnson made at J.C. Penney was not testing his new pricing strategy in a handful of stores. According to this WSJ article, when a colleague proposed a limited store-test of the new pricing strategy, Johnson allegedly responded, “We didn’t test at Apple.”

Ron Johnson's Debacle at J.C. Penney Clearly, what Ron Johnson thought of value was not what its customers saw as value. As a result, J.C. Penney overlooked the reality that, for its customers, pursuing discounted goods on sale was part of the fun of shopping at J.C. Penney. Ron Johnson set about to tear down an old business model before he had switched over to a new business model without prototyping.

Ron Johnson possibly had a compelling out-of-the-box vision for J.C. Penney. However, he did not stay closely connected to J.C. Penney’s customers and employees before the launch of a radical strategic change. It is challenging to be an effective leader when customers and employees don’t understand and buy major changes.

Incremental improvements to J.C. Penney’s merchandising strategy through extensive prototyping and measured makeover could have provided the opportunity to learn through trialing and encouraged ownership of the strategy by employees, especially those in customer-facing roles.

Lesson 3: Beware of the “Halo Bias” in rating leaders

Halo Bias We tend to attribute a manager/leader’s success to his apparent genius and we overlook the role of the context (team, product, industry, timing, and luck) in his success. Thus, we come to expect him to have the same success in a different context. We anticipate that the very tactics and devices that proved successful in the past would work for him in the new context. (See my earlier article on the halo and horns biases in rating people.)

Ron Johnson certainly proved his retailing genius by first creating Target’s hip-yet-inexpensive brand image and then, for ten years, by leading Apple’s highly lucrative retail stores where he most famously introduced the Genius Bar concept. Nevertheless, his experience with selling premium-priced products at full price all the time with no promotions at the Apple stores did not translate well to J.C. Penney’s undifferentiated merchandise and its customer base of bargain hunters.

In June 2011, J.C. Penney stock spiked by 17.5% when the company announced Ron Johnson’s appointment as CEO. Wall Street saw in him a proven leader with the silver bullet. Investors got overly optimistic that he would remake the embattled retailer and overlooked the fact that J.C. Penney lacked the brand image of Apple and its most-sought-after products. Alas, J.C. Penney stock slid by over 50% during Ron Johnson’s 17-month tenure. The golden boy of retail never hit his stride.

Leadership: Stay out of the kitchen if you can’t handle the heat

Leadership: Stay out of the kitchen if you can't handle the heat Not everybody is prepared to endure the demanding responsibilities of a leadership role:

  • It’s tough to challenge status quo and to pilot your organization forward into unfamiliar territory
  • It’s tough to be long-term oriented and to propose transformative ideas that may fall eventually short of expectations
  • It’s tough to see around the corner and to rely on gut intuitions to develop an “end state” vision
  • It’s tough to prioritize decisiveness over inclusivity and to take tough—and sometimes unpopular—decisions
  • It’s tough to resist the urge to settle and to avoid letting circumstances define your strategy
  • It’s tough to gain strong credibility and communicate the direction and priorities of your organization
  • It’s tough to face censure and be verbally graceful under fire
  • It’s tough to be decisive, to acknowledge setbacks, and to change course midstream, if required
  • It’s tough to rationalize seemingly irrational actions and to ask for resources
  • It’s tough to be tough-minded without being inflexible or insensitive
  • It’s tough to do the right thing while resisting the temptation to please your constituents
  • It’s tough to say no when you must; it’s tough to say yes when you can’t

If you cannot come to terms with the pressures of a leadership role, perhaps leadership may be the wrong kind of work for you.

It is acceptable to be an individual contributor; although you must still develop your leadership skills to succeed in any role in the modern organization.

Ready for a Promotion?


Promotions Can be Stressful

Promotions Can be Stressful Last year, researchers at the University of Warwick found that the mental health of managers typically deteriorates after a job promotion.  Part of this anxiety is attributable to,

  1. the loss of the security of a familiar role and the established relationships around the role,
  2. perceived cognitive inadequacies concerning demands of the new position, and,
  3. the uncertainty of transition and the innate human resistance to change.

The greater part of this anxiety is a common career mistake. Often, professionals take up new responsibilities for which they are not entirely prepared. Even when management judged them as qualified for the new role, without thinking through a new role before accepting the promotion, these professionals unintentionally position themselves for stressful transitions, bitterness, or eventual failure.

When Is It Time to Move On?

Do not assume that you are ready for a promotion just because you possess the right academic background, you look the part, you have the right contacts within the company, or, you have impressed your management with your capability to develop a few good ideas and articulate them well.

Here are a few questions to reflect on and assess your chance of a successful promotion or a horizontal transition.

  • Are you enthusiastic about taking on a new role? Does the new role fit into your medium- and long-term career plans?
  • Have you been performing your present duties well enough to justify a promotion?
  • Do you have a successor in mind for your current role? Have you made yourself replaceable? Are you willing to entrust your current responsibilities to a successor without a significant interruption in pace of work?
  • Ready for Promotion When Is It Time to Move On Are you qualified or experienced enough to do no less than, say, 40% of the new role reasonably well?
  • Have you demonstrated eagerness to gain knowledge of the new responsibilities?
  • Are you familiar with the responsibilities, autonomy, challenges, opportunities, and deliverables of the new role? Do you know how to get things done in the new role? Do you know where to get help?
  • Are you proficient with the communication, networking and interpersonal skills needed to make it in the new role? Will you get along with your peers, subordinates, and management at the new role?
  • Are you at ease with the demands on the new role: time, travel, pressures, and challenges? Can your family (or other aspects of your personal life) support this transition?
  • Can you swallow your pride if you are rejected for the new role? Are you ready to seek honest feedback about how management values you, listen, and make yourself more promotable in the future?

The more questions you answer with a “Yes” to, the better your chances for a successful promotion. Reflect on the questions you answer with a “No” to. Create a growth plan, improve your professional profile, and, ask for feedback from management on what you can do deserve a promotion.

General Electric’s Jack Welch on Acting Quickly

General Electric's Jack Welch on Acting Quickly

Jack Welch, General Electric's former CEO Jack Welch was the Chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE) from 1981 to 2001. During Welch’s twenty-year tenure, GE grew into one of the largest and most admired companies in the world. Jack Welch is widely recognized as one of the greatest business leaders of our time. In 1999, Fortune magazine named him the ‘Manager of the Century.’

In an interview with Spencer Stuart executive headhunters Thomas Neff and James Citrin for the book “Lessons from the Top”, Jack Welch regrets not taking action quickly during his tenure at General Electric.

I think the biggest mistake I made is a fundamental one. I went too slow in everything I did. … If I had done in two years what took five, we would have been ahead of the curve even more.

You rarely do things too fast. If you think about your life and the decisions you’ve made, you can’t come up with too many where you said, “I wish I took another year to do it.” But you can sure come up with a list where you say, “I wish I had done a bunch of things six months earlier.”

Call for Action

Procrastinators sabotage themselves. However, procrastination is a learned behavior and therefore can be unlearned.

In all spheres of life, competition has transitioned from “big-eat-small” to “fast-eat-slow.” Good ideas are relatively easy to come up with. However, quick and efficient execution is primary to the success of these ideas. When a hundred people probably have the same idea, execution in a fast timeframe is just about the only thing that matters.

Are you holding back on your ideas? Do the tasks look daunting? Do you lack confidence? Are you uncertain of the direction or afraid of failure? How can you overcome these hesitations? Develop a set of ideas to reach your goals, prioritize them, and commence working on your ideas right away. Why delay?