Is the grass really greener on the other side?

I could tell you the tale of a handful of senior executives from a variety of well-known companies and industries who invested more than fifteen years of their life and career in their organization. They rose through the ranks by taking on greater responsibilities every year or two, building strong teams around them, demonstrating great cross-functional teaming and collaboration, and delivering results beyond expectations.

All these successful executives on my list demonstrated great leadership in their company’s turning points. In many cases, they delivered great improvements in their company’s trajectory, adjusting the strategic direction every few years to follow the evolving market and consumption trends.

Many of these individuals are world-class leaders, recognized in their field and market as top experts. Needless to say, they made personal sacrifices to make their mark and achieve their growth and success.

However, when the opportunity came around for them to secure promotion to the top job of their pyramid—which was what most of them were working toward their entire career—they lost out to an external candidate who, in most cases had the same or even less experience and/or knowledge than them.

The reason they were all given was some version of:

“You have been in the company for a long time. You have done a great job to bring the company to where it is today. HOWEVER, we need to take the company to a new direction and improve performance, and we don’t think you will be able to bring new thinking and strategies given your long history and familiarity with the company…”

Is it just me, or do you also feel that there is some unjust BS here?

How come you were capable of driving paradigm shifts and breakthroughs over the last fifteen years or more, but now that you are at the top, you won’t be able to…?

How come when the company needed you to stay, you were qualified to take the game to the next level, but when the company doesn’t feel they need you, you are no longer qualified…?

How come your long-time loyalty and familiarity with the company were assets when you were climbing the corporate ladder, but when you get to the top, your long-time loyalty and familiarity with the company are a liability…?

Unfortunately, I have seen this twisted reality play out too many times. I call it the myth of the grass is greener on the other side.

This dynamic is often fueled by internal politics. For example, a new CEO takes the helm with a mandate to take the company to a new level. To quickly show tangible change, the new CEO starts to replace some of the executives who are associated with the ‘old regime’ of the company.

There is probably a certain amount of bringing new blood that most of the time is warranted. However, in too many cases new leaders tend to ‘throw the baby with the bathwater’.

The new leader comes in and his views are completely skewed by an untrue bias which is: “outside talent is better than existing talent“. So it’s game over for many long-timers, and the rest is history…

I know it sounds over-simplistic, that’s because it really is simple and straightforward!

In many companies, the unwritten truth about promotion is that “If you want to get a big promotion or a significant raise you have to come from the outside”. It is quite common for managers to leave the company only to return after a year or even less at a higher level, title and salary.

As ridiculous as it may sound, I have seen this happen many times, and I hear the same corporate rhetoric in many companies.

I understand the logic that says that if someone has been part of a system for long enough; doing things in a particular way, they start seeing things in a particular way too, and this could limit their ability to think differently about the same areas and topics.

However, I have also seen so much evidence that contradicts that logic; smart, talented and skilled leaders who after being in the same company for many years were able to bring new ideas and innovations to existing challenges and opportunities, by reinventing themselves and their thinking, and providing a new level of leadership to their organization.

It would seem to me that if you have a leader who has invested himself or herself in the success of your company for many years, they know the place inside out.  They have proven their value and ability to achieve great things, as well as reinvent themselves and take their game to a new level and they are extremely passionate, committed and excited about the next level of impact and success… that it would be a no brainer to give them a chance.

After all, isn’t it a much sweeter victory when your top people have grown and developed from within?


What gifts have you received during the COVID era?

Recently my wife and I were sitting on the porch drinking our morning tea. My wife was reading me a new affirmation she had received via social media about how COVID has presented the world with unique opportunities to reprioritize and focus on what is most important, yadda, yadda, yadda…

I am sure like me you have received many of these affirmations and videos. Many of them rung true, some even touched and inspired me.

In the same spirit, I asked my wife: “What gifts have WE received so far during the COVID era?

My wife and I generally feel very blessed in our lives and we frequently count our blessings. This has especially been the case recently as we know that COVID has had devastating effects on many people in terms of lost loved ones, serious illness and loss of livelihood.

I challenged my wife to share her views on “What net new gifts have we received as a direct result of the COVID era? In other words, what good things have happened to us that would not have otherwise occurred without the pandemic?”

We came up with a list of things that were meaningful to us. Here are a few of them:

  1. We grew closer to our kids
  2. Our kids grew closer between themselves
  3. We spent more quality time and grew closer as a family
  4. My daughter had wanted to change her job for a long time, but she was too comfortable. Her employer had to shut down the business, and she was temporarily laid off, which gave her the opportunity and courage to resign and start working on a new direction
  5. We completed a few projects in our home that were on our ‘bucket’ list for a long time
  6. I significantly improved my classical guitar performance.
  7. Our garden is looking more beautiful than ever…

While traditional and social media keep pumping the notion of looking at the half-full part of the glass and finding the silver lining in the COVID era, I am not sure how many of us truly feel and own it.

Most of us probably dedicate a big part of our mindshare to coping and managing our work/home life, another part to keeping updated with information and relationships, and the rest to hoping, wishing and waiting for things to get back to ‘normal’.

How much time do we really spend on acknowledging our ‘COVID gifts’ and enjoying them?

I invite you to do the exercise of listing all your COVID gifts. You could do it alone or with your loved ones.

When you do it, keep your list specific and real. Don’t censor or judge. Don’t disqualify any gift because it is ‘too small’. If it is something that enriched your life and you feel that in reality it wouldn’t have naturally or easily happened without the COVID era, count it in.

If you come up empty-handed and you feel you didn’t receive any gifts it could be for two reasons:

  1. You are too self-critical or cynical. In this case, be more generous with yourself and find the gifts that probably exist. Alternatively, ask someone who knows you well and help you see the gifts that you received and have not acknowledged.
  2. You are not taking advantage of this era and living as fully as you can. If this is the case, it is never too late. Start now. Connect with your loved ones and friends. Use any extra time to complete something you have been wanting to achieve for a while. Read a book, learn something, be creative, watch a Netflix series, clean out a corner in your home or help someone else.

There are always gifts. You just have to be ready and willing to see and own them.

Are you developing your team and for the right reasons?

As COVID progresses, leaders need to continue to develop their teams. In fact, in some cases, team development may be more important than ever.

It seems that the leaders who developed their teams before COVID continue to do so with extra passion, while those who didn’t invest in development before or did it sporadically and/or poorly, continue in the same way.

Which category are you in? Are you developing your team?

If so, are you doing it healthfully and for the right reasons?

One of my long-time clients is the CEO of a growing global service company. I have known him for more than twenty years, I love and respect him, and I have worked with him probably four or five times over these years, depending on how you count…

The way it typically works, since our initial work together, is that he calls me up about every five or six years out of the blue. I am always excited to hear from him. We get on a call where he catches me up by sharing the tremendous commercial success and growth of his firm since we last saw each other. He is always very vocal and appreciative about my contribution to him and his teams over the years, and then he says something like, “But, I am having similar issues with my team as I had in the past…”.  He goes on to share how his leaders feel he is too commanding and controlling, not empowering enough, that trust is not high, people do not own his aggressive strategy… yadda, yadda, yadda… He typically ends by saying, “I know you told me to continue to develop my team, but with all the new acquisitions we have made and growth I dropped the ball…

He then asks me to help him again to restore trust, alignment, ownership in his team and develop and build his team to become an effective team again, promising, that this time, he will stay the course. But, so far, this same pattern just keeps repeating itself.

I have a few great clients who are the same. They relate to team development as merely a means to an end; a solution to a problem. They apply the principle “If it isn’t broken, don’t touch it”.

When they feel their teams are doing well – and by that, I mean achieving their business goals – they don’t spend a minute thinking about their team’s development. But when they feel trust, alignment, communication, morale are deteriorating in their team, they panic and react by bringing in help.

There is nothing inherently faulty about this approach. Unfortunately, many of these leaders pretend like they are genuinely committed to ongoing team development. They say all the right things, but when push comes to shove, they fold and abandon the development cause without hesitation.

Building a team is often a messy and uncomfortable endeavour. You have to deal with people’s feelings and frustrations. As their leader, your people often have criticism about you and the way you do things.

When you develop your team, you need to be willing to look at yourself in the mirror then own and address any leadership and management deficiencies you see. That is not easy, even for the strongest of heart. So for the faint of heart, it is often the trigger that causes them to quit the development program.

Contrast this with many other leaders I know, and you probably know some too, who view developing their team as a high priority; a value; part of their on-going, never-ending role.

These leaders understand that development is a journey, not an event; a marathon, not a sprint. They stay the course of team development and coaching and don’t let circumstances, challenges or mood swings interfere.

They never ask: “Does my team need development?” They only ask: “What is the next level of development my team needs next?”. They invest as much of their time, focus and passion when their team is doing well and meeting all commitments, as they do when the team is not, and they expect their leaders to do the same with their own teams. This mindset creates a culture of ongoing improvement and excellence, which to be frank is entirely missing in most companies.

In fact, the teams who view team development as a natural and integral part of their routine are the teams most open and susceptible to breakthroughs.

They are also the most nurturing and enjoyable teams to belong to.