Is the grass really greener on the other side?

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?


Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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