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The Risk of Circumstantial Decisions

I was chatting with a good friend who is in a major career junction in his life. My friend is a fairly senior leader in one of the service functions in his company. He had been doing the same type of job for the last 15 years. Over these years, he advanced, he was promoted and grew the scope of his responsibilities. However, he remained in the same function serving similar business and sales units for all these years.

He was mentally tired of doing the same thing for so long. He felt he needed a change. He just wasn’t sure what the change should be.

His dilemma was – to look yet again for the next-level role within the same support function he was already a part of, or to make a more radical move into one of the business units in order to start a new career in sales.

As he put it: “I could climb one more rung in the same ladder or put myself at the bottom of a new scale.”

The prospect of starting a whole new career in sales was the more appealing option to my friend. In fact, he received an attractive offer to transition into one of the local sales organizations as a sales leader. However, he had many reservations and fears about this potential transition.

As we were sipping our tea, he outlined the pros and cons of this decision.

His main pros were: (1) His direct functional boss supported his move out of the function, (2) The regional and local sales leaders also supported his move into their organization, and (3) The regional sales leader even offered allowances in responsibility to support his transition into the role.

The offer my friend received to move into sales seemed very appealing. In fact, my friend described it as a “once-in-a-lifetime offer not to be missed.”

On the other hand, my friend’s main cons and fears were: (1) what if he failed, (2) what if he disappointed the people who believed in him, and (3) his direct boss, as well as the regional and local sales leaders were themselves in a career junction and looking for their next assignment, so the likelihood of them staying around in the long term seemed slim.

My friend turned to me and asked – “What should I do?”

My guidance to him was:

1. You should feel very proud about the offer you received to move from a support function to sales. Not many people receive such an offer. It is a testament to your great personality, brand and leadership qualities and energy.
2. However, only accept the offer to move into sales if you are sure you want to develop a new career in sales. In other words, being a sales leader should be your aspiration and you must be willing to do what it takes to learn this new trait.
3. No matter how much encouragement and support you are currently receiving from people around you to make the move, sooner or later these people will all move on and you will be left alone, needing to stand on your own two feet. So, only make the move if you are fully prepared to continue your course with enthusiasm if/when this happens.
4. In fact, even the allowances that the regional sales leader is making today will soon expire and you will be expected to perform the complete duties of a sales leader, with all the personal stress associated with it.
5. In addition, given that you are “putting yourself on the bottom of a new scale,” it is inevitable that you will make mistakes, screw up, fail and disappoint people around you. Furthermore, there will be many moments along your journey when you will feel inadequate and that you are letting others down. It comes with the territory.
6. Because of all these things – ONLY make the decision to move to sales if this decision is based on your personal stand, not on circumstances and expectations. I call this type of decision an unconditional decision.

The moral of the story is:

When you base your decision on circumstances and these circumstances change, as they often do, the whole foundation for your decision is invalidated and you can easily abandon your direction or give up.

But, if you base your decision purely on your stand – even if circumstances around you change or worsen, the merit of your decision remains in tact and you are likely to stay the course and weather even the fiercest of storms.

Photo by: Daniel Oines