How to make of a career setback an opportunity for growth.

If you have experienced a career setback, being fired, laid-off, passed over for promotion, or made the wrong move, you have most probably gone through the classical stages of transitioning a change: shock, denial, anger, bargaining on your future, and, hopefully, accepting the situation, and bouncing back. Only few make it through the last two stages.

And if you are going through such a process while reading this article, you’ll recognise that your struggle is in clearing the fog of anger and making sense of what got you in that situation. High achievers are more prone to not make it to the “acceptance” stage and from there move on and move up regenerated, stronger and even more successful.

Bouncing back stronger is totally possible. And it starts with resetting your mindset in ways that allow you to:

  • Put your energy and focus into exploring how you contributed to what went wrong, without falling into blaming, judging or criticising self or others,
  • Evaluating how you sized up a specific situation or reacted to evolutions over a period of time
  • Consider what would you differently ahead

This is a generative mindset – a mindset of growth. It invites you to grow out of “escapism”, which rarely leads to productive transitions, and instead to engage into a focused and curious exploration of the options available.

Sure, this focused exploration needs “quality time” to engage and recalibrate your generative intelligence for a more creative, resilient and agile approach to sizing up a new professional identity and growth pathways.

Jumping into the next opportunity is a  firm “no-no” to bouncing back for success, as you’ll tend to repeat the same patterns of behaviour and outcomes. Thinking that you’ll “figure it out” as you act in the next opportunity, is only an expensive delusion. The new job requires your best presence at day 1, which you can’t give by repressing unresolved inner fog.

Taking “quality time” – a generative pause – will help you find new meaning in your setback and in new opportunities. It will allow to reset or re-program your mindset to bounce back resourceful and resilient. High achievers have a hard time to pause in front of setbacks, denying themselves that precious source of regeneration and enhanced clarity to size the next right career opportunity. A meridian of reasons may explain your pressure to take the next appearing opportunity without taking the time to re-set your mindset for growth.

But if you want to re-imagine your professional identity and choose the right next opportunity to realize your potential, you will want to clear out the executive fog and the emotional residuals of your set back – you want to make the invisible visible, understand your blind spots and recalibrate your professional identity. For, bringing a new professional identity to life needs you to sharpen your sense of direction, your sense of purpose and the sense you make of the “moment in time” that you’ll take this new path.

Whatever the growth path you choose, getting honest and relevant feedback and professional coaching do make a difference. Even more so for high achievers.

But the one thing that will turn the situation around is your commitment to rebound.

“Don’t shoot the messenger”

Don’t shoot the messenger

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Although the expression comes from distant times when the messenger of the bad news rather then the author was often punished, it reflects a deep-rooted truth still valid even today: People do not like to hear bad news!

Not only we do not like to hear bad news, but we also have the tendency to still “punish” the messenger, who in the organizational context of today, is often in some way hold accountable for the bad news.   Nowadays such “punishments” are mostly encountered in forms of intimidation, such as bursts of ironic laughter, explosions of anger, or degrading the messenger, sometimes even firing them.

A management culture where “bad news” is handled in this way doesn’t help encourage failure free operations.

The fear of being shot for telling your message induces the fear of telling the bare truth and present the status for what it is. Therefore research and analysis based decision-making become redundant and open the door for flawed business strategies and operational plans.

You can recognize the presence of “intolerance to bad news” management culture when you hear someone:

  • Present the results of their own work or the status of his/her department or group in the third person or a passive voice, (e.g. “the launch of product x was not successful” as compared to “we were not successful with the launch of product x”)
  • Present the status in generalized way so as to cover up for the areas leading/ contributing to the failure
  • Present failure in an implicit rather then explicit way (“we still have a lot of work to do” rather then “we are very likely going to over run the deadline”)

We are by human nature selective in what we want to hear. As managers, however, we owe it to ourselves to question how we handle bad news. “Shooting the messenger” will more likely than not result in us hearing what we want to hear until we end up caught out in fault.