Mistakes are made. Sometimes leaders are terminated for those mistakes. It is one of the few regrettable aspects of leadership. It happens to many leaders at one time or another during their career — for behavior, strategy or execution.
Here is what I find so interesting, sometimes those leaders make a follow-on second mistake that is more career limiting than the original misstep, they fail to take ownership, and through self-reflection, or in some cases counseling, learn from the ordeal. When this happens, two, three or four years later, they are back in the “between jobs soup” for the same or similar mistakes.
One of the most frustrating and career limiting management mistakes occurs when the executive who has been fired slinks off into the land of severance to lick their wounds. They lay low allowing the chattering class, which absolutely includes recruiters, to define his or her mistake(s) and what reputational penalty should be assessed. I have seen this happen to some really talented executives. Either they didn’t know that they had to aggressively act to get back into the game — that people were not going to flock to their front door with offers of employment — or that their egos would not allow them to admit they could have been wrong. They see no need to engage expert guidance to achieve career resurrection.
Check Your Ego at the Door
Pride cometh before the fall. Or, disgrace is before ruin and pride of spirit before misfortune.
These executives typically end up on the leadership sidelines watching some lesser mortal enjoy the spotlight and the success. They may land the occasional interim assignment or advisory project from a loyal colleague, but unless they take action to rehabilitate their brand, their days as a permanent CEO are more than likely over. It does not have to play out this way. Unless the originating act was so serious as to preclude any organization from having ties with the executive — a felony, fraud, gross malfeasance or some serious behavioral issue — an executive’s career need not be over. Honest, honorable redemption is not only accepted in the US, it is encouraged and even celebrated.
Here is what we recommend:
- Reflect on what happened. Be honest with yourself. Be willing to admit mistake(s) and be open to the lessons learned. This is the essential step one on the road back. There is nothing more maddening for recruiters and prospective employers than to watch a executive who obviously screwed up trying to hem and haw their way through an explanation that the reason for their demise was for some other cause, not their own.
- Hire a career management specialist. You will need help to plot a strategy and navigate the waters. Then listen to them. Even the best of executives are not experts in finding a job and many, especially those in the 40+ age bracket, lack the basic expertise in public relations, career branding and the digital skills necessary for a do-it-yourself resurrection campaign.
- Do not take anything for granted. From lining up possible references to be used in your subsequent job search, to monitoring what is being said about your situation, many executives take too much for granted. Have your attorney lock down in writing what your prior employer will say about your departure from the organization. Incorporate some bite if they do not honor their commitments.
- Be patient. The more wildly broadcast your mistake has been (gossip, rumor and/or Google news), the longer it will take to overcome the setback. Yes, you may need to take a step back for some period of time before re-entering the public job search market, but you can use this time to get prepared: creating brief case studies and other content to support prior successes for future online posts, re-engaging with your core professional network, and taking time to expand your knowledge and idea base through reading, webinars, etc. This career resurrection project has just become your new full-time job. This will not be a passive experience. Do not treat it that way.
- Take care of yourself. When a career setback occurs, it can flip one’s emotional equilibrium. The way people deal with this career grief can vary. It is important to maintain physical and mental health. If you’ve let your health and wellness fall to the wayside, create a workout schedule and begin journaling your eating habits. Not only will this help you get into shape, but it will build your confidence in yourself and your abilities. If you have areas you feel you are lacking expertise, take classes or training to close those gaps. If you’ve neglected to network with peers while building your career, begin reaching out to schedule lunches and attend networking events. Even reconnecting with friends and family can do wonders for your mental health.
If you need to lose weight, set a daily workout schedule. If you have some other deficits, this is the time to address those. Yes, you need to take some time to grieve, but then get focused and be disciplined, every day. Above all, do not add weight. If you look unhealthy you are inviting negative assumptions.