Stuck in a rut? Look before you leap.

Posted December 11, 2008 in Latest News & Insights

So, I have a confession.  I’m a recovering hair metal junkie.  My husband makes fun of what I have loaded on my iPod. It’s not all spandex and leather, but it is heavy in a whole Motley Crue/Bon Jovi/Van Halen kind of way (I can hear my friend Mel groaning right now).

One of my all time favourite, over the top (like only hair-metal can be) ballads is by a group called Cinderella.  The song is “Don’t know what you got (til it’s gone)”.  Wailing guitars, screeching vocals and an overall message about the fact that we often don’t appreciate people as we should.

As I was listening to it en route to Edmonton earlier this week, it got me thinking about how sometimes jobs are like people… we don’t know what we’ve got with our employer until we’ve jumped ship and landed somewhere that’s not as great.

Everyone gets stuck in the proverbial career rut from time to time (even lot’s of entrepreneurs I know get tired of taking care of their “baby” and contemplate career shifts).  Many people decide to stay stuck… but – from  my experience – they’re not the high performing, ambitious people.  I’ve coached lots of leadership fast-trackers who share with me their feelings of being stuck.  Although they really like the company that they’re with, the challenge and excitement of the job is waning.  Sometimes, the stuckness is legitimate and it’s time for them to get busy looking for the next challenge.  But very often, the “stuckness” is more related to the view they have been cultivating of their organization and the perceived opportunities (or lack of) that may exisit within. They begin to “live” in this point of view…whether it’s a reality or not.

And of course, when it comes to work, it’s easy for the grass to look greener on the other side of the recruiting fence (isn’t that what recruiters are paid to do?!). So, often, the only seeming way out for this boredom predicament for our hi-po leader is to jump ship.  Sometimes they’ll even take to a lateral move rationalizing that a change of scenery may be just what the doctor ordered.

But, in my own observation and experience, sometimes all the change does is accelerate the discontent that was there in the old job… only now you’re in a new company that may not be as great a fit for you as your previous employer was. (I’m a big believer that cultural fit will trump your skills any day, so when you’ve found a good one… don’t be too quick to toss it).

So now, in the cold hard light of the new (less of a fit) employer, the view of your old workplace looks rosier… you remember, misty-eyed, what a fun place it was and begin to wonder why you jumped so quickly in the first place.  You start forgetting about all the lack of opportunities and start remembering all the opportunities you could have had, if only you hadn’t been so stuck in that bleak rut.

So… here’s the lesson my ambitious friends.  Before jumping ship, why not step back and take a closer look at your internal options.  That “stuck in a rut” feeling is a great time to do some self-reflection on what “juices” you up… what skills and talents you have that you’re not using enough and what priorities your employer is currently facing that could benefit from said skills and talents.

Then talk to your boss.  Don’t expect him/her to be able to mind-read you… and frankly, with everything they likely have on their plates, they’ll probably appreciate some kind of roadmap with suggestions on what they could do to keep you happy and engaged.  Who knows… maybe you’ll be able to craft a new dream role that gives you more of what you like, less of what you don’t like AND pushes the corporate mandate forward one more inch.  I don’t really know any boss who’s excited at the prospect of losing one of their star performers, but I do know lots that aren’t great at having creative career conversations.

So,  be proactive and manage your leadership career yourself…you may be surprised where you can take yourself.  Afterall, when it comes to changing jobs – especially in a wild economy – sometimes the devil you know, is a better option than the one you don’t. 

Happy leading!

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