Executive Mid-Life - Crisis or Opportunity?
I have yet to meet an executive at mid-life who wouldn’t at some point have asked the question whether their company is still the right place for them. No matter how thrilling, every job has a downside and executive mid-life inevitably leads to the question: “What am I doing here?” So what to do? Having had the opportunity to help a variety of people from different industries mull this question over, here is the drill:
Decide what you want.
*Every job and company has its challenges (market changes, difficult people, crises of all sorts) and no company, institution, or sector is free from (sometimes infuriating) dysfunction. Sticking around and waiting for things to get better will rarely work. If you stay you must commit, engage, and help drive change for the better. There are *many ways of doing this - ranging from the most elegant diplomacy to the brutest force. Or else, you decide to do something different - new company, new industry, new ways of working, etc. Transition will require willingness to face new realities, *disciplined pursuit of a change, and maybe even “reinvention.”
Get clear on your three circles.
When I made the decision to transition from corporate executive to author, educator, consultant, board member and coach I had help. I had a person who challenged me to define with rigor and discipline (1) what am I really good at, (2) what do I love doing, and (3) what will people pay me for? This exercise will be useful in either scenario: If you stay, your three circles will help you chart your career more intentionally and proactively; if you transition, you will have a *realistic guide to explore what to do next.
Build your narrative.
A few years back I had a networking meeting with the Dean of a world leading business school. The meeting was scheduled for 15 minutes; he actually asked someone to leave his office (quite abruptly) so we could start and finish on time. There was no small talk but only one question: “Who are you and what do you want?” At that moment, a compelling “story” is much more powerful than a list. How did you get to where you are, what did you learn along the way, and how do your experiences, learnings, and big insights inform your plan forward? And remember: Your narrative can be used *both with internal and external audiences.
Data is the new gold (and asbestos) and data is effecting change everywhere. So it must be part of the story. This is not limited to using the latest model smartphone or nifty app. It also includes giving serious thought to how the data and the digital economy is transforming your business and market and articulating a strategy. Take a short exec ed course, build a task force, read on the topic … as long as you engage. And yes, give some thought to updating your LinkedIn profile.
So, which is it: Crisis or opportunity? To a large extent, it will depend on you.