Thursday, August 21, 2014

Persistence

A couple of weeks ago I received a notification that someone had commented on a Women of HR post I wrote several years ago.  I had completely forgotten about this post but reading through it again I was reminded that things have a funny way of working out for the best...
If we had a crystal ball, life would be grand. But, because we don’t, we often find ourselves at the mercy of hindsight. Hindsight being 20/20, what is one setback you faced in your career that ended up being a blessing in disguise?
Years ago, I was an HR product manager for a large global software company.  Back in those days at my company, the title ‘product manager’ meant you managed both functional and technical teams.
Then we got a new VP and the entire application development team was reorganized, which tends to happen when you get a new VP.  A decision was made to split the functional and technical teams under two different managers across all products.
I had to make a difficult choice: functional or technical?  My manager encouraged me to choose technical so I’d still report to him but he got moved to another group and I ended up on the functional team.  I enjoyed the design work but missed managing a global team and wanted to do more traveling and fixed my sights on Europe – but how to get someone to pay me to work there? 
I heard about a pan-European role in sales support and finagled introductions to people who could help me get on the short list.  I contrived a few ‘accidental’ meetings and did my best to make an impression.
My persistence paid off and I was offered my dream job as a European product consultant, living in Germany and traveling as needed.  I finished my outstanding product designs, quit my job and started getting ready for an international move. 
Then disaster struck: the hiring manager retracted the offer, opting to go with someone already living in Europe. My tart rejoinder that he could have decided this before I quit my job fell on deaf ears. “Give me a job in Europe,” I demanded of the cosmic forces that make things work out . . . when they feel like it.
Amazingly, about a week later I got an email from a German sales manager offering me a job in technical sales support in Munich.  A bit less money, but it got me over there so I promptly accepted.  But fate intervened once more: when I arrived I found that my new manager had been re-organized and now managed a part of a product I’d never worked with.  So, I had to learn a new language and a new product before I could add any value.
I was starting to feel vexed with fate and new VPs.
The sad truth is that you can’t learn fluent German in a couple of weeks so I was basically useless.  My new boss was very nice about it – and apologetic that the job he’d offered me to begin with no longer existed – but there it was. 
Fortunately, the consulting group desperately needed product experts on a large project.  The German consulting manager told me in blunt terms that with my product skills I could still be of some use as a consultant. Who could resist an offer like that?
So finally, after two reorganizations, a disappearing job offer, an international move and a professional face plant, I was living where I wanted to live and doing a job I was good at. The lesson here is that the road to what you want isn’t always straight and it’s easy to get distracted by what you think you want.
It’s important to know what really matters to you and keep moving toward it, even if you have to make detours or compromises on the way. If you do, things have a funny way of working out for the best.
Photo credit iStockphoto

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Way We Win

On a flight home from San Francisco I watched the movie Ender's Game, which is one of my favorite sci fi books.  Actually, it's one of my favorite books, period.

Two things struck me during the movie:
  1. I really, really, really want to play laser tag in zero gee.  Really.
  2. Most of us are not part of a controlled leadership experiment where highly trained psychologists throw hard stuff your way to see how you cope before sending you off to battle school - sadly, there's no grand design.
As I watched Ender's Game for the second time... what?  OK, yes, I watched it twice.  It was that or Gravity, which as far as I can tell is about Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in space helmuts the whole time.

 Anyway, it struck me that Ender has a lot to teach us about great leadership:
  1. Everyone is part of the team - When Ender gets his own platoon Bernard - a bully - asks him, 'Why am I here? You don't even like me.'  Ender responds: 'I'm planning to turn this 'toon into a team that never loses and I think you can help me do that.'
  2. Leaders don't know everything - When introducing himself to his new squadron Ender specifically invites feedback, saying, 'I can't be expected to know everything.  If anyone has a better idea I want to hear it.'
  3. Winners don't follow the pack - Ender assigns bunks with senior platoon leaders near the door.  When one of the team points out the other teams have more junior folks near the door, Ender says, 'I don't plan to do things like other platoon leaders.'
  4. Make others look good - When the battle tactics instructor chastises Ender's class for not comprehending the basic fundamentals of rocket science, she asks Ender to work a problem for the class.  He defers to two other classmates, saying they know the topic better than himself.
  5. If you can't be Ender, be Petra - Petra is Ender's earliest supporter and  offers to work with him despite his nasty squad leader Bonzo's rule that he can't participate in training exercises. She is one of the few trainees perceptive enough to notice high command is grooming Ender.   She is motived by possible future gain but also by genuine kindness, a winning combination that launches her to second-in-command.
  6. Change the game - When high command sends Ender's team into a practice battle against two other platoons, Ender forstalls complaints by pointing out there are not rules in war.  He then wins the battle by completely changing how the game is played. 
  7. How you win matters - I won't spoil the ending but suffice it to say, there are boundaries that should not be crossed in war or business. 


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