Executive Conundrum #1: Your Next Move

Apr 18, 2023. By Lori Brewer Collins

Working On The Railroad by Jerry Park

This article is the first in a three-part series.

“It’s taken me almost eighteen months to begin to feel like I have an informed sense of how things actually work here. The first twelve months were spent on fully understanding the complexities of our global operations; the last six on getting things moving in the regions so we could achieve a close version of the vision we set for ourselves. My sense of personal satisfaction is high now that I’m beginning to see some of that work come to fruition. I know I’ve given as much of my gifts and myself as I could to solving the tough challenges, navigating the snarly polarities, and ideating new ways to make things work.

While many things are within reach, many shifts are still happening around me, including changes at the executive leadership team level. I’m having to deal with people responding to those changes. To be honest, I’m wondering how to respond to those changes myself.

I don’t really know how much influence I will have going forward. The future seems even more uncertain than the recent past.

Whats my next move? I could stay and see whether all that we’ve got in play actually comes to fruition. I could strike out for greener pastures where I might have more influence. The choice I feel I have to make literally comes down to wait and see—and possibly reap—or take a leap and possibly have more impact.”

When you’re at this juncture in your career, you may or may not know enough to gauge what is your best choice. No matter what you do, the sea will keep changing. Rather than look at your situation in terms of either staying or leaving, I suggest you take a “both/and” perspective.

You can both stay and, at some point, you can leave.

Inevitably, with new people coming in at the highest levels of the organization, there will be more unknowns and more shifts. Meanwhile, consider what the situation will look like during the transition to the new leadership. For example, look at what’s happening with the organizational culture. Is it vague or defined? Is the executive team far from being in sync or are they clearly aligned around what the culture ought to be to achieve the corporate vision? The further away from being defined and aligned, the murkier execution will be. No one will know whether to follow the values everyone has been acting on or the values the new leadership espouses. Many executives have to reside on this razor’s edge. How equipped are you to do that?

Above all, in the midst of rampant uncertainty and lingering ambiguity, it’s imperative to stay close to what’s important to you. Reflect on the choices that are yours alone to make.

  • Who am I in the midst of all these moving targets?
  • How can I sit comfortably in this “not knowing”?
  • What can I be doing—within myself—to reside in this uncertainty?
  • Who would I become if the opinions of my CEO and peers held less importance for me?
  • Without being politically naive or stupid, what would I be saying?

This last choice can be the most challenging. There may be some aspect or perspective of an issue that you want to make known to others. What you say can open up possibilities people never imagined. At the same time, what you say can close down a possibility you would prefer to open up. There is risk in not speaking up. Just as there is risk in speaking up for what you want to see happen when you don’t know for sure which way things will go.

Mitigate some of that risk by trusting yourself to know, in every moment, who you can influence and what you can impact. Meanwhile, gather information about other options outside the organization.

In other words, take actions to “deepen your rudder” as you sail through these unknown waters.

Next up is Executive Conundrum #2.


Photo credit: Jerry Park, “Working on the Railroad”, Slow Roads America.

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