Sidelined at work? 5 Steps for Recovery

according to the gatekeepers℠…

Being passed over at work can be miserable. You were the obvious choice, but that promotion, recognition, bonus or big important project went to someone else. Feeling anxious you might say to yourself – where is this going?

It happens to the best of us.

Successful leaders get passed over along with everyone else. I can’t think of anyone that has been immune to upsets, even those we think of as the most talented among us.

We recently asked the gatekeepers℠ – a consortium of 80 CEOs, board members, C-suite executives, executive search consultants, investment firm recruiting partners and talent executives—to give us their advice about handling setbacks. Some have shared how they’ve handled speed bumps in their own careers.

Here’s what they had to say.

1)  Most importantly, ask questions.

When she didn’t get a promotion she felt she deserved within a former companyLonnie Shoff, President of the Clinical Diagnostics Division at Thermo-Fisher Scientific, was willing to ask questions and keep an open mindShe was committed to being more prepared the next time a similar position opened up.

“I met with the hiring manager and everyone else that interviewed the candidates and solicited candid feedback,” she says. “I worked hard not to be defensive but to listen and learn from what I heard. I spoke with colleagues who were already doing the job with the goal of more fully understanding the skills needed for success in the role.”

Ed Evans, EVP and Chief Human Resources Officer for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, knew he needed to look at the decision from another perspective to truly understand it.

When passed over, Ed made an effort to understand whether it actually meant he was off his intended career track.

“More times than not this is true for every leader…,” he says, “I wasn’t really off-track. I just wasn’t looking at it from the organization’s perspective.”

2)  Change your perspective.

David Finkepartner and head of global technology at Russell Reynolds, believes that missing out on a promotion is similar to a sports team losing one game in the regular season.

“Being passed over or not being selected for one opportunity does not have to be viewed as a failure,” Finke explains. “It is just like an athletic competition.”

When sports teams lose, they analyze their opponents to learn from them. Professionals should do the same in the corporate arena.

Gather all the information you can about your competitors for the next time around. And have no regrets. Just like a team can’t carry baggage from one game to the next, an executive has to learn from each “loss,” let it go, and bring all they have to the next game.

Alan Jopepresident of personal care at Unilever, feels similarly. He explains that the concept of being passed over is a misnomer. ” I have found that the more unexpected and unorthodox moves in my career have turned out to be by far the most interesting and useful.” He believes that a singular focus on an upward mobility path can prevent you from less traditional but equally important leadership development.

Don’t assume that if you miss out on an opportunity, your career has hit a dead-end.

Some inspiration: Walt Disney got fired from a newspaper job. Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team. J.K. Rowlingwas dismissed from a secretarial position.

3)  Determine if the organization is still committed to your career.

Barney Loehnis, Chief Digital Officer at Mercer, reflects on how to determine your internal options after a setback. “It’s important to get the buy-in of your manager that you’re deserving of a fresh challenge and that they will advocate on your behalf,” Loehnis explains. “If they cannot give that assurance, then you have to take control of your career.”

When you experience a setback, don’t waste energy pointing fingers. Instead, take a good look in the mirror, solicit honest feedback and determine what it will take to be more successful the next time around. If you have a sense that your organization will no longer give you the opportunities you want to grow and learn, and your chances for success are limited no matter the steps you take, it is best to look for your next opportunity outside of your present company.

4)  Figure out whether you are still committed to your organization.

Andy Gibson, Chief Marketing Officer of Global Brands at Walgreens Boots Alliance, was motivated to stay.

“I decided that I was still very engaged with the company that I worked for at the time,” he says, describing an experience earlier in his career. “This led me to understand the decision, take an alternative role and earn the right to a promotion the next time around.”

Ask yourself whether you’re willing to wait for the next position to open up at your current company or whether you’d prefer moving to a new environment. If you are unsure, give yourself time to get over the inevitable ego bruising that occurs. Given time, if you remain unsure of your commitment, start looking at external options and compare them to your current position. It can bring great clarity to your situation.

And what if your organization is not committed to your career—or you absolutely know you’re not committed to your organization?

Take immediate proactive steps to find a new job. Sometimes that’s what it takes to get your mojo back.

5)  Don’t forget to take stock of all the good stuff.

Nothing beats remembering all the successful moves you have made and all the great stuff you have done over the course of your career.

When I work with someone who is thinking about making a career change, we always take inventory. It helps to put your last chapter in perspective and remember your track record of successful relationships and significant accomplishments.

Things don’t always work out as we plan. But setbacks can teach us a great deal about ourselves—if we let them.

We never have full control over our professional destinies. But we do have control over whether a career setback can be leveraged for our own benefit—or whether we allow it to hurt our career aspirations over the longer term.

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