1. Lessons In Leadership
  2. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

Emotional Intelligence and Career Trajectories

You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

Growing up, we’ve all played some version of a game where eventual progress comes by moving forward, backward, and sometimes sideways. The setbacks can be frustrating, and some kids stomp off without making it to the end of the game. Others just have fun playing and sometimes, through the iterative process of setbacks and advances, end up the victors. I believe more adults should take this life lesson to heart.

It seems especially relevant lately, with so many businesses consolidating, restructuring, and engaging in M&A activity. I’ve watched business disruptions stall many a career trajectory for clients, colleagues, friends, and family who, through no fault of their own, have had to adjust to a career detour. It’s unfair. It hurts. But sometimes in adult life, just as when we were kids, it’s how you play the game that matters.

I know, because it happened to me earlier in my career. I was charged with building up a business unit — creating an entire new line of business — to make our company more attractive to our clients. We were very successful and I was proud of my team. But when we eventually merged with a competitor, they structured things in a way that my group reported to someone else. I felt betrayed, angry, and cheated – a range of emotions that justified telling the new boss off and stomping out the door.

Thankfully, I didn’t do that.

Instead, I kept my head down, worked hard to overachieve on the assignment I was handed, and tried to prove that I was the best choice all along. And about 18 months later, when the restructuring was complete and the org chart redrawn, I was assigned to a more prestigious position that included my original team and more.

There’s a two-part moral to this story. First, if you like working for a company enough to really, really want the plum assignment, quitting because you don’t get it is cutting your nose to spite your face. Leaving means you will never get that job; you simply look like a quitter. Secondly, taking the high road and demonstrating that you can work harder and smarter and with greater emotional intelligence than the next guy will generally pay off.

Do companies ever take people for granted? Of course they do. And if that’s your situation, look around, find the right thing, and move forward. There’s nothing wrong with running toward something better. Just make sure you aren’t running away from something that is likely to follow you throughout your career.

Here’s a rule that’s worked for me: keep emotions out of career decisions — unless it’s the decision to work on what you love.

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