Sometimes a push is all we need

CCOs need a sounding board to confront difficult realities.

A few years back I got a call from the chief communications officer of a Fortune 100 tech company who wanted some help thinking through her organizational structure. Her company had undergone a CEO transition, and the new boss had a different view of communications. I flew up to Silicon Valley, and we sat in a glass-walled conference room while she laid out the situation.

She started with the departmental org chart, which was large and complicated. She outlined the issues that were hindering success, and candidly held forth on the challenges she was facing as a leader. She had reported directly to the CEO of the company for years, but his successor restructured the executive team and decided that comms should report to marketing.

This is where the conversation got interesting. As my friend began to describe her new boss, the CMO, she became animated, exasperated and, ultimately, agitated. She built up steam as she spoke and spent a good deal of time venting frustration, anger and, to some degree, despair. I listened patiently, asked a few pointed questions, but mostly just let her rant.

Upon finishing, she asked what I thought the next steps might be in the reorganization process. I paused and considered the situation.

"Honestly," I said, "I don’t really think this is about the effectiveness of your organization. I actually think you need to get a new job. It sounds to me like you’ve hit your limit on patience and frustration, and it’s probably time to start thinking about a different path."

I was worried how she might respond. But she lit up and immediately proclaimed, "Thank you! I needed to hear that."

We spent the rest of the meeting discussing opportunities in the marketplace, her openness to relocation and the kinds of challenges she was looking for.

The incident reminded me of a parable relayed by Michael Josephson, a well-known lecturer on ethics.

In the parable, two construction workers sit down for a lunch break. One opens his pail, unwraps his sandwich and proclaims: "Damn it, peanut butter again. I’m sick of peanut butter."

The friend looks over and says simply: "Why don’t you ask your wife to make you something different?"

The first construction worker looks down and sheepishly replies: "My wife doesn’t make my lunch, I do."

I have thought of this parable often, particularly in my work as a consultant where I listen to clients and friends describe the difficulties they face in the workplace. Some are excited by the challenges, and most are eager to discuss solutions. But some are simply complaining about things they are not able to change.

Sometimes we all need a push to get us to face difficult realities. In my last job, it took an intervention from my boss for me to acknowledge the fact that I was no longer willing to do what was necessary to thrive in our organization. But I don’t know that I would have left the role without his push.

In the case of my friend at the tech company, she was a brilliant, personable and highly skilled professional, and it was clear to me that she would find another senior-level job if she set her mind to it. As it turned out, she received two offers within 90 days of deciding that it was time for a new job. She accepted a top role at a burgeoning online company that ended up launching a highly successful IPO less than a year after she joined.

She not only got a great new job, she picked up a very nice bonus along the way.

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