How to Walk the Plank

How to Walk the Plank

I left three companies that feature significantly on my resume – Microsoft, Vodafone and Fairfax without knowing where I was going..... Walking the plank so to speak, and dropping off the end into the great unknown. The purpose of this blog is to share what I learned along the way.

Firstly it's scary. There is a moment when you are going to wake up without a job to go to, and certain knowledge that this uncomfortable position you are in was entirely voluntary. In my case there was also a deep held childhood belief that I needed to move beyond – that of my dad saying to me (and I can still hear him in my ear as I type) "you can't leave a job without another one to go to...." But it's also one of the most exciting places to be, a blank sheet and a chance to reinvent yourself, your career or even your life.

One of the most important things to understand is when to leave, to really ask yourself why, and then to self-assess around whether or not you are leaving for the right reasons. For example – not loving your boss or the product or account you are working on are not the right reasons, these things can always change, and they frequently do. However a deep seated feeling that you are not reaching your potential, not being challenged enough, or simply running out of space to progress – these are good reasons, alongside of the most challenging reason of all – a mismatch in values or ethics.

It's useful to be able to talk this through with a mentor, either inside or outside of your work to figure it out, and it's not easy. When I decided to leave Microsoft after nearly 16 years, the decision took me around six months to make. But I got some good advice along the way;

  • Leave when things are going well. Leave on a high. Shake hands, kiss the babies and depart with your chin pointed upwards. The feeling is amazing. After studying change management I now know this to be about the sigmoid curve – it's worth googling to understand how the S Curve works, and how to read the signs of when the time is right for you.
  • People will be sad. There will be tears, there will be anxiety, there will be emails. And there will be too many drinks. But remember that as soon as you announce you are leaving, you will be forgotten within days. This is just life, and people need to move on. Hopefully the good things you did will remain, and also you should also know you will be blamed for everything that goes wrong after you leave. Once you decide to walk the plank, make the announcement and get the hell out. Rip off the Band-Aid and leave within 5-7 days. Sooner the better. These things are in your power when YOU decide to exit the building.
  • Don't panic. Have a plan that includes taking some real time out, and thinking about what you want to do next. I've written other blogs here that talk about finding your next role, and even how to interview. There's lots of help and advice around, and you can lean on your network along the way. Importantly have confidence in your skills, back your behaviours, and be patient. The more senior role you are looking for the longer it will take. For an MD/CEO role the search could be 6-12 months, however the time decreases depending on the number of roles available at the level you are looking. Don't let that be a surprise to you.
  • Take the opportunity to reinvent yourself. This is one of the best chances you'll ever get to leave some of the behaviours or perceptions that you feel don't really represent who you are behind, and to try on some new ways to work or to lead. It can be quite liberating.

So, it's scary, it's not easy, and it take time. But believe me, it can be AMAZING.

The bottom line is that I am now in the best job of my career (and I've had some crackers). My firm view is that where there is risk, there is return. And I am living proof of that.

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Tuesday, 18 June 2019

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