3 Dozen Predictable Situations That Executives Will Face in Their Careers

Posted 04.28.2010

Tourre There probably aren’t many kids who grow up thinking, “Someday I want to be a Wall Street executive and testify in front of a Senate committee that’s loaded for bear.” Yet, that’s what happened this week for eight or nine executives from Goldman Sachs. Who would have predicted that a few years ago? Probably about as many people who predicted the subprime mortgage crisis that Goldman shorted while selling a lot of their clients the long position. Call me strange if you like, but I spent a lot of the morning listening to the hearing on CNBC while I was working on the second edition of The Next Level (manuscript has to go to the publisher this week, hence the big push). There really wasn’t a lot of light shed on what actually happened but it was interesting to hear all the ways that questions could be asked and not answered. The star of the show had to be Fabian “Fabulous Fab” Tourre, the young Goldman banker who put together a lot of the questionable deals. For the color commentary, check out Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post.

The whole issue of predictable and unpredictable situations that executives will face in their career has been on my mind for the past couple of days. One of the appendices in the next edition of the book is an expanded Situation Solutions Guide in which I list a series of situations that executives will predictably face in their careers and provide some tips for how to deal with those situations. As I was thinking through the list last weekend, I put out a question to my friends on Linked In, Facebook and Twitter asking for their take on the situations that executives will likely face. The first person to respond was my blogging friend, Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership. We ended up having a nice conversation and talked through Wally’s experience in advising leaders in how to handle both predictable and unpredictable situations.

So, testifying before Congress is probably on the unpredictable side of the equation. I did, however, hear back from a couple of dozen people with their predictable situations. It’s a really interesting list and I thought you’d want to see it. Here’s my two part request. First, what predictable situation would you add to the list?  Second, what’s your best advice for handling one of the situations already on the list? I’d really like to hear from you on either or both questions.

In the meantime, here’s the list. (It’s about a page long.  I think you’ll find it worth the read):

36 Predictable Situations That Executives Will Face in Their Careers

1. Stepping into a leadership role before you feel fully prepared

2. Change in senior leadership (new CEO, new EVP, etc.)

3. Job eliminations/downsizing

4. Major reorganizations

5. Leading former colleagues and friends

6. Different role that is completely out of your comfort zone

7. Being assigned goals that seem unachievable

8. Having a difficult manager

9. Work/life balance gets out of whack or is no longer suitable for the situation

10. Losing a critical employee (at the worst time, of course)

11. Stepping into a turnaround, downsizing a business, closing a business, starting up a new business or standing up a new organization

12. Learning and adapting to a culture different from where you came from – different industry, different organization, different country of origin

13. Reinventing yourself — after job termination, after walking away from no-win situation, after taking a job package/post-merger, after major life events such as illness, marriage, death

14. Having to live with information, potentialities and possibilities you can’t share with others even though you know it will greatly impact their lives and they are looking for a sign from you

15. Representing the organization as it’s official voice, negotiator or diplomat

16. Learning the importance of removing under-performing subordinates

17. Resolving conflict with a peer executive (philosophy or personal)

18. Suffering a career setback and recovering

19. Transitioning from an operating executive to a more senior role

20. Building a consensus in the organization to support a desired strategy

21. Meshing strategy with actual execution and results

22. Your industry, company or agency has a downturn

23. Interviewing and deciding whether or not to move to a new organization (and maybe to a new city)

24. Leading  in areas outside your scope of technical expertise

25. Starting in a senior role at a new organization

26. Being on the wrong side of the corporate politics

27. Looking into the abyss of major failure

28. Making difficult decisions with limited information

29.    Knowing that your decisions impact the lives of many other people (at work and outside)

30. Facing fights, and even betrayal, and learning to move on and grow from it

31. Standing up for your values and risk losing your position… or deciding to “suck it up” and risk losing your soul

32. Truly influencing an organization by implementing something you really believe in

33. Seeing a few people truly blossom during assignments you give them

34. Firing someone

35. Telling your boss, “No.”

36. Moving on, retiring, etc. and seeing someone else move into your place

Whew, that’s a heck of a list!  I think anyone who thinks it’s easy to be an executive should read it.  It ain’t easy.

Thanks to all of my friends on Linked In, Twitter and Facebook who contributed to this list!  Again, I’d love to hear what other predictable situations you’d add or how you’ve dealt with one or more of the situations listed.