A recent Harvard Business Review article featured the unexpected and difficult, but very successful transformation of an Ivy League educated CEO.
“Michael Mack had a perfect CV: a BA from Brown, an MBA from Harvard, six years at the consulting firm Bain & Company, and then a successful move into entrepreneurship that resulted in a rapidly growing company.”
Long story short, he was fired. Totally unexpected, Mack was rocked to his core. After the initial shock, Mack was advised to “wrap your head around being supportive.” Still on the company board, Mack was encouraged to accept responsibility for what had happened, focus on his and the company’s best interests, and use the experience as “an opportunity for learning.”
Mack went from being a “high-handed, know-it-all, do it my way” leader to being humbled. He describes his former self as “arrogant, self-righteous, and overly independent.”
Through the healing and learning process, Mack “learned to focus more on outcomes and not on my way of getting there… to involve others to create more buy-in.” Mack also learned to place much greater value on a balanced and healthy work and personal life, both for himself and for all who worked for the company.
Mack’s transformation was so obvious and successful that a few years down the road, the board rehired him as CEO.
Most executives and professionals I know, who have been fired, laid off, downsized, or otherwise “moved on,” look back on the experience as positive, both personally and professionally. Many consider the difficult experience a godsend, a gift, a positive wake up call, a life-changing opportunity to rebalance, an opportunity to refocus and find far more joy and happiness in their life.
The reality is that it is extremely rare for executives and professionals to replicate the intensity with which they examine their personal and professional lives without the very difficult and humiliating experience of being fired, downsized, or otherwise “moved on.”
Such an experience takes most people to the very core of who and what they are… and how and why they are spending their irreplaceable hours and days. The experience wipes out the pride, excuses, procrastination and fallback position. Left raw and bare, people engage in intense and extremely serious personal and professional examination. The result is almost always better for all concerned.
I have been through this very difficult experience and I am far better for it. I found the experience extremely difficult, yet very positive, life-changing and liberating.
The smartest and wisest among us engage in this extremely delicate and difficult self-analysis before they are forced to do so. We all need to recalibrate, and sometime make radical changes from time to time.
What about you? Are you among the wise who proactively examine the very core of who and what they are? Do you discover, acknowledge and make the difficult changes that transform your personal and professional life, as well as your leadership effectiveness and impact?
Most people, including most leaders, will not voluntarily go to their very core and truly examine areas that may need minor or radical change. For those people, being fired can be a very precious gift.