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If anyone had told me that one of the worst moments of my 43-year career would pay off in spades in the long run, I wouldn’t have believed it.
The position of president was up for grabs and I was one of the shortlisted candidates; it was a huge opportunity and a huge responsibility. (The company had $2-billion in sales at that point).
I suspected who else was in the running. All were colleagues in the company, all were people I respected, and all were people I wanted to beat – badly.
The selection process comprised the usual headhunter interviews and leadership testing, followed by an interview with the selection subcommittee of the board.
I nailed the headhunter component of the selection process and was told that I had the top scores from the testing. Even though I thought I could have handled the board interview better, it wasn’t a disaster and I wasn’t concerned that it could destroy my chances to win the contest.
The day of reckoning arrived. The board chair called all executives into the boardroom to announce the winner of the battle for president. I was very nervous and expectant; my adrenalin was rushing.
All eyes were on me as it was common knowledge that I considered myself to be the front runner for the job.
It was over in a heartbeat. One of my colleagues and a very good friend with whom I “grew up” in the organization was the winner. The words announcing his appointment had barely left the chair’s mouth when I was overcome by agonizing pain in my gut. I couldn’t take a breath.
I thought I was well prepared for a decision that could go against me. I had steeled myself for a negative outcome by thinking through my “Do not be surprised” plan. The idea is to develop your response before the actual event occurs. You imagine that each of the candidates wins and you prepare separate response plans accordingly. If you don’t have a plan and have to deal with a negative outcome in real time, the surprise could very well cause you to say, look, or do something that would not serve your long-term career goals very well.
But even though I had prepared myself for the worst-case scenario, it was now a reality and I had to deal with it in front of the chair, my executive peers and my new boss.
Without hesitation – it must have been an involuntary response as I don’t recall consciously thinking about it – I arose from my chair, walked over to the winner and congratulated him in a heartfelt manner.
I made sure everyone could see it and could hear my words; I offered him my support and unwavering loyalty.
They were all surprised with how I handled the situation, given that they understood how much I wanted to be president.
The feedback I received was gratifying. My behaviour was deemed “mature,” indicative of a senior executive leader who could take a “punch in the gut” and who could place the needs of the organization before his own.
My currency with the board and executive leadership team escalated. My career continued to be rewarding and I was given many exciting opportunities to learn and contribute to the organization’s success.
No one could have convinced me that losing a promotion could ever be a long-term career sweetener that allowed me to learn, practise and develop my own dimensions of stand-out leadership.
But it did.
It’s all about how one deals with “a bad hand.” Bail or Recover. Short-term or long-term thinking.
Muzzle your ego and make the call with your long-term interests in mind.
Roy Osing (@RoyOsing) is a former executive vice-president of Telus with over 33 years of leadership experience. He is a blogger, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead, dedicated to helping organizations and individuals stand out from the competitive herd.