Empower Employees to Take Control of Their Situation

Talent Management

by Marshall Goldsmith

I’d like tell you about two people, Will and Bob. Will is the son of one of my friends.

After graduating from college in 2008, he got an entry-level job at a major weekly in New York City, and worked for an editor in chief he admired. Six months later the British owners fired Will’s boss and Will too. This was in early 2009, when magazines were going out of business on a daily basis and unemployment in New York City was in the double digits. Will had no success finding another job. He had to move back in with his parents, collect unemployment and had no prospects for finding work.

Some people would have wallowed in self-criticism, whining, convincing themselves that getting fired was not their fault and the situation was out of their control.

Will didn’t do that. Since finding a job was virtually impossible, he decided to go to law school. His parents were aghast. They weren’t prepared to pay the six-figure bill. But Will had that worked out, theoretically. He would study hard for the LSAT. If he scored high enough, a school would give him a scholarship.

In the meantime, he’d sit out one of the worst job environments in decades. And when he graduated, he’d have a professional degree and maybe the job market would be healthier.

Contrast this with Bob, a lawyer in his mid-40s whom I met at a conference. Bob used to practice real estate law, but when the real estate market dried up, he switched to family law, handling divorces and custody battles. It’s one of the nastier corners of the law, and as Bob described his job, he spotted a friend and waved.

“That’s my former law partner. He loves being a lawyer. I hate it.”

“Why?” I asked.

“He gets a kick out of engaging in battle with other lawyers. He can tell them to go to hell and have a drink with them an hour later. I can’t do that. I can’t separate myself from all the harsh words. And I’m not built for fighting.”

“It sounds like you’re in the wrong line of work,” I said.