How the Ghost of Jobs Past Can Come Back to Haunt You

By October 26, 2018Leadership

(A Case Study in Shifting Obligations)

Everyone has a business history. A first job. A first promotion. A first great success.

Our past jobs and positions follow us even after we have moved on. The choices we have had to make and the techniques we have found successful determine how we approach the work that passes our desks each morning.

In honor of Halloween, here is a story about a leader whose past jobs came back to haunt him. But don’t worry, this story has a happy ending.

A major construction company wanted to open a regional office in a new geographic area that showed promise. They appointed a general manager (GM) who had been successful in the field.

He began in the company as a pipefitter, moved up to project engineer and then became a supervisor overseeing the construction of large projects. After a year in his newest position, the GM was struggling to achieve the success expected of him.

We were hired to help the company understand the obstacles preventing the GM from succeeding. Think of us as corporate Ghostbusters.

After numerous interviews, several themes emerged: the GM spent too much time at construction sites rolling up his sleeves to work alongside laborers and not enough time developing the business; also, he neglected to network with key customers and significant business and governmental influencers.

The ghosts of the GM’s former jobs—lower-level positions—were haunting him in his current position, threatening to pull him down into the business netherworlds. The skills that had made him an excellent pipefitter and project manager were not suited to his new role.

When these issues were presented to the GM, he acknowledged that he had difficulty changing his thinking from a cost-conscious project manager to an executive comfortable spending money to develop the business strategically.

In addition, he saw the success of projects as his responsibility and had difficulty delegating work to others. When the urgency of changing his approach was presented to him, he began hiring and promoting individuals to oversee construction, allowing him to begin engaging in the important strategic networking so critical for success.

While behaving strategically were foreign to him, ultimately he realized that he needed to change. Within three months of receiving this feedback, both the manager and home office began to see a significant turnaround. Within a year, the business had taken off.

The GM was alerted to his Ghosts of Jobs Past in time. Will you be?

THE TAKEAWAY: Our previous positions can sneak up on us like ghosts from the past, influencing the ways we interact and the choices we make. How do your previous positions help you in your current position? How might they come back to haunt you?

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