Even though it was no surprise, it still felt a little shocking. For six years, I had been a part of the plan of building my exit ramp from leading Talent in my company to another role. My new boss, who was the grandson of the founder, informed me about my new leadership role in the company. I left his office and headed straight to the airport.

It turned out that the already scheduled trip to Philadelphia was a good diversion and an opportunity to think through the changes in front of me. I vividly remember beating myself up a little because I was emotional about something I had clearly been instrumental in implementing. It’s hard to leave behind the work you were made to do and jump off into the unknown. Had I known then what I know now, I would have been far more confident about the change.

What I did not know at the time, is that this transition would be the greatest leadership development opportunity of my career. More importantly, my new path would prepare me not just to launch a new function for the business, but launch me into my own business a few years later. If I had not moved to that new leadership role, I would not have been prepared to do the work I love today.  It was a career diversion I needed to understand the leadership challenges most people face, so I could help coach others later through difficulty and even crisis.

Sometimes, blessings are disguised as curses.  We have to have enough faith and patience to let the plan fall fully into place.

Sometimes, blessings are disguised as curses. We have to have enough faith and patience to let the plan fall fully into place. Click To Tweet

After my 30-year run in Talent, I was tapped to launch and lead a new function of the business: Enterprise Social Responsibility.  The charge was not fully articulated and part of the role was to develop a strategy of what this function should be for the organization.  However, developing the strategy was not the most challenging part of the assignment.

For the first time in my career, I was working with a team I did not choose and who did not choose me. As part of a major reorganization in the company, we were placed together. Never were my leadership skills more tested than in those years.  Here are a few of the important things I learned:

  1. Expertise in content is over-rated. Surround yourself with experts and be a good leader. In my previous role, I led Talent, an established function in the organization and had performed most every single role in the function at some point in my career. In my new role, I really did not know much about the content, but the people around me did. My job was to lead the experts to success, not be an expert on social responsibility and sustainability.
  2. Trust is paramount. When I was in a role that I clearly understood what needed to be done and how to do it as in my previous leadership assignment, I didn’t have to trust anyone, even though, of course, I did. In my new role, I had to rely on those around me to help me understand what needed to be done. I had to trust them and I had to earn their trust for us to be successful in achieving our goals.
  3. Collaboration is key. In the new role, I also had to depend more on my peers in the organization. The new function required integration throughout the entire enterprise. Without the support of other leaders, I would not be able to craft or execute the strategy. Investing more time in sharing my ideas and creating buy-in was critical to achieving our goals.
  4. Specific goals and measurement are the road map. This is basic, but was especially important in leading a new function with unfamiliar content. We made measurement visual and literally put it on the wall in front of us. It helped the team see their progress, but as their leader, it assured me that the strategy was correct.
  5. Success is just around the corner. In unfamiliar territory, it is easy to get discouraged. However, when leading something new, the little victories matter and if you are demonstrating great leadership skills, they will occur regularly and keep you grinding toward the completion of the mission.

Social responsibility and sustainability are areas of work very important  for any organization. It is future-focused and ensures that the organization can be relevant in ever-changing environments. However, it was only my work for a season. It was not what I was made to do, but it was an important step in honing my leadership skills for all that would come next.

If you find yourself on a different path than you expected, don’t despise the path. You might find out, as I did, that it was just the detour you needed to help you Crush Your Career.

If you find yourself on a different path than expected, don't despise the path. You might find out, as I did, that it was just the detour you needed to help you Crush Your Career. Click To Tweet

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