Have you ever been in a position in which you’ve blown it— professionally speaking, that is? A situation that confronts you head-on and you know: your credibility just took a huge hit.
It’s happened to me and it’s humbling. It can be instructive too, if you let it. Here’s how:
Years ago, I served as a board member for a nonprofit. Shortly after I became pregnant with my first child, the incoming Board Chairperson invited me to also serve on the Executive Committee. Initially, I wanted to leave the board altogether after the birth of my child, but was persuaded to stay on. I accepted the Executive Committee appointment and served throughout my pregnancy and into the first six months of my son’s life.
From a time management perspective, my transition to motherhood was a rocky one. I was overwhelmed by my responsibilities as a new mother and trying to run a full time consulting business. My service to the nonprofit had always been “above and beyond,” but in that final year on the board, it was all I could do to put in 95% rather than my typical 110%.
As my board term neared, I made the decision leave. Even though I was eligible for another term, this time when I gave my notice, nobody tried to persuade me to stay. At the last board meeting I attended, the Board Chair thanked the three “retiring” board members— including me. While the other two retirees received glowing praise as a send off, I was given a polite “thanks so much for your time, Jennifer.”
Sitting in that board room, and listening to the tepid farewell, it hit me: your reputation is only as strong as your most recent performance. It didn’t matter that I had invested over five
years of solid service to this organization; in the end, my performance had started to slip. I’d overstayed my welcome.
Even more sobering: you did this to yourself. In that meeting, surrounded by thirty of the most influential business people in my community, I made a vow to myself: never again. As a self-employed professional, my strongest currency is my reputation. By not standing firm in my original plan to make room for family obligations, I had seriously devalued the worth of the Jennifer V. Miller brand.
It was indeed a humbling experience, to know that my overall “value” to an organization was being judged by my most recent activities rather than my entire body of work. Still, it taught me an invaluable lesson: if you sense you’re wearing out your welcome, it’s best to depart on your timeline, rather than that of the organization.
Here's the thing that I've come to realize about “great opportunities”– they're only “great” if you can effectively seize upon them. Some days, the cards just aren't in your favor and other priorities prevail. Nowadays, thanks to my credibility wake-up call, when faced with an opportunity (even a fantastic one!), if I can't deliver, I decline the offer. Saying “no” upfront may disappoint both parties to some extent at the outset, but you can be assured that you've done what's right for the organization and for you in the long run. In the end, expectations are appropriately set, and your credibility will remain intact.
Photo credit istockphoto.com
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