Executive Transitions: Opening Up New Possibilities

Several of our clients right now are going through a career transition, or thinking about one. Highly talented, very marketable, these executives are in a place where it’s time to move on.

Some have been squeezed out due to organizational changes and evolutions in who or what “fits” in the management team order. Others are in stable positions, but they are wondering what’s on the “other side of the hill.” In both cases, there’s a disquiet. A sense of being in between comfortable spots. This is a good thing. It’s an opportunity to take stock and potentially find a better place for their talents.

Getting fired or downsized can be the ultimate “executive gift.”

Mid-career leaders need to review what’s going on from time to time. Some are in roles that change quite frequently. For example, it’s a fact that the average tenure of a CMO is about two and half years. Sales people also can cycle through companies more frequently. Professionals in other functions may stay in-role longer. Regardless, we each have our own journey that allows our talents to unfold and make a contribution to the world. There is a certain mystery.

I am fond of saying that there are two flavors of career management. The first is passive, where you allow the company to make choices for you. You might be talented in what you do and therefore trust that the company will take care of you…until one day, the company moves you into a role that doesn’t quite feel right. The second approach is where you are in charge of your own career direction. You are taking the temperature internally and externally, and evaluating your own compass for what’s needed to achieve your personal and career goals. I’ve known leaders who’ve excelled using both flavors of career management. It’s up to you what works best for your personality and risk tolerance.

Being in transition and looking for a job requires focus, skill and effort. There are three key elements or competencies needed to a transition: marketing, networking, and managing yourself. 

Marketing is having the right tools in place to help others learn about you. These are the obvious ones: resume, LinkedIn profile, and an executive bio that crisply sums up your career story. It also includes knowing what you are looking for. Defining where you want to go in life is rarely simple. It takes thoughtful analysis of your gifts, passions, and the right environment for you. Clarity of purpose adds more punch to your presentation, too.

Networking is leveraging not only your network but others’ networks to find the right job. Malcolm Gladwell in his book “The Tipping Point” speaks about the “strength of weak ties.” This is the notion that we tend to find new opportunities through people we don’t know as well. Why? Because they don’t think like us nor have the same network. Thus, they give us the opportunity to get outside the limitations of our own perceptual and awareness boxes. So discovering a job requires meeting lots of new people. There’s an old rule of thumb that for every person you meet, try to get names of two others that you should talk to. Networking must be done by leveraging your obvious “home base” of friends, family, neighbors, club and group members, college alumni, and of course colleagues and former colleagues. Assembling a Personal Board of Advisors is highly valuable – to help you expand your network and evaluate various options.

Managing yourself can be the hardest part of the transition process. Invariably there are emotional ups and downs. The excitement of discovering a new opportunity along with the frustration and self-doubt that arises when your phone calls and emails aren’t returned as rapidly as you would like. “I emailed her last Tuesday and a week has gone by, and she hasn’t responded yet! She must think I’m not qualified. I’m doomed!” This aspect of the transition requires special attention to self-care. Things like exercise, sleep, meditation, and staying active are critical. Also important is having lots of appointments to keep filling the pipeline. Regardless of your ability for marketing and networking, this element of the transition always requires attention.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”


Transitions are hard, but they are good for all parties, even catalytic. Transitions help people become aware of their value in the marketplace and realize what’s needed to stay relevant and marketable in the future. This enhances long-term job and financial security. Transitions also require us to meet new people and learn about other businesses. We become more knowledgeable about our industry and get new insights and perspectives that allow us to make a bigger contribution. Another benefit of talent circulating among companies is that better ideas and business practices emerge, and with this comes added vitality for our industries and economy.

As we say to our clients who are in a transition, this time is a gift – to be out in the world and testing and redefining what you want to bring to it. The key thing is to leverage this opportunity as fully as possible – to meet new people, to attend events, and to learn things that you don’t ordinarily have time or inclination to do so. 

As the philosopher Seneca once said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Craig Martin is CEO and Founder of Martin Global Leaders which provides executive advisory and talent development services to industry-leading firms around the world.

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