Corner Office

Corner Office by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Photo by Author

“I want your job!” … The young man in front of me was a recent college graduate. He had, maybe, 6 months of working experience. And he was serious. My internal reaction was mixed. I wanted to laugh and, at the same time, I wanted to kick him out of my office.

A bit of background and context will perhaps set the stage a bit better. At the time, I was a manufacturing/operations director for a Fortune company and was responsible for 7 manufacturing sites. The young man in my office had recently hired on in one of our engineering groups. He was intelligent and ambitious, but he was also naïve and ill-informed.

Those who know me well know that I’m not the “typical” manufacturing executive. None of my “personality assessments” fit the profile. I’m too soft. I’m too focused on people. I care too much. I’m not direct enough. I’m a square peg in a round hole. It’s a “uniqueness” that I use to effectively do my job and stand out.

That said, I do have a hard side (when pushed, mad, or tired). Looking back, I was probably a bit angry. Angry that this “kid” with no experience walked into my office and told me he wanted my job, as if it were that easy.

He didn’t say he’d like my job in the future. He didn’t ask if I’d mentor him. He told me he was smart, intelligent, and had the ability to do my job – today. And that he wanted it within a year or he’d look for another company because he was “executive material.” Maybe he thought I’d be impressed with his initiative. I wasn’t. Maybe he thought I’d be impressed with his attire. I wasn’t. Maybe he thought I was ready to give up my job. I wasn’t.

Well, this might surprise you but I told him he could have my job! He looked pleased with himself. I told him it was easy. It had been easy for me. I told him he could have my job once he graduated with a 3.9 GPA from a good engineering school, got a job with a good company, went to school at night and got a masters degree in engineering with a 3.9 GPA, then continued working while getting an MBA with a 4.0 and a doctoral degree, all while working, delivering excellent bottom-line results & getting top ratings from his superiors. The kicker? He had to do this consistently for 20 years. Every quarter. Every year.

I told him he needed experience handling billions of dollars in capital and expense budgets wisely and in handling tricky personnel decisions with delicacy. I told him he needed luck, and hard work, and discipline, and the ability to lead with his head & his hear, and be available 24×7, and the ability to manage up (down and sideways), and have raw mental horsepower, and work weekends & nights, and the ability to synthesize, and demonstrate political insight, and the ability to communicate well (verbally & written; to large groups and individually), and the ability to cast a vision, and the ability to deal with crises, and the ability to keep things in perspective, and the ability to understand & shape people. My job was easy and he was certainly welcome to it, once he’d done all those things – as I had.

The good news is that he (like all of us) had the blessing to start with a clean sheet of paper. What he does with his life is up to him (mostly). He isn’t limited by his family, race, ethnicity, or gender. Manufacturing executives come in all shapes, colors, and sizes.

On the other hand, he did need to count the cost. Was he willing to make the sacrifices? While he had his eye on the compensation, on the benefits, on the perks, and on the office, he did not consider the costs and evaluate the overall ROI. He certainly wasn’t realistic.

Whether or not someone views their work as a “career” or as a “job” is another topic. But for today, if you’re looking at another job, another position, another field, please consider the costs (as well as the benefits) up-front. Please have realistic expectations. Yes, it’s ok to dream. It’s ok to have a plan. It’s ok to have ambition. But it’s not ok for a 22 year-old engineer with essentially no experience to expect to have a job for which he’s not prepared (lacking significant skills and experience).

I don’t know if my conversation (ok, “lecture”) was helpful to this young man or not. I hit him pretty hard (figuratively speaking) because he was arrogant, precocious, and annoying (he made me mad!). My hope is that he’s successful and finds joy in his work as he gains maturity, experience, and perspective.

Unlike the “crowd”, the world-class leader looks beyond the benefits of key positions and understands the cost as well, so he can make informed career choices.

Do you weigh out career options before diving in headfirst? Do you understand the necessary sacrifices, the payout, and, hence, the ROI of key jobs. Before you push for a particular position, do you weigh out the requirements, needed skills, time commitment, etc.?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

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