Sometimes we create the perfect game plan, play it flawlessly, and score as we imagined. That’s sometimes. Most of the time, that’s not how it goes down — at all. And more often than not — whether in the ballpark or in the office park — it’s the curve balls, the foul balls and the strike-outs that encourage us to swing for something better.
Take this career conundrum. I was working at Quantum, where I had been promoted to director of IT. It was my second promotion in two years. Maybe I should have been pleased with that recognition, however it didn’t aptly represent what I was doing. I knew that the role as head of IT at a company of Quantum’s size should have carried a Vice President, or more likely a CIO title.
Still, I accepted the role because it was a big step up for me. It was only five years before that I started in IT, and only 15 years since I even started working at a technology company, not in technology, but as a security guard, safeguarding the building and taking the flag down at night. I should have been pleased with that trajectory, right?
I wasn’t and I let my boss know I was unhappy with the discrepancy between my growing responsibilities and my stagnant title and pay grade. Then, we acquired Digital Computer’s Disk Drive Business, a billion-dollar business with thousands of people and I was tasked with leading the massive and challenging integration. I devised a plan that was reviewed by the board and a seasoned professional who was supportive of my approach. The plan carried significant risk and my boss told me that if I pulled the project off, I could definitely become a VP. I was energized by the opportunity.
The project went very smoothly. Upon completion, my boss thanked me, gave a bonus to my team and to me and said, “I expect to promote you next year.”
What? That wasn’t the plan. I walked out of the room for the first time in my career as a disgruntled employee. I had been promised a promotion if I delivered this massive, risky project. However, what I received was little more than a pat on the back and a, “You’re still not quite ready.”
I was so bummed. Ironically, that night I received a call from a headhunter. I historically never took those calls, but this time I listened and heard about the exact type of opportunity I had been eager to attain. That job — the VP & CIO role at Bay Networks — turned out to be my first CIO job and the coolest one in my career. It opened up tons of doors. Our team did one of the world’s fastest SAP implementations and received a Smithsonian nomination for its work. I ended up doing a lot of collaboration with our sales organization talking about IT and I took on my first board and advisory roles. Most of all, the experience taught me that learning from my career strikes would be the only way to eventually get the home runs.