December 1, 2006 was a “red letter day” for me. It was the day I realized I found my purpose in life in terms of a career. That day I figured out that I could reach more people, even have a chance to change the world, if I were to stay at the Center for Creative Leadership. As a then CCL postdoc, my 2-year stint was nearing completion, and I was applying to be a professor at business schools and psychology programs. But there was a full-time research position open here at CCL as well. What lead me to “pull a Clash” (Should I stay or should I go)? It was Colin Cowherd talking about Greg Schiano, and job vacancies at Alabama and Miami.
In late November 2006, Alabama and Miami, two premier, storied college football programs had job openings. Greg Schiano, the football coach of the Scarlet Knights at Rutgers University was the “hot prospect” for each of these jobs. Rumors swirled, and as any good sports radio person should, Colin Cowherd of ESPN radio threw down his opinion. To this day, I remember Colin talking about why Schiano should stay at Rutgers. In my head, this went against everything I thought people should do – shouldn’t people go for the premier job, go for the tough challenge, the glory, not settle for where they are currently?
Schiano was building a massive program (Rutgers was one of those “sleeping giant” programs that Schiano had resurrected), was well-liked at Rutgers, was from the area, and was becoming increasingly successful, leading Rutgers to its first bowl game and ranking in almost 30 years. Colin questioned why Schiano, or anyone for that matter, would want to go to a program like Alabama or Miami – the risk was not worth the reward. There would be too much pressure for winning – winning 75% of your games and a national championship would not be enough (ask recently fired UT coach Phillip Fulmer). There would be too many headaches from boosters, from the president, the AD, and other constituents. The environment is cut-throat and not very supportive. Colin told the listeners that life, and a career, are more than being at the top of a major program and the glory and fame that come with it – you have to think about your lifestyle and your own goals, your family, and how you would fit at that university.
In my head, I started asking myself, why would I leave a great place at CCL, where I honestly think that my work could reach more people worldwide than it could at a university? I love teaching, mentoring students, but I feared the prospects of the “tenure” process at a major university. Looking at my publishing record, I took an honest self-assessment and thought I couldn’t even get interviewed, let alone accept a position at a major university at that point in my career. My coworkers at CCL would support me more than those at a university would. I have more chances to publish articles and books, and there are other means for my research and ideas to reach people worldwide, than it would at a university. I thought, and still think, I can change the world with my research. Plus, my way of life, my goals, and my idea of what a career is, fits working at CCL more than it would at a university. Granted, I won’t get summers off, but the benefits of working at CCL make some professors jealous. I would be comfortable and flourish in CCL’s environment more than anywhere else – it’s a better fit.
What can leaders take away from this? First, when faced with a difficult, personal decision, an honest, self-assessment will help lead you to a decision. I knew that at that time, I could not make it at a major university. Second, fit. Some people want that high profile job, and can handle the headaches, pain, pressure, and the “bad” that comes with the “good” because they realize it is a good fit for them (Nick Saban has Alabama at #1 now, Randy Shannon is re-building the Miami football program…good luck to Lane Kiffin at UT). The more leaders realize what “fits” their life, the better leaders they will be, in all spheres of life (work, home, community, etc).
Three days later, on December 4th, I took the job, and haven’t looked back. I did not “settle” at all by not going for that major university job – in fact, I’m thriving. I’ve been given opportunities at CCL that never would have occurred at any university. During this holiday season, and given the newly confirmed “recession” I hope that we are all thankful for the position we are in, and that we make the most of where we are.
If you have a major decision to make over the next few weeks, give yourself an honest self-assessment, and think about fit…and maybe listen to Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio.