Managing ourselves—and others—often consists of a series of directives: Delegate frequently. Streamline bureaucracy to speed decision-making. Always say yes to new jobs.
Sometimes, however, such directives can only get you so far. You may follow a rule that career counselors recommend—stay in the same position for no longer than five years—only to change your mind when you land a dream job.
Effective leaders are guided by external rules just like the rest of us. But they also know when to break them.
Andrea Jung, chairman and chief executive of Avon Products, wanted to climb the ladder to become a CEO—an obvious objective for any talented, hard-working manager. In 1997, she was a strong candidate to fill Avon’s CEO opening. Yet the board offered the position to someone else.
Jung had joined Avon in 1994 and quickly emerged as a top executive in its product marketing group. Disap-pointed to be passed over for CEO, she considered leaving the company, she recalled in a recent speech.
But then a mentor shared six words of advice that changed Jung’s destiny: Follow your compass, not your clock.
According to Jung’s compass, Avon was a great place to work. She believed in the company and didn’t want to leave, even if that meant reassessing her objective of becoming its CEO.
By chance, the CEO position opened up again 21 months later and Jung got the job. Her experience shows the value of following your inner compass, even if it directs you away from what you seek.
Setting a clock and using it to guide your career moves and managerial philosophy can backfire. It’s an artificial yardstick. As circumstances change, you may benefit by following Jung’s lead and heeding what your inner compass tells you to do.