It was 2010. I was in London. Our group of 30 top HR executives were attending a development program to prepare them for their next role as Chief Human Resources Officers. I was standing in the back of our meeting room when I heard my co-facilitator say,
“You have to know your own Shelf Life.”
I wasn’t there to learn. I was speaking. But my ears perked up at this piece of advice because I knew she was going to sing my song. At that moment, my expiration date had been reached. I knew exactly what she was asking our members to consider. I had the signs all along, but I had not yet accepted it was my time to move on.
Often, the signs have been appearing to us for a while, but we try to convince ourselves we have ways to “fix” the situation. Ann Fandozzi, CEO of Ride, shares some advice from earlier in her career where she was “mis-fit” in the culture:
“When your inner voice is telling you it’s not right, you owe it to yourself to stop and think and not try to make it right, which is inherently what women do. Our inner voice is a finely honed instrument, and we need to listen to it more instead of saying “It’s me. What can I do differently?”
Since that time, I have queried many executives about this topic, asking them, “How do you know when you have reached your Shelf Life?” Here are some of those answers:
- “My learning curve had gotten flat – I was no longer growing and learning, and I was feeling a bit too comfortable in what I was doing every day. I need tension on my curve and get much more energy from the steep part of that learning curve.”
- “I was losing energy for the people I worked with. My attention span for others was waning and my impatience for things to get done had actually decreased. I was in status quo…and it was not bothering me.”
- “The company values and dreams were no longer the same as mine. My alignment with where the company was going and their aspirations for the business no longer meshed. It’s hard to play a leadership role when those are not aligned.”
- “I had the ‘Sunday night’ syndrome. That feeling that my Monday morning was more routine and that I was missing that ‘can’t wait to get to the office and get started’ kind of feeling. I couldn’t find the mojo.”
When Shelf Life signs start to appear, we should listen to them. We are at our best leadership moments when we can bring our passion and our energy with us. When we show up with our “A-game” every day, we inspire others around us to do the same. We need to have energy to give energy.
To avoid getting into the shelf life trap, it’s good to do routine checks on whether your curve is starting to get flat. Jenny Verner, President for Cargill Specialty Seeds and Oils, relayed that if she didn’t have a new role every three years, she would find a way to reinvent the role she was in to make sure she was giving her best to Cargill.
Lurking on the shelf longer than we should is bad for everyone. It’s bad for our family too. Joan Wainwright, President, Channel & Customer Experience for TE Connectivity relayed that she was working for a company and was really stressed out. When her mother said to her "You're a beautiful person on the outside, but you have become an ugly person on the inside" she knew it was time to leave this company.
Expiration dates can often be detected by others more easily than we can see them for ourselves. When I do my onboarding call for each executive preparing to come to The Signature Program and ask where they see their next move, I can sometimes hear Shelf Life comments. When someone says to me, “I’m not done doing my job here yet,” my Shelf Life alarm goes off. We are never “finished” with our role. Our job is to develop the talent around us so that they can finish the job, and we can keep moving up the learning curve….and bring our passion and energy to another experience while learning and growing in the new role.
Take a moment to check your expiration date. Is your Shelf Life up?