How long is too long?

I get asked this question regularly from people I coach. Sometimes they are referring to the current role they are in, sometimes it is the organization they are employed by and sometimes they ask this of the industry they are in.

There is no “right answer” as it depends on so many things that are specific to you as an individual. But if I reflect on my own career path, this is how it has gone for me…

  • I generally start to master a new role around 2 years, by then it’s a good feeling as I have built trusted relationships, am still very engaged by what is left to do and unlocking the potential I see in the team, function and business. 
  • By the 2.5-3 year mark I am feeling confident of the contributions being made, seeing many achievements based on positive business outcomes, strong team/talent engagement and real creativity when it comes to solutions. At around this period I am starting to think about what is next? Is it in the same function, same organization, same industry? 
  • At the 3.5-4 year mark I am definitely ready for a new gig – the only time this wasn’t the case was during a number of changes within the organization I worked e.g. new CEO, new MD, new head of function who brought a new strategy and expectations of their teams. In many ways this can feel like renewal (sometimes good renewal but sometimes not so good depending on that leader!) so in some scenarios you gain a new set of responsibilities, additional team members, new objectives to focus on and it can feel like you are starting a new role again…

So I have moved roles approximately every 3 years – in some cases I moved roles within the same organization but in all other cases I have moved jobs externally at least every 3 years. There have been a couple of ‘false starts’ too where I was working for a complete nutcase at least once so I bailed within 1 year but that’s another story for another time 😉 

To date, I have had 16 different jobs, in 7 different industries, working in 5 different countries with my latest gig being self-employment. Clearly I love change. I get excited by new opportunities, new leadership, new learnings. I am also a firm believer complacency can set in if things get too familiar… But not everyone is like me.  I know people who have been employed by the same organization for 18 years… people who have been in the same role for 6 years… these are smart people but personally I don’t think they are advantaging themselves or their oganisations being there so long.  

So why is it important to understand the ‘type of person you are’ in the context of when is a good time to ‘move on’ from a role, function, organisation? 

People with strong self-awareness are conscious of their feelings, motives and desires. And a person’s belief in their ability to succeed sets the stage to how they think, behave and feel. For example if you have strong self-efficacy, you are likely to view challenges as mere tasks that must be overcome and you are not easily discouraged by setbacks, or in the case of taking on a new role, you are prepared to take the risk, because you see more upside. The opposite is a person who is likely to avoid challenges and quickly feels discouraged by setbacks. They may not be aware of their negative reactions and as a result don’t change their attitude. This can limit their scope for change. 

One of the most valuable outcomes of leadership coaching is identifying where you sit on the self-awareness spectrum, and then working with your coach to actively grow your self awareness. It is a powerful tool for leaders because being more clear about where you are strong helps boost confidence, because it helps focus your energy on doing what you’re good at, which in turn increases your overall sense of confidence. It’s a virtuous circle! 

So back to the reason for this blog…how long do you stay in your role? Maybe the question you should be answering first is how well do you know yourself?

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