I have a friend who served as an operations manager at a mid-size organization for three years. During the third year of his tenure, he was being groomed to be the new director of strategy and planning. The new position would be a promotion, and his boss in both instances was the same person: the organization’s chief operating officer.
Near the end of that third year the organization’s CEO retired, and the candidates to replace the CEO were narrowed down to two individuals: the chief operating officer (my friend’s boss), and an outside candidate.
The board of directors ultimately selected the outside candidate, and the chief operating officer left to serve as the CEO of another organization shortly after.
Which meant that a few weeks later my friend was informed that the new CEO would be bringing in a director of strategy and planning from his prior organization.
It was really bad luck.
My friend told me that the night he found out he wouldn’t be getting the job he and his family went out to dinner, and he nearly got into a fistfight with a stranger over a parking spot.
That wasn’t his normal personality, and he had clearly let bad luck get the better of him.
The next day my friend started reaching out to recruiters.
One day later a recruiter returned his call, and that conversation ultimately led to my friend becoming the chief operating officer at a much smaller organization—which turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to his career.
The reality is that luck—bad and good—played a role in both instances.
However, you can minimize the impact of bad luck, while maximizing your chances for good luck.
1. Be cautious when assigning a reason to something that is purely bad luck.
When bad luck happens, we want to find an explanation. Sometimes you can find one, but be cautious when searching for a reason for the bad things that happen in our careers and lives.
Sometimes there is a reason—but sometimes it’s just bad luck.
There was nothing my friend could have done to anticipate or change a decision that was out of his hands. Sometimes, that’s just the way it is—and trying to “fix” something that isn’t broken can actually break it.
2. Listen to Walt Disney, and move forward.
There is a great quote from Walt Disney:
“Around here we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
When it comes to bad luck, looking backward will keep you from moving forward.
Lives and careers move too fast to dwell on bad luck.
Learn whatever you can, move on, and…
3. Prepare yourself for good luck.
The recruiter that called my friend was looking for candidates who had an understanding of both the public and private sectors. My friend has an MBA and a Master’s degree in governmental management. He had both of those degrees because he thought he might like to work at the intersection of government and business.
Then one day my friend’s preparation intersected with good luck, and a recruiter saw his resume—and thought he might be a fit for a really unique opportunity.
Ironically, my friend never would have contacted a recruiter had it not been for a case of bad luck.
At Robertson Associates, we help companies and executive leaders prepare themselves to take advantage of good luck, as well as to move forward after the occasional case of bad luck that is an inevitable part of the recruiting and search process.
Because luck is just a part of life, business, and your career.
Sometimes your luck is good, and sometimes it’s bad.
The secret is to not dwell on the bad luck—and prepare yourself for the moment when your luck changes for the better.
Pierre Collowald is a Senior Partner at Robertson Associates, a European Executive Search and Leadership Solutions boutique. Pierre is working out of Brussels, Paris and Zurich. firstname.lastname@example.org