A recent article in the New York Times about Katie Couric and the woes at CBS News got me to thinking. What Katie Couric did is exactly what many other successful people do - make a job shift away from an area of tremendous achievement. And, like what's happening with Couric, many of our career changes don't always turn out as planned.
Regardless of what you think of Ms. Couric (a recent poll shows 51% of us like her, 29% do not, and 20% of us are ambivalent), by all standards she was wildly successful at the Today Show.
So why, after all her success there, did she shift to hosting a nightly newscast?
Only her hairdresser knows for sure, but my guess is "the challenge." Couric has been a reporter pretty much her whole life (she comes by it honestly - her father was a newspaper reporter).
The Today Show is a news show, but not a hard news show. What I mean is you'd never see Dan Rather or Brian Williams wearing an apron while helping someone dish up a soufflé.
Reporters are cut from such a mold that they rarely turn away from a challenge. So when offered the opportunity to do hard news, I would guess she welcomed the challenge. Not to mention the fact that fifteen years of doing the Today Show might have been getting pretty stale.
The problem? Both she and CBS are now facing problems they did not foresee. Even with her reporter's background, it's a whole new league. Her new job requires a different skill set from what made her successful in the past.
What I'm saying here is being good at 'A' doesn't guarantee you'll be good at 'B.' When stellar performers get the opportunity to step up to another role in the organization, it doesn't always go so well. Sometimes they even flop.
As Parker Palmer writes in his book "Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Your Vocation", he sought to live up to a set of higher ideals - ideals set by other people.
"The results were rarely admirable, often laughable, and sometimes grotesque," he says. "I had simply found a 'noble' way of living a life that was not my own, a life spent imitating heroes instead of listening to my heart."
Palmer tells us that the word "vocation" is rooted in the Latin word for "voice." In other words, our jobs, our careers, our professions, should focus on something our life is telling us to do.
Yet with the cacophony of noises in our daily lives, it's tough enough to hear above the roar let alone listen for the nuances that are supposed to be pointing us in a particular direction.
Granted, most of us can work in a wide range of jobs with a degree of success. But if you've found your vocation, you probably find your work quite fulfilling, people will most likely notice you're a natural at it, and achievement in that field probably comes quite easy for you.
If that's you, my recommendation is to be careful when considering a promotion or taking on a different job. Companies have a bad habit of firing people who, once promoted, don't perform as well as they did before.
Rather than reassign the person to a more applicable job where success is practically assured, they just show that person the door. It's dumb, but they still do it.
This is not to say that Katie Couric or any of us cannot be successful in a position that's outside something we do extremely well. A challenge is just that - a challenge. And challenges require planning, effort, and diligence to overcome them. But if Couric becomes a student of her situation and learns what she needs to do to succeed, it's quite possible she will.
The same goes for any of us. It's usually not as easy as following one's natural calling, but it can be done.
Therefore, let me close with two things to think about. First, if you receive a promotion, don't be ashamed or embarrassed to get training on that it takes to be successful in that new position. Different levels in an organization require very different kinds of thinking - and usually involve a different set of "tools," as well.
Second, it's your career and no one else's. Be careful what you - and what you let other people - do with it.