Jun 7

What Were Your Career-Defining Moments?

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

Have you ever spent time to think about what your career-defining moments were? We all have experienced in our life moments, decisions and events that had a major impact on our career. These moments define who we are, what we value and what we stand for. They determine how we and also others see ourselves. Often, we don’t recognize these moments as career-defining until we look back  sometime later on, often months or years later.

You can discover valuable insights about yourself through a personal reflection activity. You can do that on your own, but you can also do that during a group meeting, for example during an off-site meeting where team members take some time to reflect. Afterwards, all team members can share their career-defining moments enabling them to learn a lot about each other and bringing the team closer together.

Today, I want to share with you three of my own career-defining moments:

1.) When I started my career abroad 1984 in Dubai, I was confronted with a challenging situation right away. Our company had sent me as Regional Manager for the Gulf states to Dubai as their first executive to build up a local presence for them. In terms of organization, I was attached to the local third party agency, one of the biggest pharmaceutical distribution companies in the United Arab Emirates.

One of the first things I had to do was to buy a company car for myself. For safety reasons, I had decided to buy a Volvo. The Executive Director of our local agency accompanied me to the Volvo showroom in order to help me to negotiate a good price for the car. After having asked for some discount and having finally agreed with the Volvo sales person on the price of US-$ 18,000.- for the car, the sales person told me that he will write US-$ 27,000.- on the invoice as the selling price for the car. He wanted to “help” me to make some quick bucks when claiming the money back  from my company with the expenses report.

The Executive Director of our local third party agency joined the conversation and told me that “overinvoicing” was common practice to generate additional income. I thanked both of them politely, and insisted that the invoice should show only the real amount of US-$ 18,000.–.

KEY INSIGHT: Since honesty is one of my core values, it was easy to resist this temptation and make the right decision at the very early stage of my career abroad. Apart from the ethical aspect, imagine the danger of being forever in the hands of the local third party agency whose Executive Director would have been witness of the shameful act, had I fallen for it.

2.) In 1987, our company transferred me to Lagos, Nigeria which was considered to be one of the                                                most dangerous and difficult countries to work in. Our company had rented for me as a bachelor a furnished flat in a three storey – building. From outside, the house looked o.k., and so did my flat at first sight. But after moving in, I got more and more desperate. Any drawer I opened, I was greeted by plenty of cockroaches. In the whole flat, only in the bedroom the air condition unit was working. Almost every day, for several hours there was no electricity and, even worse, no water.

It took time to get used to steel bars in front of every window in the house. When I went to bed, I even had to lock a door with steel bars to protect the part of the flat where the bedroom was located from intruders. I felt like being in jail. At the gate of our building, there were security guards stationed for 24 hours. And from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., a van with eight armed private security task force members, paid by the companies of the residents, patrolled our street for security purposes.

On my way to the office, every 3 to 4 days, I saw dead bodies lying along the road, either victims of traffic accidents or ritual killings. This was really tough life. I wasn’t far from quitting my job.

Two weeks after my arrival in Lagos, I reflected one evening about my situation. The conclusion was that I decided to give the country a fair chance and to stay in Nigeria for at least the next six months  and to give it my best at work and life. I knew already that my first trip back to Germany had been scheduled six months later. And at that time, I wanted to take the final decision whether to carry on with my job in Nigeria or not.

Fortunately, despite the very difficult living conditions, everything went well. Six months later, I decided to continue with my job in Lagos. Ultimately, I was living and working for four and a half years in Nigeria and gained lots of valuable experiences for my further career.

KEY INSIGHTS: My posting to Nigeria brought out qualities in me that I didn’t even know that I had them to this intensity. Qualities like overcoming adversity, resilience, perseverance. And fairness: I was fair to my employer setting myself a six months deadline before deciding whether I will carry on (after all, I had accepted their job offer in the first place). And I was also fair to Nigeria, giving time to find the positive things in the country, the environment and the people.

3.) After my time in Nigeria, I was transferred back by my company for one year to its head quarter in Germany to learn about their chemicals business. Before that, I had always worked for the pharmaceutical division. Shortly after my return to Germany, I was first informed by a senior executive in the human resources department that my next posting would be Thailand. And three days later, a senior executive in the chemicals division told me that by end of the year 1992, I would be transferred to Bangkok.

After having worked for a few months in the head office, I was wondering why the Regional Director for Asia & Oceania who was based in Tokyo had never contacted me to discuss my forthcoming assignment in Thailand. Then, one day he finally invited me for a meeting in Germany. The meeting turned out to be quite different from what I had expected. The Regional Director Asia & Oceania asked me in quite a sharp tone how I got the idea that I would be taking up an assignment in Thailand. As I later found out, although he was supposed to choose the person to run the Thailand office, he wasn’t involved in the selection process. I had been forced on him by some other senior executives.

I told him that I had been informed by one senior executive from the human resources department  and one senior executive from the chemicals division. He left and told me to meet him again tomorrow. During the next meeting, he told me, to my big surprise, that the two persons who had informed me about my upcoming assignment in Thailand had both denied that they did so. Suddenly, I was looking like a liar that had dreamt up his transfer to Thailand.

Fortunately, I had been a few months earlier on a vacation in Thailand. During that time, I had also visited the managing director of our company in Thailand, a friend of mine. We had talked about my upcoming transfer to Bangkok, since he had also been informed by the two senior executives in Germany. When I told the Regional Director Asia & Oceania about this, he phoned the managing director in Thailand who then confirmed that he had also been informed by the two senior executives in the head office about my transfer to Thailand. Now, it was clear who had lied.

Although the Regional Director Asia & Oceania had another candidate in mind, he offered me the job in Thailand. He told me that he was impressed how calm I had stayed throughout the incident not losing my temper and handling the pressure well.

KEY INSIGHTS: Throughout the situation, I kept a positive attitude; a strength that has accompanied me throughout my career. It also shows that it pays to stay calm in crisis situations. And I always had faith that the truth will prevail.

These were three of my career-defining moments. Now, what about you?

Take some time and reflect. It will give you a clearer understanding of your own values, strengths and your leadership philosophy. And, most important, it will help you in learning, growing and developing further.

Take some time and reflect. It will give you a clearer understanding of your own values, strengths and your leadership philosophy. And, most important, it will help you in learning, growing and developing further.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 7th, 2012 at 03:33 and is filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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