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Handling a Voluntary Demotion

man on a chair writing notes

Making The Most Of a Career Setback

I think this is one of those questions where you are going to get different feedback and advice. Here’s mine.

There are a few things going on here. From a “you” perspective, it would be worth investigating what is behind this insecurity, and if there is anything you can do to work through it.

From a role perspective, dissect the executive job you hold and find out what areas, if any, you excel at, are comfortable with, and lastly, which are part of this insecurity. You may find that a significant part of your job is no problem at all for you. If that is the case, then a few avenues might be possible. One, a coach may be able to help you work through the difficult areas. Two, you may be able to renegotiate your role to have it redefined. Of course, that may not be possible, so the last course of action might be to look externally for a role at or around your new level that focuses on those things you are good at and comfortable with.

Now, you asked me a different question. Can you move down a notch and make it work? The good news is that this is a fairly common situation. What makes someone shine at one level may not mean that they are suited to the next level. In particular, when the promotion involves the addition of management responsibilities. I think it can work, but of course, it comes with risks.

Firstly, the success of the transition depends to a large part on you. How you communicate how you feel about moving back to the old role. You could send a message, consciously or not, that you couldn’t hack the senior level. Or, you could send a message that was a positive one instead. “I missed the work of my old job. The executive experience was great, but I discovered that this is the work that I was meant to do. You guys were great to manage, but frankly, I want to get back in the trenches and focus on my strengths.” The difference is moving towards rather than away from something.

Secondly, the culture of your team plays a part. There are some environments where this kind of action would be doomed from the start. However, I think in most teams, it would be workable.

Thirdly, it depends to some extent on who you will report to after you move down. A new boss could make it easy or difficult for you. You will need to manage that relationship closely. If there are early signs that you are going to have a problem, putting yourself on the job market might be a good idea.

A last point. I have seen situations where a new role is defined in this kind of situation. A role that takes advantage of some of your exceptional abilities, while minimizing the weak areas. The fact is, having spent a couple of years in the executive role, you have valuable experience and insight. It could be utilized in a new way, rather than the old way of moving back. It is about discovering role fit. It may not be possible in this situation, but it is a way to go, and may point to a role outside of the organization.

The key thing is to figure out where you will be most fulfilled and personally successful.

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