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How Do I Balance My Career Goals with My Company’s Needs?

MURIEL WILKINS: I’m Muriel Wilkins, and this is Coaching Real Leaders, part of the HBR Podcast network. I’m a longtime executive coach who works with highly successful leaders who’ve hit a bump in the road. My job is to help them get over that bump by clarifying their goals and figuring out a way to reach them so that, hopefully, they can lead with a little more ease. I typically work with clients over the course of several months, but on this show we have a one-time coaching meeting focusing on a specific leadership challenge they’re facing. Today’s guest is someone we’ll call Sophie to protect her confidentiality. Sophie’s been with her current organization for over two decades. She’s loved the work and the people and has gained positive career traction.

SOPHIE: It’s a great company. I have been so supported, gotten so many great opportunities. They have really always been there to support me with various challenges. There’s a loyalty aspect. I also have a lot of credibility with key stakeholders, so they know that they can call me when they have concerns. I’m trusted, but at the same time, if I put on my enterprise hat, it’s really smart to keep me where I am because few have my depth and breadth in terms of experience across multiple markets and different levels of hierarchy, that I’m able to pivot, find solutions, and move things forward quickly.

MURIEL WILKINS: After moving around quite a bit and working in different parts of the world for the company, she wanted to settle in one particular country for the long term. In order to do that, she took a position outside of her finance leadership role, a job leading a strategically important project for her company where she’s been making great strides. Now, she’s ready to move back to her finance roots but also doesn’t want to move geographically, and she’s not quite sure senior leadership wants her to move on from her current role.

SOPHIE: I’d like to get back to what I consider the role where I shine the most and also the role that brings me the most happiness, and that’s in the world of finance. I’m very clear on why that role is so attractive to me, or why I enjoy it so much, because it’s one that you never master. You’re always learning new things, and I’m just a person who needs constant challenge. I’m used to aiming for a target, delivering, and then looking for the next challenge. It is on my radar, though, that there’s a pyramid effect. I have a level of senior leadership. It’s not like there are so many roles at my level. It could be that there’s a challenge of meeting my need.

MURIEL WILKINS: Sophie reached the height of her career that many don’t achieve, but now she finds herself in a role that she didn’t intend to have forever and wondering about how to get back to where she wants to be while also balancing the needs of the company. I started the coaching conversation by asking her, “If she did move back into her senior finance leadership role, what would the impact be on her organization?”

SOPHIE: I think the impact would be, they have to replace me for a big market. For example, the US is a huge market, and I’m the person who is helping guide that, and that is absolutely a place where they would need to succeed. So how do you get somebody able to replace me? What’s good is, I have a track record. Because I moved so many times with the company. I have a track record of selecting my successor, developing my successor, and then leaving the business in good hands. That’s something that we could absolutely plan together, so I don’t see a reason that I couldn’t be replaced. Everyone’s replaceable, and I am able to absolutely do that. I’m also big on business continuity, so whatever’s in my head, it’s in other heads as well. I think what I bring is, I am able to be just so quick and agile because I have this incredible frame of reference where when I receive things, I can immediately make connections, but it’s the CFO role or the finance role that allowed me to have that. There’s an interdependence there.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. What’s getting in the way of you moving back into a finance role?

SOPHIE: I think it’s two things. I think that right now there isn’t one for me, and I think that they’re very happy with where I am, and from an enterprise perspective, it makes sense. So, they said, “Please do this for another two to three years, and we’ve heard you. We’ll find a solution.” I would say the pressure comes from my side and just my own business knowledge. I’ve been on this project for three years. Out of the finance role, two more years. What’s my market value? Just from a captain of my careership perspective and I have my own ownership there. I don’t believe in victim mindset or anything. I have a role to play, and so how do I ensure that I stay motivated because I’m ready for the new challenge, in a way? I have this project running, and I want to get back to an area where I feel I have the greatest impact, and I think that’s another point to add. I am able to really bring positive impact wherever I go. That’s my belief and it’s just I can do more elsewhere than where I’m doing it here.

MURIEL WILKINS: According to whom?

SOPHIE: I think it’s according to me. It’s to the point that I’m doing side projects on top of this project, and one that I’m leading right now is getting a lot of positive publicity, so it’s showing that I can connect dots and make things happen, and it can be something that really is positive for the company and beyond the company. That I’m doing this on the side because I’m a person who believes in using my time really to make this world a better place, I’m hoping is one of the things that will show them I can do more than I’m doing.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay, and so what conversations have you had about that, that you can do more than what you’re doing?

SOPHIE: I have had it with my boss and a couple of mentors, and so they are encouraging me to have conversations with senior leadership, which I’m doing, but the feedback has been, “This is really great. We are really glad you’re here. We hear you. Continue doing what you’re doing.”

MURIEL WILKINS: When you’re having those conversations, give me a little insight. What do they sound like? Are you saying, “Hey, I can do more?” Are you saying, “Hey, here’s what I can do. Here’s some ideas about what I could do”? Are you pitching something to them, or are you asking them?

SOPHIE: You’re right, I’m not pitching.

MURIEL WILKINS: Don’t tell me I’m right. I didn’t say anything. I asked you a question.

SOPHIE: You asked me the question, and you’re right. I did not pitch. No, I’ll say that it’s exactly that. I did not pitch. I said I would like to return to finance. I feel I can add more value there. I am absolutely motivated, and you can count on me to do what I’m doing, get these things done, but I’d like to find a way back, and I did this a couple of months ago, so I’m slowly doing this. Why I am talking to you now is, I’m wondering if I should not go stronger.

MURIEL WILKINS: What do you think?

SOPHIE: I think yes, I think yes, and that’s scary because I need to be prepared that it will be, “No, we need you here.”

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay, so the question is, Do I advocate for myself more strongly in terms of what I want to be doing at this company, where I think I can add the most value, and where I think I can make an impact while still maintaining my interest? But should I advocate that strongly because, oh my goodness, they might say no?


MURIEL WILKINS: If they say no, what happens?

SOPHIE: It gets awkward.

MURIEL WILKINS: How is it awkward?

SOPHIE: Because it will be very clear that this is not enough. I need more.

MURIEL WILKINS: It’ll be clear to who.

SOPHIE: I think it’ll be clear to my current leadership, my current manager.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay, and what’s awkward about that?

SOPHIE: They need me just from a personal, like I said, enterprise thinking, self-interest. They need me to do what I’m doing and I really like and respect them. So I don’t want any bad feelings. Really, they’re good people. So how do I… Again, it’s this navigating so that they win too. I want them to be successful. I want this project to be successful.

MURIEL WILKINS: But they’re already winning. Can we just assert that? They’re already winning by you doing a fantastic job that it sounds like you’re doing.

SOPHIE: You’re right.

MURIEL WILKINS: Nobody’s telling you to go anywhere. They’re saying, “No, we want to keep you here. We hear you, but you’re adding value here. Please, please stay.” So they’re already winning. What I’m trying to understand is, what would be different than where you are now if they said no?

SOPHIE: I’m wondering if it wouldn’t impact their trust in me. It would have an impact on my thinking of my future with them because I’m not somebody who would just be like, “Okay, thanks.” No, I’m a person who needs to move forward. I need constant challenge.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, you said that you’re already operating with a high level of trust with them. I believe you said, at the beginning of our conversation. So what do you think it is about this type of conversation? Are you advocating for yourself and your opportunities that you think would erode trust or the level of trust that you already have?

SOPHIE: Maybe it’s because I project what I would myself do. If I have someone whom I really am so grateful to have and the team or even that I know is adding a lot of value where he or she is, and that person came to me and said, “I need to do something else.” I would actually help the person get to where he or she wants to go because I believe that’s the only way. I would also start actively recruiting or starting to put together how I would replace the person.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay, replace the person even if they were still there, or replace the person if they left?

SOPHIE: Because I would be doing the two in tandem, I would try to be helping the person get onto a new role. I would start saying, “Okay, we need to think about business continuity and what that means.” And outlining how it would be to replace that person. I would also, in my mind, think that that person might be looking on the outside and could leave me. So I need to be prepared.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay, and so help me understand what is awkward about that because you called it awkward.

SOPHIE: I just play it out like chess moves. So it could be that they find someone to replace me before I find something else and I’m out of a job.

MURIEL WILKINS: But then, if you’re playing it out like chess moves, then you’re not staying aligned to what you said, your goal is in all this is to make it win-win.


MURIEL WILKINS: If you’re playing it out like chess moves, you’re assuming there’s a win-lose and that one party comes out on top. So, you have to decide, are you playing this out as a chess game or, as one of my dear friends once said, “There is no win-win.” He said, “There’s win some, win some.” So if you were to approach this from an I win-some, you win-some enterprise senior leadership, what would that look like, how would you approach it?

SOPHIE: How would I approach it? I think I’d actually put that on the table. I’d say, “I know I need to move back to finance and I think I would have a greater impact there, and I also know that this project is so strategic and important and I really care about its success, so I’d like to work with you to see how we could each win some in this process. I would absolutely be someone who can help you find the person who can replace me, and I also understand maybe needing to wait until such a finance role is available for me at my level. So how could we move this forward together?” And so, there’s this notion of starting it. It’s how do we keep it going and make sure that actions follow such words.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay, so what I’m hearing is a bit of a different stance. In the former, you were laying out the problem, which is, I want to move back to finance, and hoping they were going to come with a solution that pleased you, and their solution was, “Yeah, no, because that doesn’t work for us. We don’t even want to face that right now. It would mean X, Y, and Z.” And what you’re now suggesting is taking a more proactive stance and saying, “Hey, here’s the problem or the issue. I would like to move back to finance, and I want to make sure that the value that’s been created in this project continues so that nothing is disrupted on your side. Therefore, here’s what I propose. I will work to make sure there’s a succession plan in place. I will activate that plan. I will make sure there is continuity in terms of my replacement. I’m not going to leave you hanging tomorrow. We can orchestrate a timeline, and at the same time, my ask is, ‘Can we start making concrete what some of these other finance opportunities might be?’“


MURIEL WILKINS: So, when I spell it out like that, how does that land with you, particularly relative to what you’ve done so far?

SOPHIE: This seems indeed possible actually to take this approach. I think where I do see the challenge is, what if there isn’t a finance role for me? There are circumstances. There has been recent restructuring and these kinds of things, and like any big company, there’s a lot of evolution happening right now in structures, and this ambiguity about the future doesn’t help. So what if there isn’t? And I think that’s one of the things that maybe has made me stuck.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. So what if there isn’t?

SOPHIE: If there isn’t, I don’t want to get to that point of separation. But I think that might be one of the things we have to consider, and I think that’s probably the thing that scares me the most.

MURIEL WILKINS: So is separation, meaning leaving the company – that’s what you’re referring to?


MURIEL WILKINS: Leaving the company – is that an option for you at all?

SOPHIE: It’s always an option. It’s always an option. I am also aware that this company is where I have the great and impactful network. This company is really great to me, so it’s this loyalty aspect that I carry, and stepping back, I am a business person. I know in finance I’ve absolutely been on the end of having to do these kinds of activities so I can have the rational understanding around it.

MURIEL WILKINS: There’s this question of, at what point does the loyalty to the company override the loyalty to yourself? And I don’t know what that is. For some people, that’s every single day. For others, it’s at the point of, I need to actually leave and pursue my own role somewhere else. Because right now, your loyalty to yourself and your loyalty to the company have been aligned, or up to this point, they have been for the most part, right?


MURIEL WILKINS: Now, it feels like, “Huh, if I stay true to what I want, it might not necessarily align with what the company can provide.”


MURIEL WILKINS: So, if you were mentoring someone and they came to that scenario, what would you mentor them to do?

SOPHIE: I would mentor them to really listen to themselves because that’s the one thing you really know, is yourself, and then probably the one thing you control is your own actions, reactions to things. I would counsel to do your homework to get really clear on what it is that you want and the why, which is what I’ve been doing. I would counsel them to speak to trusted mentors, but ultimately, it comes back to the person. In the end, only I can decide what is best for me, and it does mean taking risks.

MURIEL WILKINS: What kind of risks?

SOPHIE: For the outcome that I just suggested. That, what if it doesn’t work out? And that means that I have to pivot and the solution is either stay where you’re at or it’s out. Again, I’m still reflecting on your point. It’s there. I have to see how we can make this win some, win some.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah, in a way, you’re… There’s a couple of things there. One is this, you have to think about what you want, and I want to reflect on that a little bit because you either need to change what it is that you want to make it align or you stick to what you think you want, and if it’s not met at the organization, then yeah, you have your answer. Then, you decide, I’ll still stay because I have other reasons to stay, which is fine. There is no right or wrong. You can still stay, but you have to have a reason to. So there’s that part, and then there’s looking at this as one or the other. It’s either I move back to the finance role here, and the only other option if they say no or that there is no finance role is that I might have to look elsewhere. There is probably some things in between. There might be, “Oh, there’s no finance role now, but maybe there will be in the next X period of time, and so I’m going to give it X period of time.”


MURIEL WILKINS: Or maybe it again goes back to what I want, and seeing, is there something that might not be in the situation that I’m in now, but that is also not the finance role that still fulfills my needs of what I want? So that last piece is important because you said, “Hey, a part of this is, I need to kick the tire on what it is that I want.” Let’s take a moment now to pause and digest a bit of where we are so far in the coaching conversation. Sophie is someone who’s been with her company a long time and found what seemed to be her ideal career path in finance. She’s a team player and willing to go above and beyond for a company that she feels has treated her well, but after some time in a strategic role that isn’t really her passion, she’s trying to find ways to get back to finance. While she knows what she wants, she also understands the company view. That if she’s doing a valuable job where she is now, why should they move her back to finance? So far in the conversation, we’ve been circling around these seemingly conflicting agendas, and it’s clear that Sophie sees the options in front of her as mutually exclusive from one another, but we’ve now introduced the idea that maybe she has more choice than she originally thought. Maybe she has more options to consider that she has yet to explore. To help her figure out what those might be, I encouraged her to think more broadly about what she wants in her next role. I ask her to set aside the title of finance and describe what it is that she’s not getting now that she wants.

SOPHIE: The finance role is close to business.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. So you want to be close to the business.

SOPHIE: Yeah, it’s very much about value creation, not from a creative sense. It’s value creation from investing and getting a return on investment, whether you invest time, resources, money to develop an idea to help a business grow, and there’s an aspect to that that’s very real. You are out meeting customers and seeing the impact you have in the market daily.

MURIEL WILKINS: This isn’t a finance role?

SOPHIE: Yes. What makes the finance role, or what makes it, what I would say, in my experience, different from others, is that this is not a finances in the markets’ role. It’s a finance and how the company is able, so you get this view of the company, you see how all the pieces work together, you have this view across all of the functions that is super interesting and fascinating. So it’s, one, I love that perspective, seeing businesses as a whole and then being able to, I call it, zoom in, zoom out. So zoom in, and you see the different parts, and you know how they work together, and you know how to make a company move forward. That is exciting. It’s hard and exciting, and it just seems so much realer than a project.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, let’s just take a step back for a second. Because what I asked you is, help me understand what it is that you want but not in the form of a finance role. What you went back to is, this is what a finance role gives me.


MURIEL WILKINS: So, there’s a level of attachment to “finance role equals happiness” that I would like for you to put aside for a minute. I’m sure it does equal ecstasy for you. It did not, for me, in business school, but I honor and respect the joy you find in the finance world, so I understand that, but, all jokes aside, what I’m getting at is, if you stay attached to, the only way I can get these things – be close to the business, value creation, ability to zoom in and zoom out, be challenged… if you stay attached to, the only way I can get that is through a finance role, it is going to be hard for you to see that in between. What else might be possible beyond the dichotomy of, I’m either in a finance role or I’m in this project? We already asserted, there has to be something else to at least entertain. It doesn’t mean it’s what you have to do, but to at least entertain.

SOPHIE: No, you’re right.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. You’re saying I’m… What am I right about?

SOPHIE: It is not limited to the finance role. What could bring me happiness? I’ve already shown I’m able to go into different areas, commercial execution, actually, whatever you throw at me. Thus far, knock on wood, I meet the challenge, survive, and then thrive. That said, maybe it’s because I can articulate, say, a finance role that transmits that idea or thinking to others, and I don’t have a name for that other side you’re saying of a role where you create value, you’re close to the business, and you’re able to be challenged. Maybe it is something I need to investigate, like, what does business development do? What falls under that title, or what are the real activities there?

MURIEL WILKINS: Look, I’m not suggesting at all that you need to abandon a finance leadership role and returning to that. What we’re doing is trying to articulate what all the different choices and options are in front of you before you really need to face whether this is a decision of loyalty and do I stay with this company or not. So I think the question is, if you are clear about what your wants are and the type of impact that you’d like to have, what are the ways that you possibly could express those within your current organization if finance is not what’s possible right now? And I know that might put additional work in terms of figuring that out, the answer is either going to give you more clarity on whether finance is really it and you don’t want to do anything else but that, or whether there are other options at the company or whether it’s really time to go. It’s like, have you really exhausted the possibilities? And I don’t know.

SOPHIE: I don’t think I have. I think that because I have such a strong relationship with the finance function, I generally like all of the people. I have great mentors and supporters in that organization, friends, that it obviously is shaping my thinking, but I do have to step back and say, “What is it I like about finance?” Some of which I have said here. I know where that… It brings me joy. It’s a natural energy. I’m excited to do it and see, are there other areas where I can add value. Because in the end, what is truly driving me is positive impact. I want to move things forward in a positive way. Wherever I go, I will. I think I can do a greater impact outside of where I am today. If it’s not possible to do in finance, which is my comfort zone and also my network zone, are there other areas? Because I think the limitation I have now that I never had in the past is, I don’t want to move again, and I’ve moved multiple times to follow the roles. The situation here is that now I don’t want to move because I have a really full life that happened because I was on this project as well. Because I was able to get involved in things beyond what I normally had going on professionally or even in a professional sense, I’m able to do other interesting things for the company.

MURIEL WILKINS: So that’s another boundary that you’re creating, right?


MURIEL WILKINS: At the end of the day, I think you need to list out all the things that you want and then realize that there are choices to be made around which is most important for you right now.


MURIEL WILKINS: It doesn’t mean forever, but for now – and that’s your reason for doing whatever it is that you do. Do you push and advocate for the next role? Do you stay in the project role? Do you try to find something that keeps you at the company and keeps you in the US but gets you out of the project?


MURIEL WILKINS: What is bubbling up at the top of the list? It’s like if I said, you’ll relate to this because you said you’ve moved to a lot of different countries, you’ve seen the world. It would be like if I said, “Oh, my top priority is that I live in warm weather. It has to be warm weather, and it has to be someplace that within an hour, an hour and a half, I can be close to water. I can be at water.”


MURIEL WILKINS: Okay, that rules out a bunch of things. Let’s put certain areas out of the equation, but it also includes a lot of things, but then I can’t say, “Oh, and by the way, but I only want to live in this little island in the Caribbean.”


MURIEL WILKINS: I could. That’s your finance version.


MURIEL WILKINS: So, which one is it? Is it that you really just want to live in warm weather and close to water, or is it that you just want to live on that little island?


MURIEL WILKINS: It doesn’t matter. Just pick one and then understand what the consequences are of picking that one, “Oh, Muriel, guess what? That little island actually gets hurricanes a couple of times a year.” Are you good with that? “No, no, I don’t want hurricanes.” Okay, then which one do you want?


MURIEL WILKINS: I’m originally from the Caribbean, so I can say that. I do want my little island, but you get what I’m saying.

SOPHIE: Yes, I do.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, you have to see that there’s a trade-off in all of it, and the question really is, what are the trade-offs that you are willing to make that make you feel at peace with where you are now, like you have won some and that the company has won some as well?

SOPHIE: No, this is great. This is really great. It means I have some more homework to do. But I’ve been thinking in this direction, and you’re helping me see it very clearly of the way forward. That I just need to get clear with myself, and I think that’s part of the loyalty aspect. I also want to make it easy for them, my company. I want to be able to make it so that it’s not complicated. It’s not, she’s getting difficult or I want to keep a really good relationship and show that I’m trying to do this really in a good way for everybody, but that I know that I need to do something.

MURIEL WILKINS: Is there any evidence that you’ve ever made it hard or difficult for the company?

SOPHIE: I don’t think there’s any evidence that I’ve been difficult. I would actually say I’ve got a lot of examples of being the team player and taking one for the team, but I do know that I’ve heard it said of others, and maybe that’s what…

MURIEL WILKINS: But you’re not others.

SOPHIE: I know. Yeah, that’s true.

MURIEL WILKINS: Your track record, and I don’t know. I don’t have the luxury of, right now, talking to a bunch of folks to find out, “Okay, really, tell me, is Sohpie the difficult person?” And she just doesn’t know. She has a low level of self-awareness, but you have been there decades, held leadership roles, and been put in different roles. So my hypothesis, again, I might be wrong, is that your reputation is not of the difficult person, and one ask, one-self advocating is not what’s going to completely turn it around.


MURIEL WILKINS: So, is it really about making it difficult for them, or is it about how this might feel uncomfortable to you?

SOPHIE: I do think I care about making it difficult for them, but I also think the second point is correct. I am not feeling comfortable with that.


SOPHIE: It is something to sit in, so it’s scary.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah, so I think what you lead with is how it’s going to be received, and so it’s not an, “Oh, they don’t feel uncomfortable.” You’re the one who feels uncomfortable. If you lead with discomfort, as though this is scary, as though this is difficult, and this is filled with angst, that’s how it’s going to be received. So what can you do to make it less scary, less uncomfortable, less difficult for you so that, as a result, you can lead this process with them in a similar way? What do you need to do to bring the difficulty level down for yourself?

SOPHIE: I think already articulating that fear with you here today, that’s the first major breakthrough about it because it’s not something I’m discussing… You can discuss easily with others. I have a trusted mentor who maybe has some of this background, but overall, no. So, it’s been a lot in my own head and then connecting and doing reconnaissance of understanding what the marketplace looks like with friends and just to be able to make informed decisions, but just saying it out loud today and being this vulnerable with you is really what the only way out is through. I have to work this out so that I get to that good state, as you say, to be able to meet them in a good headspace so that we really can win some, win some.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah, there’s a bit of, if you believe the opportunity can be worked out, you’re going to go into it with that conviction. My sense is, right now, you’re not sure if there is a win-win, win some, win some. At first you were like, “This is a win-lose.” So, you were going into it that way, but if you have conviction that there is a solution here, that will change the way that you approach it, and I think what it will do will support what we talked about a little bit ago, which is going in with a proposal or with some proposals rather than the ask.

SOPHIE: Yeah, and I think that is very valuable because when you can come with potential solutions, I can address their concern about this project because it’s normal. In the end, the company needs to succeed, and if I can say, “It will succeed with this solution, and I will be there to help make sure that it does succeed.” Then I think they too would be in much more of an area of wanting to help me get there because then I’m helping them not have another challenge. We have enough challenge with just doing business in the markets, so we don’t need internal challenges further complicating things.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah, I think you’re in a situation where you have to go in with the, “Let me help you help me.”


MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. We’ve covered quite a bit. I’d love to hear what your next steps are, because I think that’s what will get you closer to where you want to be.

SOPHIE: In terms of next steps, I think I need to list out what is important to me and make it a pretty exhaustive, like where I live now is important to me, what activities I’m doing are important to me, but get clear on what those activities are. Then prioritize them. Weight them in terms of, what is the absolute non-negotiable, and where could I be flexible? Doing that exercise already for myself would then allow me to shape the way I’m looking at what could be a viable next step. It’s really great that you pointed out my own limited thinking of finance only. I prefer it in finance, but it may be, I need to show some flexibility around it because, it may be, that’s not what’s available at the time that I’m available, so I have to factor that in.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah, so that goes on your list.


MURIEL WILKINS: It goes on your list.

SOPHIE: Once I get clear in my own head so I don’t waste others’ time and I’m really in a position to start talking about what I’m seeing as options or solutions, I think then I could engage because I’ll be in a different place. The energy will be different because I’ll be different. I’ll be ready to take on this challenge and see how we get to solutions. So in a way, it’s turning us into our business challenges that we have. That the challenges is me, my impact, and how I can be better in a way that’s sustainable for the project.

MURIEL WILKINS: Oh my god, I love that because you love a challenge.

SOPHIE: Exactly.

MURIEL WILKINS: So yes. If you treat yourself as though this is a business challenge, just as you do in every other aspect of your professional life, approach it with the same level of conviction, curiosity, tenacity until you’re able to get to a resolution.


MURIEL WILKINS: I know we didn’t come out with an answer of, should you stay or should you go, because I don’t quite think that’s where you are.

SOPHIE: I would agree.

MURIEL WILKINS: I think there’s some steps before you get to that place.

SOPHIE: I would agree. I know what I’d like, but I would say that, like, it needs to be more informed. I really need to go through and get super clear on my priorities, and then see what’s possible.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah, and then see what’s possible. Okay. Terrific. Thank you.

SOPHIE: Thank you so much, Muriel. I got out even more than I thought, and I had really good expectations because I’ve seen the magic you’ve been able to work, and I really feel that-

MURIEL WILKINS: Oh, it’s your magic.

SOPHIE: … I’ve gotten it here, though.

MURIEL WILKINS: You’re the one doing the magic here, for sure. At the start of this coaching conversation, there was a bit of a ping pong match happening within Sophie between what she wanted for her career and what she thinks senior leadership wanted from her, and the fear of what might happen if she advocated for herself, the risk of having to face the possibility that there is no intersection between what she wants and what the company wants. This can be an incredibly difficult inflection point for someone, especially if they, like Sophie, have loyalty to their organization, which is why it’s always important, at every step of one’s career, to find that sweet spot where what you and your company values align enough. It doesn’t need to be 100% – just enough that it makes sense to keep the interdependent relationship going. When it doesn’t align, many people think it automatically means they should just resign themselves to that or should just leave. The reality is, with some due diligence, they may see that other options are available to them, just as Sophie has. Only then is it possible to advocate for your interests productively by proposing solutions that are amenable to both you and your senior leadership, rather than just asking and hoping for the best. That’s it for this episode of Coaching Real Leaders. Next time.

EPISODE 2 GUEST: It’s like, Okay, yeah, I know I can move the needle, I can chalk up some wins, I can help people grow, I can get some things done, but at the end of the day, at the end of the month, at the end of the quarter, and at the end of the year, there’s got to be something left.

MURIEL WILKINS: I have a really important ask of you. If you love the coaching conversations on Coaching Real Leaders, it would mean the world to me if you could head over to Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to, subscribe to the show, and leave a five-star review. Of course, if you think others would learn from these episodes, please share it with them. If you want more of Coaching Real Leaders, join my community, where I host live discussions to unpack every episode and answer your questions. Become a member at You can also connect with me on LinkedIn at Muriel Wilkins. Thanks to my producer Mary Dooe, sound editor Nick Crnko, music composer Brian Campbell, my assistant Emily Sofa, and the entire team at HBR. Much gratitude to the leaders who join me in these coaching conversations and to you, our listeners, who share in their journeys. If you are dealing with a leadership challenge, I’d love to hear from you and possibly have you on the show. Apply at From HBR Podcast Network, I’m Muriel Wilkins. Until next time, be well.


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