6 Successful Leaders Describe Their Biggest Career Setbacks
Managing a winning career in today's turbulent and uncertain economy depends on your ability to hit the curveballs that'll inevitably come your way, says Peter Guber, co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, in a recent LinkedIn post.
It's about not knowing when, where, or how the ball will drop - "but anticipating the unexpected and then being nimble and agile enough to adapt to whatever is thrown at you before you strike out," he writes.
Guber's post was part of LinkedIn's most recent "Influencers" editorial package, for which the social networking site asked the top minds across fields to write original posts on the topic of "Career Curveballs."
More than 60 thought leaders shared the most surprising career twists they've had thrown at them, and discussed how they turned those setbacks into wins.
Here's what six super successful leaders had to say:
Richard Branson's business partners called him "mad" when he proposed the idea of launching an airline, but he convinced them that it was necessary to stay competitive.
The Virgin Group founder's business partners thought he was absolutely crazy when he first proposed the idea of starting an airline. They were running a music company - so aviation was completely alien to them.
"While I was no expert, I could see how having an airline would expand the brand, create jobs, and provide new adventure and opportunities. Nevertheless, when I told my partner Simon 'I've got a proposal here,' it should have been no surprise when he called me 'mad.'"
But Branson says he knew that in order to be a real entrepreneur, he had to always be looking forward. "The moment you rest on your laurels is the moment your competition overtakes you."
So he convinced his partners to get on board. "If we hadn't embraced change, we would have become stagnant - and you probably wouldn't be reading this article," he writes.
Sallie Krawcheck was publicly disavowed by her mentor when she started a new job - but this eventually drove her to take the business in a new, more profitable direction.
In 1999, Krawcheck, the business leader of 85 Broads and a former top executive on Wall Street, accepted the position of of Director of Research at Sanford Bernstein after her longtime mentor turned it down. "And so he quickly quit and went to work at a competitor. And not quietly either," she explains. "It was a public nightmare vote of no-confidence."
At the time, this was a huge setback for Krawcheck - but she later realized the benefits of starting the race so far behind the starting line. "There was a freedom in being forced to stand on my own two feet, even if it involved getting knocked off of them first."
The unexpected curveball of her mentor publically rejecting her eventually led Krawcheck to take the business in a new - and more profitable - direction.
Deepak Chopra thought his career was over after he got into an argument with his medical fellowship adviser. Instead, it led him to something he found far more fascinating.
Chopra, the popular author and founder of The Chopra Foundation, was a research fellow in Boston in the 1970s when, in a fit of rage after being put on the spot during a staff meeting, he literally dumped a box of files on his supervisor's head - subsequently ending his promising career in endocrinology.
"The word would go out [about what I did], and with his disapproval I had no future in endocrinology," he writes.
But Chopra's career wasn't over. His adviser was "so arrogant that he had antagonized a lot of people, one of whom took delight in hiring me if it snubbed my adviser," he explains. "That part was luck, you might say. Or was I following a hidden path that was working its way forward, apparently at random but actually with complete knowledge of where I needed to go?"
Chopra eventually found himself immersed in a fascination "much deeper than my original one for endocrinology - a fascination with the mind-body connection."
Naomi Simson built up the courage to demand the recognition she deserved, but when her request was denied, she knew she had to move on.
In the early 1990s, Simson, the founder of RedBalloon and a former Apple manager, was working in the aviation industry. She was asked to join the launch team on the first points-based frequency program to ever exist in Australia.
"Month after month I toiled endless hours to get the program launched," Simson writes. "My immediate colleagues saw my contribution. But my superiors had no idea of the work involved in getting the launch right whilst keeping the marketing effort for my original role in full flight."
So, after many months waiting to be acknowledged, she finally built up the courage to go speak with her general manager. During that meeting she explained that her workload had doubled, and asked if and when her salary review would take place. The big boss scolded her, asking: "Who do you think you are to come into my office and ask for a pay raise? How do I know what value you add to this business?"
Simson's direct manager eventually negotiated her salary and offered a $5 per week pay rise. "This was as insulting as the lack of recognition for my work. The general manager received my resignation the next day. Door closed!" she says. "Within weeks I joined Apple as a marketing manager. Door opened. And the rest, as they say, is history."
T. Boone Pickens' diagnosis of depression at age 68 allowed him to clear his mind and get focused.
The BP Capital chairman says he once read that four of the main triggers of depression are losing your job, moving out of your home, divorce, and the death of a family member or close friend. "In 1996, I was four for four," he writes. "I had spent most of my life winning. Now I was taking some hard hits."
Consequently, Pickens was diagnosed with depression at age 68 - but with proper medical treatment, he managed to bounce back. "I felt better, exercised more, and was soon back to being Boone again. I began emerging from a really dark decade."
When he learned to put the past behind him, he says his mind cleared and his focus returned. "Things began to make sense. It wasn't the world against Boone. It was Boone against Boone."
Suze Orman found that people weren't as kind or supportive as she'd imagined they would be. But learning to be self-reliant helped her to succeed.
The television host, author, and financial advisor says she once assumed that kindness, support, and belief were attributes she would encounter throughout her professional life. So, she was taken aback when she more often experienced vitriol and apathy.
"I realized that if I wanted more out of my career, I would need to be as self-reliant as possible," Orman writes. "Have there been people along the way who have helped? Oh god yes! But they are not the norm. Understanding that dynamic helped me push my career forward."