When to Step Up, When to Step Aside and When to Step Down

One of the marks of leadership is how flexible you are in working with people to effectively get a job done as an employee, coworker or supervisor. For me, that flexibility means knowing when to step up, when to step aside and when to step down on the job for the benefit of the corporate endeavor.

As a hiring manager, I want to know that you, as a job seeker, have the self-confidence, self-knowledge and social intelligence to first think about the general good of your group or project instead of your own particular self-interest.

That’s not especially easy to pull off, especially in today’s American society, which rewards individual initiative and discounts company loyalty as a career building attribute. First thinking of the general good was also once a mark of statesmanship, but the global stage is now populated with political figures who don’t know how to step up, step aside or even step down.

This issue of serving the greater good through temporarily suspending your self-interest gets even more complicated when you have a disability. When is it constructive for an employee with a disability to step up, step aside or step down? How do you decide when your disability is limiting your flexibility to serve the greater good?

When are you being too passive and feeding into stereotypes your supervisor or coworkers may have about people with disabilities? When does such a move reward instead of discount you as an individual? When does it show you as a strong leader instead of a weak link?

Let’s address these questions by citing concrete situations. Here are some personal stories I would be prepared to tell during job interviews to illustrate my self-confidence, self-knowledge, social intelligence and dedication -- key attributes hiring managers seek in today’s job candidates.

Stepping Up: Volunteer Pay Cut to Address a Financial Crisis

At one point in my career, I volunteered to take a 60 percent in my salary to save my job at a non-profit. It was the right thing to do at the time because funding was not forthcoming and I was one of the highest paid members of the small full-time staff.

Looking back, it turned out to be good decision. The non-profit survived five more years, and I ended up working full-time as its employee for another year and then as an independent contractor for the agency during another four years.

In that instance, I had the financial resources to take the pay cut. I gained credibility among coworkers and board members by stepping up to help the non-profit deal with its financial crisis and achieve some of its immediate key objectives.

Stepping Aside: Grant Exceptional Authority to Staff Members

About 15 years into my career, I made the transition from “doer” to managing my team of staff members who carried out the “doer” work. I learned how to develop job descriptions, conduct evaluations and delegate authority to individuals on my team based on their unique capabilities.

As a person with cerebral palsy, I talk and walk with difficulty. So, during a 24-year span, I had an opportunity to refine my team of “doers” and attracted some of the most accomplished individuals in corporate communications (about 36 professionals in all) by offering them the opportunity to gain recognition of their efforts (tasks I could not do as well) while I stayed in the background as a people manager.

Stepping Down: Develop A New Career in a New Field

Reporting to our CEO as vice president for corporate communication, I could finally see the end game of more than 20 years of mergers within the Midwest dairy industry: a consolidation of three large dairy processors (including our own).

Our CEO was spear-heading this final round of restructuring across five states, and I knew he had a problem. He needed slots in his top-management team for the CEOs of the other two organizations, and corporate communications (administered by someone who could not speak very well due to cerebral palsy) and human resources (a recently developed function) were the most obvious slots.

He warned me it would be a rough two years and offered me the opportunity to create any job for myself within the upper management structure at a generous compensation package, if I would step aside and let one my trusted staff members take over temporarily as vice president during the transition period.

I tried to introduce an organizational development function within the company but decided to retire after a year to start my own business because I realized my services were more needed elsewhere --- in the field of disability employment. And, an additional year later, the expected consolidation fell into place, and corporate communication merged with human resources under one vice president.

It was a good 29-year ride within one organization, but, with my disability, I realized I could not compete for a key position that was targeted by so many other heavy hitters. Instead, I stepped down and over another two decades of work reinvented myself into a disability employment expert.

As a jobseeker, you may have similar stories which could come in handy during job interviews when you need to prove your maturity, trustworthiness, dedication -- and your lack of self-centeredness -- to your prospective supervisor.

That supervisor is probably asking in the back of his or her mind:

  • Are you realistic about the limitations your disability may have in the job at hand?
  • Areyou willing to not only try your best to contribute to the corporate good but also accommodate to the realities of the job?
  • Are you going to require more of my time and effort than usual in helping you adjust to the changing realities of the job?

Tell brief stories about your previous experiences which address those concerns. Remember, your stories can stem from not only previous work experience but also volunteer positions you’ve held as well as your interactions with caregivers and experiences in school.

Copyright © 2014. Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Jim Hasse (www.jimhasse.com), Global Career Development Facilitator, has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both jobseekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com/), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. He’s the founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, a comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy, and owner of Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC, which develops win-win direct mail fundraisers for champions of disability employment.