You Can’t Go Home Again, Brian Williams

A few years ago I received a call asking if I could offer advice to a local news anchor who had just been ‘right sized’ out of his morning slot. He had planned a vacation, but someone had given him the advice to cancel the vacation and immediately begin the job search. I suggested he take the vacation. I have no idea if he took my advice, but a few months later he was once again in the anchor seat for another network.

Losing a job, especially when you are at the top of your career game is a major life event. You need time to step away, reflect on the experience and refocus on what you truly want to do next.

For some it’s an interruption in a routine that serves as a ‘career cleanse’, restoring a sense of self, apart from the former career identity.

This past week we have all watched the career implosion of the leading American network news anchor, Brian Williams. He has been suspended from his role as the face of NBC News for six months.

I suggest Mr. Williams should take the six months, reflect and ask ‘Why would I go back?’

On the positive, there is a substantial salary and a celebrity lifestyle. On the other side of the ledger, he has to objectively evaluate the reality of the workplace at NBC.

The culture of NBC News is still significantly influenced by the former news anchor, Tom Brokaw.  Yesterday Ken Auletta, reported in The New Yorker magazine, “Tom Brokaw played a key role in NBC’s decision last night to suspend the news anchor Brian Williams, according to two people involved.” Later in the article he indicates that Mr. Brokaw had concerns about his replacement at the time of the transition. He thought “Williams was a skilled broadcaster but that he was inclined toward self-aggrandizement.” And from his standpoint, “Williams wondered: If his predecessor had retired, why was Brokaw still in the studio, opining on election nights and introducing specials on “the greatest generation”?”

Here is the lesson for us all. At some point the workplace where we thrived is no longer the best place for us to continue our career. Sometimes we make the decision to leave, sometimes that decision is made for us.

Often the benefits of our position cloud our perception of the workplace reality and we become immune to the changing culture around us. We miss the signals and in doing so, abdicate ownership of our career.

In the reporting of this story over the past week, many younger journalists credit Mr. Williams with mentoring them toward success. In many ways this is a sad story, but it’s also one that gives Mr. Williams a new platform to demonstrate how to take ownership of a career and not look back.




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