What's on our mind

Leave Your Old Job at Your Old Job

By Jay Fehnel for Johan Advisors

As a leader, your prior work and educational experience are almost always what got you hired.

Once you start a new gig, though, your prior work and educational experience are almost always the last thing your co-workers want to hear about.

How can you tell?

Just start noticing the facial reactions and body language of others when you find yourself saying anything close to these four words:  “When I was at …”.

Even if your colleagues value your knowledge and experience, repeated references to your past can turn it from something of genuine interest to something that others find annoying or worse.

Here’s how being heavy-handed with your past achievements (or failures, too) can get in the way of collaborative relationships:

  • By focusing on the past, you’re likely ignoring some important realities about thissituation, at this company, in this marketplace.

  • By focusing on yourself and your story, you may be ignoring or belittling the experiences of others.

  • By glorifying your past experiences, you may be perceived as arrogant -- and may be suppressing contributions from less-extroverted, less-confident members of the team.

  • By repeating your experiences, you may be seen as more interested in reliving past glories than helping your current team succeed.

If you can ever justify bringing your hard-won experience into a present-day discussion, here are some ways to make sure you’re adding value when you do:

  • Don’t lead with your story. Take the time to understand what’s going on here, today.  Ask questions. Discover the real issue now before assuming your wisdom applies.

  • Encourage others to share their viewpoints. Be a leader who ensures that your most-knowledgeable teammates have the space and encouragement to share their opinions and experiences.

  • Ask for permission. Rather than assuming your experience has value, check for confirmation. For example, you could say something like: “This sounds like an issue of how to discount without impacting perceived quality.  Am I reading that right?” -- and then ask if an experience from your past is worth discussing.

  • Don’t name drop. Ever. Focus on the concepts you dealt with and the lessons learned. Be concise and clearly relate your story to today’s concerns. The names of products, clients and customers from the past can get real old, real quick, when repeatedly forced on a captive audience.

If your colleagues value your experience and want to hear more, don’t worry, they’ll tell you. They’ll brag about you when making introductions. They’ll ask you about your past at lunch. They’ll seek you out when facing a big decision.

If your co-workers are tired of hearing about it, you can see the signs, too -- if you want to. Notice when others start to look away (to roll their eyes) and notice the dead silence after your monologues.

Your teammates want to be part of your next great success story, not an audience for your glory days of the past.


If you’ve seen how a focus on past achievements can have negative impacts on team effectiveness, please share this article, so others can be more aware and reflect on their own approach. Thanks.

(Jay Fehnel is an executive coach and strategy advisor for C-suite leaders, senior management teams and their high-potential successors. He helps executives define and achieve their professional and personal growth goals. Jay is principal and owner of Johan Advisors.)

Jay Fehnel