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The Chicken or the Egg?

By Nan S. Russell
Posted Friday, February 25, 2005

Even before I checked my calendar on Monday morning, I knew the appointment would be there. Passed over for promotion again, Ralph wanted specifics on why I hadn't chosen him for the position. This was not a new conversation. I thought of Ralph as my chicken and egg dilemma. Ralph was the chicken. He believed he would make a great Team Leader, and when I promoted him, he would step up and show me how well he could lead. My position was that of egg. Prove to me you have leadership skills by demonstrating leadership in the job you have now, and I'll consider giving you the next position.

Here's the question: is it better to do the work, knowing you will ultimately be rewarded for having done it, or should you wait until the reward is there before you do the work? Like the proverbial question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, people differ widely on the answer and run their careers accordingly.

Here's the way I see it - one has more to lose by taking the position of the chicken and waiting for someone else to anoint them, than by being the egg and anointing oneself. If I had waited to be a leader until someone offered me a leadership position, I might still be wishing and hoping for someone to notice me. When I wanted to be a manager, I did the work of a manager by taking on more and more responsibilities. And, I got promoted. When I wanted to be a director, I did the work of a director, without questioning compensation or title. After proving myself, I got the job, the title and the compensation. Same with being a vice-president. Doing the job first, gave me the job.

It's the same now that I'm out of the corporate arena. Take my dream of being a writer. Changing careers after twenty-something years in management, I could have waited to write a column until I secured a writing contract for one. But, why would someone pay me to write without reading my words and knowing I can. Chicken and egg again.

What works for me has been consistent. When I do the work first, the rewards follow. I think of it like exercising. Doing it gives me better results than thinking about it. No one likes to be called a chicken, so ... be the egg.

(c) 2004 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Sign up to receive Nan's free biweekly eColumn at ( Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, small business owner, and on-line instructor. Contact Nan at


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