Pulling a “LeBron”: How to Know if it’s Time to Return to a Former Employer

lbj-cavDespite the validation of two championships and an “innovative coach who highlighted him with his system,” LeBron James recently concluded that it was time to “come home” to Cleveland. LeBron’s decision to return to Cleveland was spurred by an internal, sentimental contemplation that is not often seen in big-money decisions in pro sports. As the recent Sports Illustrated article puts it, “…despite all his success, he means more where he was than where he is.” LeBron’s decision to return to Cleveland may be a choice rooted in the world of sports – but the decision is a professional one nonetheless, and serves as a reminder that it is possible, and not uncommon, to return to a former employer. Knowing when to make that choice takes a great deal of consideration, thought, and it is wise to consider the following elements:

Weigh your priorities – not the priorities of others.

For many, career path decisions will continue to become more and more rooted in personal factors. For LeBron, the decision to return to Cleveland was largely personal. For those considering returning to a former employer, it is not unprofessional nor is it unwise to pay attention to your inner negotiator. Often, making the sentimental or “gut” choice can yield positive results; following your intuition typically aligns with your passion, and when following a job for passion, you are likely to excel.

Go where you can make an impact.

LeBron is returning to Cleveland to work for a coach who “has been in the NBA for less than a month and a roster that has just one player of significance older than 23.” For many, deciding to work somewhere with less notoriety and historical success can be a daunting one; for LeBron, it proved to be a unique opportunity. Moreover, Cleveland hasn’t seen a title in major sports since 1964, and the city itself has gone through economic turmoil for years. For many, this would be enough to choose not to return to an area or job; for Lebron, however, this indicated a call to something bigger. His presence on the team and in the city at large may prove to drive economic growth and, perhaps more important initially, a new type of morale for the entire community. For those considering returning to an old employer, it is wise to consider your impact. Perhaps it extends beyond the job and into the community, and it may be that the most rewarding work you can do is somewhere where you know you are needed.

Timing is everything.

Analyze your initial decision to leave the job you are considering returning to; it was likely a decision made in part by the allure of learning and experience elsewhere. Like LeBron, who accumulated experience – and success – you may be able to return to an environment that you already understand and apply what you have learned elsewhere. Taking your leadership and newfound skills back to a former employer can prove to be a unique way to make real impact. Consider returning to a former employer when you’ve amassed new skills and knowledge, and be prepared to share your added experience in a way that a brand new employee could not.

Although it isn’t discussed often, it isn’t unheard of to return to a former employer. After all, it’s likely that you’ve formed deep professional relationships there previously. Re-engaging a former network in this way could become a great option when you’d least expect, so when leaving any job, keep in mind that it may be a temporary leave – and continue to foster those relationships even after starting a new path.


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