For everything else that doesn’t readily fit into a post, I’ll capture here in what will likely end up being a running tote board of wisdom, which you will find more potent than ‘tips’. These rapid-fire nuggets of advice are the result of my good fortune to have worked with countless impressive people while being also the type to gather and digest insane amounts of environmental data. Many of these you have heard before, so I’ll repeat them because they still apply. I will be satisfied if you scanned to find even one that becomes meaningful to you.
These are in no order of importance.
…ON THE JOB:
Don’t join a company because of one or two people.
They may not stay. Look for other factors that are systemic to the entire organization to ensure more lasting interest in an opportunity.
It’s not about you.
Your credentials to date will help you get the job you want and yes the company will take steps to woo you and sign you. But, once you are in the door, the slate is clean. Until you overdeliver on your objectives, think little about what you are owed or what the company should be doing for you. Remember that when networking and interviewing especially. Be all about helping the company get to the next level. Sports fan? The big contract comes AFTER you lead the team in scoring, not before. Until you gain leverage, be generous and humble. Wait…actually, stay that way. Those are appealing qualities.
Ask questions before you make statements.
You may think you’ve assessed a person or situation properly as you prepare to take action, but you probably haven’t. Take time to ask a question, clarify, understand…before you say what you have to say in crucial situations.
Every great idea has the right time and place.
This one is very much my own and has been relevant to my work life way too many times before I dialed in. In the process, I exhausted myself with frustration over my inability to get management on board with my brand strategy or marketing idea. You (like me…ha) just may be a genius who’s ahead of your time but those around you just aren’t ready. So while I recommend championing your ideas or the ideas of others with conviction, don’t think of it as your only and last chance. Own it, commit to it and make it happen when the time is right. If it’s the right thing to do, it WILL happen and you’ll be shocked at how instantly the right time can appear.
Not because you expect something in return. Just cuz. Having said that, the benefits can come out of nowhere. I got a call last year from a guy who worked in purchasing at J&J while I was there in marketing. Good guy. Never worked closely with him, but our paths would regularly cross. Hadn’t talked to him in almost ten years. Turns out he’s now VP of Purchasing for a company in Philadelphia. He looked me up on LinkedIn out of the blue and told me he remembered me being smart, passionate and a great leader. His company was looking for a CMO and would I be interested in discussing or at least flying down at their expense to speak to their company about marketing. I was, like “What? You talkin’ to ME??” Seriously. I was blown away. Point is, as we live this benign little existence and pass people in company hallways or on the street, we’re making an impression. Those impressions can become powerful, and sometimes later on, life altering.
Establish your brand…and defend it.
The more common vernacular is ‘own and manage others’ perception of you’.
I bring this up throughout this blog but it’s worth repeating here. Simply put, what do you want people to think when they hear your name? And, more importantly, what do you do to consistently live and build your brand? If you can’t answer that well, this may be a clue about why your career isn’t on the right trajectory. Spend time marketing yourself. I don’t mean shameless self-promotion; I mean refining and delivering on a product that your company wants.
Make your boss look good.
Unless you are very, very sure your boss is on the outs. Doesn’t help attaching yourself to a sinking ship. Otherwise the point here is to partner with your manager, give them what they need and seize opportunities to help make them better, if they are sure enough in themselves to learn from you.
Don’t be high maintenance.
Flows from above. This is where judgment comes in. If you are relentlessly pushing against the grain, questioning decisions, asking the team to backtrack, asserting your own ideas and expecting others to work around you, you will be thought of as a pain in the ass and you’ll go nowhere. Catch yourself saying “Gosh I wish sometimes people would just do what I tell them and shut up about it” and you’ll see from your own experience how you don’t want to be that guy. Learn when to go with the flow.
Cash your chips in carefully.
There are very select times when you should negotiate hard for your career, call in favors or jump ship for something better. Don’t make these decisions casually as there is often a little wreckage that could haunt you. At J&J, I was moved during a restructure to the market research department, which was being relabeled Business Strategy and Insights, the strategic epicenter of the marketing department. While this was in some ways a compliment, I knew that the core of the job was research, a discipline that I felt would take years to master. After less than six months I cashed in chips, using an internal contact to negotiate me out of the department and into New Product Development. It worked, but my BSI boss had it in for me ever since. I had to live with that.
Lack of clarity is an opportunity.
Don’t be afraid of it. No clear cut answer or path means you can create what you want. Be the person who embraces that.
Conflict is awesome.
If you manage it right. I have always said that conflict is an agent of progress and enlightenment. It only works through how you resolve it. I can without hesitation get into a heated scrap with someone when there’s an impasse. On the other side of it, I open up, get real about where I’m coming from and assure the other party I care about their outcome. I usually end up with a better relationship than I had going in. In customer service roles it’s understood that your most loyal customers end up being those whose bad relationships you have patched up. Saw that all the time when I worked in branch banking.
Decide what “exceeds” looks like.
Have the orientation to outperform expectations. If you don’t know what that looks like, partner with your manager to figure it out.
The more quickly you move up, the more quickly you move out.
There are only so many job levels in business. Gun for promotions when you’re truly ready. The more quickly you progress, the more likely you’ll end up over your head. And, the less patience the exec team will have to wait for you to perform. You’ll be tossed. There are so many unemployed VPs out there, it would blow your mind. Be patient. (Yeah I sound old, but…it’s true.)
Build your career around your passion.
Follows in part from what I just said. Build your skill sets and spend time doing what interests you. Success will come naturally. That’s where you focus…not so much on money and title.
This statement is so important and so incredibly valid. Tough part is it’s tough to know what you’re passionate about when you’re 17. Or 25. Or 30. Or….
So keep thinking about it.
…AND THEN MY SELECT FAVORITES ON NOT ONLY WORK, BUT LIFE:
Everything that happens to happens because of you.
Take responsibility for all of your life’s events, good and bad. No one else caused it. You’ll find that the more you own your screw ups, the more you’ll be proud of your accomplishments. Here’s a great example from a friend of mine that I have never forgotten. My friend, (let’s call her) Michelle, was lied to by someone close to her, Jake. Michelle’s reaction to Jake (paraphrasing): “I feel horrible that I’m not the kind of person you can trust with the truth. How have I related to you that makes you feel you need to lie?” Yeah, maybe it sounds a bit passive aggressive but it’s truly how Michelle thinks. SHE made this happen so she looked inside herself for the solution. Talk about upending your perspective. Crazy stuff. The situation ended up resolving itself and to my knowledge Jake has been more open since then. In work and in life, it’s all you….even when you are utterly convinced it’s someone else.
It’s the most powerful tool to influence, gain trust and become a leader. Get real good at it. Learn now to do it actively.
Find a way to be proactive.
Invest in your health, future and relationships. Sadly, it’s completely against human nature to think ahead so I don’t know what the trick is. Otherwise I’d share it. It’s hard to be jazzed about the ROI on the energy you spend today in 30 years. I get it. They say that for too many people the last 15 years of their life is not very pleasant. Be passionate about that not being you.
If you feel like you’ve given more than you’ve received, give some more.
It feels sometimes that the world is full of people who feel they are owed something. In many cultures or religions the people who cry ‘victim’ are seen to be the ones who have given the least. If you can get your mind to go there, train yourself to expect little from others and do what you do just cuz. Shredding the scorecard is immensely liberating and a sure way to eliminate wasted energy on anger.
A wise saying suggests that you don’t stop dreaming because you age, but rather you age because you stop dreaming. While I’m not advocating that you wear yourself out, I do think that life can be fulfilling for you if you never stop:
- Giving, and giving more than is asked of you
- Being curious
- Identifying and nurturing your passions
- Challenging your limitations
- Learning and building your skill sets
- Contributing and hopefully achieving
- Having faith in others
- Believing things can work out
- Believing in yourself
I can pick out the people who have stopped. It’s disheartening to watch.
Companies can include it on balance sheets because, even to the most rigid, it’s seen as an asset. Same goes for you. Create it on the regular. Just cuz…although you can cash in on it, down the road, in some spectacular ways.