Simon Sinek is my current favorite leadership teacher. He takes leadership and human motivation and puts them in incredibly simple terms. Most can really identify with his style. He states out loud what I have been thinking for years but could never articulate the message the way he does. In the spirit of leadership, I have begun to compile a list of skills that we all will eventually master at various levels. These are the basics of my career management that I picked up along the way. They are in no particular order or priority.
Doing Things Right, Doing the Right Things and standing by the results without excuses or finding fault. You own up to the behavior and the outcome. It’s about character, setting and maintaining a high standard while meeting expectations and adhering to core values and work ethics. Larry Winget covers this topic on so many fronts with humor and sharp edges. His messages are so engaging and thought provoking and much more effective than the additional 500 words of this part of the blog. Field Sales, for me, became the proving ground for being accountable for my actions and my results. With a field job, accountability begins the evening before, when you plan your week and the next day. Once we have our goals, objectives and sales tools, we’re out on our own with very little direction and oversight. Sleep late, start your workday after checking the headlines, stock prices and social media, not even close if one wants to hit your sales targets, add value to your customers, and revenue for your company. Results is what we were hired to deliver, early, often and with forecast precision. Being accountable means I never have to waste my time coming up with excuses. If I fall short, I gather the facts, tap the resources, look for solutions and execute again.
2. Creating Relationships Before Networking
I have just over 300 connections listed on my Linkedin profile, far less than the 500+ connections that I see for many people. LinkedIn is not a popularity contest for me. I only connect with people whom I have met personally and developed some level of a bond with. One of the primary elements that I try and maintain is that these are the people that I can reach out to share something or ask for some help, and vice versa. We can lean on each other during some icy patches of our careers and pick up the phone to have a supporting conversation. You see, you really find out very quickly who your friends are and the robustness of your supporting network when you are in trouble. That’s a cold hard fact. To me, LinkedIn and networking is all about relationships during snapshots of our life. Sure, people ebb and flow into and out of our frame of vision, but the connection that we made, however long ago, is still there. The conditions and positions that formed the foundation of the bond you’ve established with them are set in stone.
When I get a new connection request, I ask myself how I can help this person. What value can we offer each other? I don’t feel guilty at all if I ignore the request because I can decide to follow them rather than connecting. I follow quite a few people.
3. Offering Solutions
It’s not complaining if you offer solutions to problems. When I first got into sales, I had the good fortune of traveling to the company headquarters for many a routine training sessions. I was also fortunate enough to have access to C-level managers. I recall getting coffee one morning and running into the President, who asked me how things were going. I began by complaining about something that was consuming my time with little progress or assistance from the manufacturing department in Europe. He let me finish my story, and after a very long pause, he provided me a valuable lesson that I apply every day to this very day. He said, that he didn’t mind hearing about my challenges, and in the future, I should be prepared with three possible solutions that can be discussed to come up with a strategy. He then walked away. I had an “Aha” moment and an “Oh Shit, I just screwed up feeling” at the same time.
The next day, I went to the President’s office and knocked on his open door. His smile was a mile wide when I asked him for a couple of minutes of his time. I thanked him for feedback the day before, and told him how valuable it was for me, and how I can apply it to many situations. He asked me what I came up with to solve my problem yesterday. I mentioned that I came up with a couple of ideas and will run it past my manager within the hour. He said that is what he expected. He thanked me for coming by his office first thing this morning and making an adjustment to my problem-solving skills very quickly.
I found out a couple of years later that my follow up to this “life lesson” was actually a defining moment in my career track that would open up new opportunities along the way. I moved to the inside circle and never knew it because they don’t tell you these things. You have to have your antennae up and read the signals. In hindsight, his mile wide smile was his acknowledgement that I recognized and demonstrated to him that I can respond quickly and professionally to executive direction and feedback. I am forever grateful for this advice. I pass it along at the appropriate time, place and person.
4. Take Risks That You Can Afford
My generation grew up taking risks that we never thought of as risks. We rode in cars without seat belts, with metal dashboards, and skinny bias ply tires. We also played on rusty, sharp edged playground “equipment” bolted to asphalt. We played in the streets all day and never wore sunscreen. We grew up anyway. Looking back, some of it was risky, but that was our society and our environment. We were not risk adverse back then and seemed to be more accountable for our own actions.
As our responsibilities to others increased, our level of risk become more thoughtful, more calculated. Our stakes increased and loss aversion began to erode our sense of adventure. Is it really worth the risk for the upside and growth if you can bear the cost of falling short? Growth requires a temporary surrender of security. Changing jobs is a risk. So is staying at a job that brings you despair and unhappiness. Evaluating your choices and making good decisions based on the information at hand will help you decide on risks that you can afford. Again: research, evaluate, decide and execute. I’ve been selectivity investing into a couple of individual stocks that are lagging in the market. For me, they are on sale and the risk is that they will follow the market down when the correction comes. It’s a calculated risk that is offset by the dividends they pay out as well as the fact that it’s in a business area that I know is robust for the long haul. Evaluating the risk and the potential upside, at times, puts me into one of my fall back habits- analysis to paralysis. Deciding and executing a trade by spreading the risk over a few stocks. The money is invested and I move on and monitor it every quarter.
“Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one’s better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on his ideas, to take a calculated risk, and to act.” –Maxwell Maltz
5. Embrace Change
I’ve covered this topic a bunch of times in this blog and it’s worth repeating. If you don’t recognize the opportunity to change and embrace it using your skills, experience and resources, you’re destined to become a dinosaur. Once you embrace change, you merely have to make adjustments to your response and make some decisions with forward thinking and direction.
6. Everything You Say Has An Impact On Someone.
Not only that, it’s how you deliver the message. People can be overly sensitive. If you watch the Larry Winget video I referenced earlier, he covers a few good examples. A small nugget of wisdom or word of encouragement can have a huge impact that will have a lasting effect.
I came across this quote about nine years ago and I completely identified with the entire message:
Give advice that matters in one sentence.
“I got run out of a job I liked once, and while it was happening, a guy stopped me in the hall. Smart guy, but prone to saying too much. I braced myself. I didn’t want to hear it. I needed a white knight, and I knew it wasn’t him. He just sighed and said:
When nobody has your back, you gotta move your back.
Then he walked away. Best advice I ever got. One sentence.” Tom Chiarella I had complete empathy for the receiver of that advice. It had impact, meaning and the timing of this quote was ideal.
Here’s an exercise to help you become more thoughtful about what you say at critical times:
1. Does this need be said?
2. Does this need to be said by me?
3. Does this need to be said by me now?
7. Lead People, Manage Things
Peter Drucker is known as the founder of Modern Management. He coined the term “knowledge worker” well before Bill Gates put a computer on everyone’s desk. Leadership is art of creating vision and influencing people to help them see a vision in the horizon and set a course to achieve something larger than themselves. Titles, job functions, org charts, deadlines, sales targets and budgets are things that are managed, changed and easily manipulated and configured. These things all of one thing in common, they are metrics and tools used by people as guide of progress. Focus on people, behavior and their response and the things fall naturally into place.
8. Know Your Numbers
You don’t need to be a financial expert to manage your money well. Managing personal finances is a lifelong process. As I wrote in previous posts, focus your effort on how and where you spend your money. Track every dollar that leaves your possession for a month and you will see what you value and what you don’t. There plenty of tools and experience found in the archives of this blog as well as other blogger sites that cover this topic in a manner that will resonate with you and your personal situation. These skills becomes easier and more automated with normal use. I’ve actively engaged in this skill for nineteen years and the empowerment, fiscal strength and freedom it provides is just as powerful as the concept of compound interest.
“The only way to progress financially is to make a plan based on our unique circumstances and stick with it over time. ….Comparing ourselves to others leads to foolish choices.” Brent Esplin
9. Pay It Forward
When you’ve mastered a skill or a technique and you find yourself doing well and enjoying the fruits of your efforts, it would be a good time to discover how you can help others along. To reinforce your newly developed skills, pass your experience along. To learn it is to teach it. One of the purposes of this website is to pay it forward, while helping remember all things I picked up along the way from coaches and mentors. The quality and value of one’s experience grows exponentially when it resonates with another person. Sharing experiences is what relationships are all about.
10. Manage The Quality Of Your Life
This is really a corollary to Accountability and is worth repeating. When it comes to your life and choosing your response to whatever comes your way, the buck stops with you. It’s not your parents fault, your boss’ fault, and it’s definitely not the government’s fault. You are the architect, the contractor and the craftsman of your decisions and choices. The choices you make define the quality of your life. It’s up to you how you want craft it and decide the results you want.
Thanks for reading. Comments and stories are appreciated.