Monthly Archives: February 2012

5 Books That REALLY Changed My Career

Here She Goes Again

I suggest books all the time to my friends and clients.  I’m sure some people hide the eye rolling from me while they think: “here she goes again.”  I learn best from books, so I want to share my love of learning and my love of books.  I got to wondering this week, if I had to pick just five books to recommend, what would they be?

The Books

The books that I selected are the ones that made the most difference for me at the time in my life when I read them. Each of them provided a major “Ah Ha” moment that moved my career to another level.  These are the books that changed the trajectory of my career in one way or another.

Beat the Odds by Martin Yate

The big idea that I got from this book is the concept of having three careers that you’re working on at the same time–your core career (the one that makes you money), an entrepreneurial career (where you’re learning skills and beginning to make money in a different way) and your dream career.   This approach forced me to really figure out what my goals were, and, more importantly, it took my focus off the day to day stuff and let me take all that more in stride.  I became happier and more productive all in one.  This book is out of print, but Yate has a new book, Knock ‘Em Dead Secrets and Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World, that includes all the same concepts.

Change or Die by Alan Deutschman

change or die by alan Deutschman asks the question, “If someone told you that you were going to die if you didn’t change, would you?”  Of course the answer is “yes!”  But is it?  Don’t we all know how we should eat?  How we should exercise? We know that we should stop smoking or drinking too much.  We know if we don’t, it will adversely affect us and that the consequences may be that we will die earlier.  So, even though we know that we will die earlier if we don’t change, we don’t.  He  analyzes why some people actually do effectively change.  It helped me begin to make personal changes that I had “resolved” to for years.

Breaking the Code of Change edited by Beer and Nohria  

This book was the product of a research conference of the same name in 1998.  This was the first time that I encountered the concepts of  “Theory E” (economic value) change and “Theory O” (organizational capability) change.  Suddenly I understood why most organizational change failed–people were either doing Theory E (and as soon as they stopped, the organizational amoeba went back into place) or Theory O (which gets people on board but takes way too long to provide the organization leadership the results in the time they need).  I suddenly understood that as a change manager, I had to figure out how to do both Theory E and Theory O to make a change happen and stick.  It completely changed the way I did my work.

Management of Organizational Behavior by Blanchard and Hersey

When I became a manager, I went searching for a book to tell me how to be a good manager.  Scores of books later, I came across this book.  This is actually a textbook.  It opened the door on the study of organizational behavior, leadership theory and organizational change for me.  The most important (among many) idea in the book for me is Situational Leadership(R).  The theory of Situational Leadership discusses leadership styles in terms of different combinations of task  and relationship focus.  The theory lays out four leadership styles and suggests that different styles are more appropriate for different follower behaviors.  The book is a wealth of powerful ideas on how individuals and organizations work.

Success and Betrayal by Hardesty Bray and Jacobs 

This book, now out of print, was published in 1986.  The book discusses women in corporations.  Although the book describes women’s beliefs about the way things work in organizations, these ideas apply to men, too.  We all believe certain things about the way organizations work–if we work hard, we will succeed; if you do a good job, you will be rewarded; we’re all a family in an organization, etc.  You come by the things you believe about organizations through your experiences in childhood, in your family, in school, in your social and athletic experiences. The problem is, unless you are in charge of the organization, these aren’t necessarily the “real” rules of the organization.  This book taught me to identify my own “myths” and to understand  the “real” rules.  If you understand, then you have the option to decide whether you want to “play the game” or not.  If you don’t even know that you aren’t playing by the rules, then you don’t know why you never win.  Once I understood the rules, I began to win.

This last book was so important to me that I sought out and met both authors.  (I think they thought I was stalking them:-)

What books have had the biggest impact on you?

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Filed under Books, Executive Development, Personal Change

It All Starts With That First . . . Step

Know What You Want

I used to be in charge of Executive Development for a large corporation.  One day a middle manager came to talk to me about her career dreams.  Within the organization, she had been designated a “hi po”–a high potential with the ability and likelihood to progress several steps higher.  She was a good performer at her management job.  She was quiet and soft spoken, and well respected among her peers.

She told me that she wanted to work internationally.  She became quite animated as she discussed the kind of opportunity she wanted.  Our company provided, at that time, international opportunity for the very top leadership, but not for others.  Best case, she would have to wait years and have many other assignments before she got an international assignment.  Worst case, it wouldn’t happen at our company.  I didn’t share that explicitly with her, but we both knew it.  Instead, we talked about the kinds of skills she would need to be good at such an assignment and how she  could acquire those skills while she was working at her current job.  She went away with some lists and lots to think about.

Get Ready

She took a couple of different assignments within the company that broadened her skills.  Her desire for an international assignment didn’t abate, though, and she began to research opportunities.  She investigated recruiters and companies that could provide her with the kinds of opportunities she wanted.  She read about being an expatriate and came back to talk to me about the risks associated with that.   She discovered that failure rates are high and can vary between 10% and 50% depending on the country.  The reasons for failure range from cultural adjustments, language differences, assignment overburden, physical breakdown, and family stress to organizational issues such as a change of strategic direction, or failure to provide sufficient support.  Some organizations do a very good job at preparing employees for international job change, as well as helping them repatriate when the assignment is complete.

Doing it on your own is a completely different.  You have to teach yourself the things that the company would want you to know.  This preparation process took several years for her.  She was successfully employed during this time, but at the same time, she was focused on her goal–finding an international assignment where she could be successful.


She found a job opportunity.  Luckily, there were people she knew connected to the company (this is highly recommended) and they were able to provide some
support.   She took a job in a country far from home–on the other side of the world.  She was lonely and overwhelmed and she turned all that into a blog-like communication to her friends and colleagues.  She told us about her new experiences–her challenges with different cultural norms at work, living in a building with an elevator but erratic electricity, travel, food, and expectations.  She worked several years for that company, landed another job at another company-same country, and then with another company, different country.  She continues to learn and grow and be a valuable asset to her employer.  And she is living her dream!

That First Step

All of us who received her communications were absolutely awestruck by her bravery.  She was actually doing it!  We were jealous.  What experiences she was having!

She did it for herself.  She didn’t wait for the organization to do it for her.  She didn’t let the reported failure rates, or the things she didn’t know how to do, or the fact that her current organization didn’t have the opportunities, or the thought of selling her stuff, moving and being completely out of her comfort zone stop her.  She took one step at a time, with a clear eye on what she wanted and where she was going.

What’s Stopping You From Taking That First Step Toward Your Dream?

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Goal Setting, Job Hunt, Personal Change

How Can I Know What I Want To Do (When I Grow Up)?

It’s OK to have changing career goals.  It is normal, in fact.  Many people either fell into their current career by happenstance, or they selected one that is no longer (or never was) satisfying.  They struggle to figure out the “right” career for themselves.  What is not OK, though,  is to continue in a career that doesn’t fit without a plan to change it.

There are some questions that help you figure out what’s best for you:

First the Practical Questions:

  1.  How much money do you need to make?
  2. What skills do you have/can you get?
  3. How much time do you have to reach your goals?
  4. What do you believe are the  real constraints that exist in deciding what you want to do? (Things like you probably can’t take your three year old into the rainforest while you do eco-research.)

Now the Passion Questions:

  1. What rewards are most important to you to get from a job? Money? Learning? Creative outlet? Status?
  2. What are you doing when you forget what time it is?
  3. What would you do if you won the lottery and money was no object?
  4. What energizes you?
  5. What are your favorite activities?

Now What?

Martin Yate, who writes lots of career books,, suggests in his book, Knock ’em Dead Secrets & Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World, that you should actually have three careers .  He advises that you have a core career (the one that pays your bills), an entrepreneurial career (the one where you venture into ways of making money and growing a business beyond your core career) and your dream career (the one that you really want to do, all other things being neutralized).

When I applied this idea, I found it easier to succeed at my core career.  I was focused on growing skills in my core career that would benefit my other two careers.  Working toward my dream career, even though I was living with my core career, energized me.  I found myself able to be more effective at all of them because the passion was back in my work life.  I saw the benefits of my “day” job for my dream job and had a completely different attitude.  My different attitude and increased effectiveness led to more rewards in my core career, and that in turn sped up the process of moving toward my other two careers.

So . . . What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Goal Setting

WOW! Yourself

Do You Stand Out?

When was the last time your boss, your employees, your customers thought “Wow!” after dealing with you?   You know, the way that Jeremy Lin has recently “wowed” us all.  If it hasn’t happened in a while, maybe you should spend some time thinking about what it would take to do it.  In these economic times, people (bosses, employees, customers) make choices.  Our goal should be for them to choose us when it happens.  What have we done for them lately to make them think it’s a no brainer?  What makes you stand out from the crowd?

If you’re like most of us, most of your work time is spent on autopilot.  You do a good (enough) job, you get bound up in the day to day goings on, and then you go home. There is a Harvard study that looked at employee performance that indicated that employees were delivering about 20% of their capability.  Maybe you’re above that.  You’re not at 90% of your capability, though, most of the time.  That is how we perform when we are completely motivated and passionate about what we’re doing (and we’re doing it well).  Autopilot isn’t good enough if you want to be  the first one chosen for a promotion or the last chosen for a layoff .  You need to stand out.  You need to WOW.

What Does It Take To WOW?

What it takes to really WOW someone is situation and personality dependent.  What really gets one boss’ attention isn’t the same that gets another boss’ attention.  The most important way to do this is to take yourself off autopilot and focus on creating a WOW.  How can you take it to a new level?  What kind of performance/delivery/effort will get noticed.   It is almost never working more hours or completing more tasks.  It is usually the delivery, timing, or “never thought of that before” content of the product you present.

But . . .

I can hear you now:  “I do deliver.  It just doesn’t get noticed.”  You may be right.  Think of the example of Jeremy Lin.  He delivered.  (For those of you who don’t have  a clue who Jeremy Lin is, he’s a great basketball player–Google him).  He delivered consistently in high school and in college.  He especially delivered, though, when the opportunity arose, when the challenge was greater.  He got noticed by the Harvard recruiter when his team was playing tougher teams.  He got noticed by all of us when he got the opportunity to play and key players on his team were hurt.  Are you ready if you get the opportunity?  Can you create an opportunity to get a WOW reaction?

Key to WOW

The key to WOW is not working harder.  It is delivering something that really hits the spot that is above expectations.  That takes some strategic thinking.  What would that be in your situation?  Think about it.

WOW! is Recession Proof Insurance. 

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Filed under Career Development, Executive Development, Recession Proof

You Have All The Time There Is

Do you frequently use the excuse  that you don’t   have enough time to . . .  Network?  Spend  time  with the kids?  Exercise?  Learn to ski?  Write  a book?  It’s an excuse I frequently hear in my coaching practice.    The reality is that you have  all the time that there is.  There are 24 hours in a day, 168 hours and 10,080 minutes in a week.   That is the same amount of time that Galileo, Thomas Edison (1093 patents), Benjamin Franklin  (an author, printer, political architect, scientist, musician, postmaster,  inventor,  activist, librarian, statesman, and diplomat) and Martin Luther King (you know what he did) had.  How is it that they were more productive with their 168 hours than we are?

There are only four things to do with your “To Do” list:

  1. Do it.
  2. Delegate it.
  3. Postpone it.
  4. Forget it.

Otherwise known as DDPF.  As you can see, more of these are “To Don’ts” than “To Dos.”  All of the best time management systems help you figure out how to do these things.  Systems such as  Franklin Covey and  Getting Things Done help you prioritize and decide whether to DDP or F.  How many times have you started a new process/system with hope and motivation?  Me too.

There are two key parts to managing your time to accomplish your goals and live your dreams:  Goal clarity and focus.

To do this, make a list of all your goals.  Include short term, medium term and long term.  Get them all down.  Look at the list.  Are there groupings you can make, i.e. House Improvements/Get Out of Debt/Get Promotion?  Once this list is completed and you’ve put them into appropriate groupings, pick the most important.  Think long term.  What will make the rest of your life better if you get it done?  For example, if you look at the list above–house/debt/promotion–it might be ‘get a promotion’ because that would help you get out of debt and let you hire someone to do the house improvements.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll resist picking only one.  Do it anyway.  If nothing else on your list got done, what most needs to get done?  OK, now you can pick the next most important and the next most important.   Stop at three.  You have now gotten goal clarity.

Think creatively.  Are there ways besides you doing it to get some of these things done? Get rid of as many as possible–delegate them, postpone them, or decide not to do them for a while.

The next thing that you need to do is FOCUS.  We all pride ourselves on being multi-taskers.  Me too.  Multi-tasking just slows you down, though.  You really can only focus on one thing at a time.  AT. A. TIME.  That time might just be seconds, or minutes, but your mind can only think of, work on, deliver one thing at a time.  If you don’t agree, just indulge me for a little longer.  The system that  I use is called Personal Kanban,  This system has helped me enormously to focus and get things done.  It has you divide all your “to do” tasks into:  Waiting/Doing/Done.  If you follow it, it forces a level of focus that allows you to concentrate and finish things.  You should put the tasks that will help you accomplish your first three priorities in the “Waiting” category (you can use white boards, paper, an app, or a Powerpoint slide, which is what I use).  Select the first task, move it into the “Doing” category, and as one of my favorite bosses says, “Get Ur Done.”

I was shocked at how much this system improved my ability to deliver the important things that I was working on.  You won’t accomplish your important goals and life dreams, however, if you’re just taking your list of things to do and skipping the prioritization.  Once you’ve gotten your top three done, then you can move on.  You can look at it from a “today” perspective, or a “this week” or even a “this year” perspective.  Just get focused on what is important and concentrate on those things.

Try it.  See what you think.


Filed under Executive Development, Goal Setting, Time Management

Get Ready to Lose Your Job

I hope you never need this advice. Chances are good, though, that you will–even if you are a high potential, can’t-do-anything-wrong super dooper employee. Most of us end up out on the job hunt street in our career.

The number one thing that you can work on right now to prepare for that day is to build your network. When clients end up on my coaching doorstep after a recent job loss, their number one regret is that they didn’t keep their network current. Ask yourself: if you lost your job next Monday, how many people in your network are familiar enough with what you do to be able to start referring you for job leads immediately? How many of them would want to? How many of them have you had contact with in the last month? year? five years? How many of them do you have current contact info on? When someone starts a job search, it usually takes months to rebuild a network. Months! How can I get your attention about this?

Yeah, I know. You don’t have time. You have to do (keep) your current job, take the kids to soccer, re-do the house.
If you lost your job, you would find the time. And you would wish you had done it sooner.

So what do you do? Start with two things:

1) Join, attend and volunteer for the appropriate professional groups. The people who do jobs like yours belong to these groups. They are also the first to know of the job openings in their own companies. There is a reason that the leadership of these professional groups (PMI, SHRM, ASTD) move easily from company to company. They know people.

2) Join/update/participate in LinkedIn. LinkedIn is becoming the largest recruiting tool in many professions. Join groups that interest you. Post answers/questions when appropriate (but don’t spam people with it).  Set your LinkedIn account up so that you get an email update of changes in your network.  Reach out to those who have had a change.  It doesn’t take much time, but it keeps that contact warm.  Post things of interest periodically.

Approximately 75% of jobs are landed through knowing someone who has some connection to the job (in the same company, referral, etc). 75%!  Make sure you are ready if you ever need it.

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Filed under Executive Development, Job Hunt, Networking