Category Archives: Career Development

Your ‘Tribes’ Are Important For Your Career Success

What Are Your Tribes?

Broncos, Seahawks.  Democrat, Republican.  Christian, Jew.  We belong to ‘Tribes.’  The correct definition of this is a social group that preceded the “state,” small in size.  The current use of the word is more of an ‘aligned’ group—somewhat informal with common interests and loyalty.  Some of these ‘tribes’ are ok to talk about at work.  Your sports team, unless it is the arch enemy of the prominent group’s team.  Your hobby group, unless it is politically incorrect.  Sometimes your tribe and your company are one—maybe Google is a tribe—but usually your tribes and your company are concentric circles with some overlap.  Sometimes your team/project/department is a tribe within your company.

It is an interesting question why we feel so strongly about the interests of our tribe.  This is probably one of the reasons that we don’t talk about some of this at work very often—religion, politics, gun control, abortion.  If I find out that you are not IN my tribe in one of these areas, it makes it harder for me to work with you.  Why is that?  You are the same person you were before I found out that you have a view that I completely disagree with (outside my tribe).  You are the same person.  If I liked you (or at least was neutral) before, why does knowing that you are in another ‘tribe’ change my opinion so much?

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What Do You Do About It?

One of the most important things to acknowledge is that there are tribes and there are tribes.  Each of us has had the experience of thinking badly—ok, if you can’t admit that—not as highly of a group of people because of something.  We applied stereotypes to them.  And then you became close to a single member of that group.  You made that person an exception.  S/he was different from the rest of the group.  S/he was an exception to all the characteristics you didn’t like/objected to.  And so it was ok to like her.  It was ok to think highly of her—because all that stuff didn’t apply to her.  It’s as if we’re hard wired to think like this.

So, take advantage of the fact that we make exceptions when we get to know someone.  Create more tribes.  Create cross-tribe tribes that are based on something else—fun, work, teams, companies, hobbies, interests.  Get to know people.  Make them exceptions.  Get to know people you admire. I once went out of my way to meet the two women who wrote a book, Success and Betrayal, that changed my life.  Who do you admire?  Who do you want to learn from?  Who do you want to be like?  Inside and outside of work—seek them out.  Make them your tribe.

Eventually, you’ll see that the stereotypes you believe about certain groups are just that—stereotypes—not reality.  People are individuals.  They fall on a continuum.  They are like others in their tribes in some ways and not like them in others.  I’m talking about ALL kinds of tribes:  religious ones, political ones, gang ones, 1% ones, creative, etc.  It is insane to write off a person because they disagree with you on one continuum (or four).  Find something to agree with them on.  Get to know them.

Why?

We’ve moved past our caveman days.  We need to interact with all kinds of people.   If you want to have career success—I mean career SUCCESS then all kinds of people have to want you to succeed.  Success doesn’t just come from the quality of your work.  Sure, you have to have that, too, but someone has to want to move you up the organization.  Someone has to want to buy your product.  People have to help you succeed.  Your tribe.

Some great books about Tribes:

The Dark Side of Tribes

Tribes are the way we interact, but there are some tribes that can get in the way of effectiveness, and therefore get in the way of your career.  Be on the lookout for these.  Sometimes a department is a tribe—a silo—and it is in the way of optimizing the whole organization.  This can bring you down as well if you are too closely aligned with the silo.  You can be too closely aligned with the boss, or with the industry or with actions of a group.  You need to pay as much attention to that as to aligning with better tribes.

Understanding tribes and how you interact with them can give you a new set of tools to improve your career.

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Filed under Books, Career Development, Success, Teams

Do You Take Initiative?

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Duh.  I Know To Take The Initiative.

You’ve heard that you should take initiative. Duh. But do you do it? Do you suggest ideas? Do you seek to improve the situation? Do you take action? Do you do it when it isn’t expected? The FREE Dictionary defines “take the initiative” as “to activate oneself to do something even if one has not been asked to do it.” That last part is the important part–even if one hasn’t been asked to do it.  Do you do things without being asked to do them? Do you surprise the people you work with by taking on things and getting them done?  So many of us wait around to be told to do stuff.  Do you see things that need to be done, problems that need to be solved, and do you take them on and get them done?

Taking the initiative can make the difference between getting noticed and not.  It can get you attention from the right people in your organization.  Part of the reason for that is that it is such a surprise when people actually step out of their ‘wait to be told’ role and think for themselves and take action.  You may think I’m crazy.  You may think that people take the initiative all the time.  But think about the last time someone actually surprised you by doing something that needed to get done that wasn’t clearly in his/her responsibility.

People who are good at their job are good at what their job is–not beyond that.  People who take initiative are beyond good at their job.  They are on their way to being good at the next level job and the one beyond that.  They are thinking (and acting) like their boss.  Whoa, you may say.  My boss won’t like that.  I’ll step on his/her toes.  There is a difference between ‘doing’ your boss’ job and taking iniative.  When you take initiative, you help your boss rather than step on his/her toes.  You lift some of the load.  Remember–SURPRISE is the key.

So How Do You Take Initiative?

We are well trained to do what we are told.  We learned it at home.  It was enforced at school.  (I once did a survey of middle school teachers of how they identified students who were leaders.  Many of them said the leaders were the ones who followed directions, were quiet and did what they were told!)  We learned to succeed at our entry level jobs by learning and following the rules quickly and well.  Our bosses expect us to do the things that are in our job.  They don’t expect much else.  And so we learn.  We modulate our brains and actions to fit without our roles.  We wait to be told to act beyond the day to day-ness of our jobs.

The key to taking the initiative is the way you think about it.  Do you see a problem?  Instead of just seeing it and walking by it, think about what could be done about it.  Think about what YOU could do about it.  Then DO it.  It takes some bravery.  It’s like visiting a new city without a map.  Make creating that surprise your goal.

The first time I did it, I did it by accident.  I created a report of my observations about something just because I was  too full of my own opinions to keep quiet about it.  It didn’t occur to me that anything would happen except that someone might read my report.  Then I just couldn’t stop with the opinions and made some suggestions at the end of the report.  I didn’t see it as taking the initiative.  I saw it as finding a way of expressing my opinions and ideas that were trying to push their way out of me.  Apparently this spontaneous creation of opinion and suggestion (on a problem that had been driving people nuts for a while) from someone at my level was completely unexpected.  It got attention.  It got me called into a meeting with people at the top of the organization to be questioned about my ideas.  It got me assigned to the group to implement some of the ideas (that got funded beyond my imagination).  It started my career on its way.  I recently found a copy of the report I wrote so long ago.  It wasn’t particularly well written.  Today I would know how to ‘sell’ the ideas and I would have pre-sold them to people to make the organization more receptive.  My reaction when I found that report, however, was–that is when my career hit a pivot point.  When someone read that report, he was surprised.  Maybe the surprise itself made him pay attention to the content.  I can see now:  I took the initiative.  That accident taught me the benefit of taking the initiative.

So What Do You Do?

  • Proactively look at problems.
  • Think about what it would take to SOLVE them.
  • Think about what you could do to get the ball rolling.
  • DO IT.

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Do You Really Need A Mentor?

Do You Need A Mentor?

It’s common to hear that you need a mentor for career success.  Is that still true?  Yes. You need a mentor.  You need several.  Over the course of your career you need people who help you along the way.

  • Mentors are experienced and trusted advisers.
  • Mentors can explain things in a short conversation that would take weeks, months, or even years for you to figure out on your own.
  • Mentors can tell you things about yourself in a way that you can actually hear it.
  • Mentors can easily open doors that you might otherwise stand on the outside looking in–forever.
  • Mentors can teach you skills that you never knew you could develop.
  • Mentors can help you see the world from another (or lots of other) perspective.
  • Mentors can help raise your performance bar.
  • Mentors can help you come up with new solutions to problems that have you stuck.
  • Mentors can speed up your progress and development by sharing their experience (and saving you from having to go through the same experiences–especially the bad ones).
  • Mentors can help build your network.
  • Mentors can help you understand the unwritten rules of an organization.

YES.  You Need a Mentor.

So, yes, you need a mentor.  You need different mentors for different times in your career. You need mentors to help you with different developmental issues.  For example, when you are graduating from college, you need someone to guide you from the college experience to the work experience.  What should you expect?  How should you act?  What is important?  Of course lots of people make this transition without a mentor (although parents frequently fill this role), but people who have mentors who specifically focus on this conversation avoid common pitfalls.

When you start to get serious about having a career instead of a job, a mentor can help you begin to navigate organizational politics and understand what organizations look for in “high potentials.”  Young people who are a part of Executive Leadership Programs get a lot of this kind of mentoring and it makes a difference!  Which job should you go after next?  What should you focus on in the interview?  What should you highlight in your performance assessment?  What should you add to your resume draft?

When you decide to change organizations, which ones should you target?  Who does your mentor know in the new organization?  Which organization is likely to be the best path to your career goal?

When you’re trying to solve a difficult organizational problem–supply chain streamlining, new branding, cost reductions, new market target–a mentor with specific knowledge of that problem is a short cut to understanding the boundaries of the problem and where to find the kind of expertise that you need.

Just Do It.  Ask.

Mentors can perform many roles in your career success.  The key is to step out there and get one (and then another and another).  Mentoring is about relationships.  Ask someone.  Who do you ask?  Ask someone who knows what you need to know.  Ask someone who can introduce you to people or experiences that take you to a new level.  Chances are that anyone you ask would be flattered to be asked to be a mentor.  S/he may or may not be able to say yes, but it is likely that they would enjoy being asked.  If they say yes, know what it is that you’d like to get from them.  Tell them.  It’s ok.  That is what mentoring is about.  Straight talk.  Being clear.

If s/he says s/he can’t do it, then tell them why you thought they would be a good mentor and ask if they can suggest someone else.  Ask if they will provide an introduction or if you can use their name to approach the other person.  You wouldn’t think twice about going to a doctor who specializes in something you need.  Don’t think twice about seeking a mentor in the same way.

Remember, though, mentoring is about relationships.  What can you give back to your mentor?  Mentoring relationships are two-way relationships.  Mentors feel good when their mentees make progress.  They like it when they can introduce their mentee to a new experience, person or organization. There are lots of things that you can teach someone who might be your mentor.  Be sure to do it if it is appropriate.  Be open to the ways you can help/teach/entertain your mentor.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Hi Po, Mentor, Networking, Unwritten Rules

If You’ve Been In Your Job 10 Years, Wake Up. Read This. In Fact, Read This Even If You Haven’t Been In Your Job 10 Years.

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You’re too expensive

If you’ve been in your job 10 years, you’re too expensive.  For the company.  I don’t mean that you personally aren’t worth the money you’re making.  I mean that you aren’t worth it to the company.  Think about it.  You were hired with (presumably) enough skills to do the job you’re doing.  You’ve gotten regular raises–again, presumably.  Your skills might have increased as well.  BUT YOU HAD ENOUGH SKILLS TO DO THE JOB WHEN YOU WERE HIRED.  So what is the added value for the company?  Whether they admit it or not (and it is mostly not), companies lay off employees who have been with the company for a long time in the same job.  Then they hire employees at entry level prices.  Companies may or may not hire younger people.  It really doesn’t matter.  They hire cheaper.

They put you out on the street. 

And what do you have to sell to your next employer?  That’s the key for both of these situations.  You need to figure out how to add value to the organization that is at least commensurate with your increased income, and you need to figure out how to add saleable skills to yourself so that when (and I don’t really believe it is ‘if ‘ for most of us) you are put out, you land on your feet in a better situation, and if you’re smart you see it coming and land first.

I’m a major believer in managing your own career and not relying on your company to do that for you.  You certainly may have a manager, or a series of managers, who really believe in developing people and creating situations that allow them to succeed in their career.  Count your self blessed, but year after year, your chances of keeping this kind of boss are slim.  YOU need to manage your career.  You need to put yourself into situations where you are continuing to grow and develop and move up the organization, so that when it comes time to put people out on the street it never occurs to anyone to come after you.

Think about it from the company’s perspective–what are you adding over and above what they hired you for that make you worth more to the company?

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Personal Change

Do You Need More Education To Grow Your Career?

Do You Need Education?How Do You Decide?

I recently have had a couple of folks let me know that they have completed the next level of their education.  One of them reminded me that I had responded to his “I’ll be x years old when I finish my PhD” by saying “You’ll be x years old anyway, you might as well have a PhD when that happens.”  That sounds like something I’d say.  And I stand by that.  I don’t believe that you’re ever too old to get more education, and I think education by itself is extremely valuable.  Given that, though, with the price of education today and the sacrifice it takes—away from family and aspects of work—I think it is worth asking whether or not you need more education to accelerate your career.

Let’s Start With What Are Your Career Goals

What do you want to do with your career?  What are your career goals?  What industry, company, level, function, job?  In what time frame?  I know, I know—you don’t know.  You don’t have to know precisely—you need to know generally.

  1.  What industry?

Industry is important.  Do you want to be in the same industry that you’re in now?  Do you want to be in a different industry?  Does your industry require a certain level of education for you to be credible?

If you industry requires a level of education to get to your career goal, or if you want to move into an industry that requires education then, YES, you need more education.

  1. What company?

What is the standard in your company?  Look at the Executives.  Do they all have advanced degrees?  Do most of them?  Are there classes of those with degrees—those who’ve been around for a long time don’t have degrees and those who are newer do have degrees.  When they recruit, what are they looking for?  (It’s important to do this analysis on a pretty regular basis and look at everything the company is recruiting for, not just education).  If your company has a record of promoting from within, and those who get promoted don’t necessarily have advanced degrees, then NO, you probably don’t need more education.

There are many ways to get your ticket punched.  Quite frankly, getting education is the easiest.  Degrees come with the assumption that you know what you need to do.  You can certainly know what you need to know without formal education.  It is just harder to prove to decision makers (including those who hold your career in their hands) that you know what you need to know without that degree or certification.  In fact, I am self-taught in my primary area of expertise—organizational change management and organizational effectiveness.  People who decide to hire me are generally looking for a degree in this area for confirmation of my abilities.  I have to show them experience and writing and references to overcome my deficiency of related formal education.  I’ve always managed to do it.

 

 

  1. What function?

 

Within companies and industries there are different education expectations within different functions.  Finance people may be expected to have an advanced degree in Finance or an MBA or be a CPA, while technical resources may be expected to have a first degree in computer technology, but experience or certifications in certain systems or languages are much more important than additional degrees.  On the other hand, portfolios may be more important than education or certifications for graphic artists.

The standard within the function within the company can help you decide whether you need more education.

*******Remember, however, that career portability is always a consideration.  Does the company you are using to make user decision follow the standards for the industry? *********

  1. What level?

 

What level do you want to reach?  CEO?  A recent U.S. News analysis of Fortune 500 CEOs indicated that of the 500 CEOs,  35 didn’t graduate from college.  Two hundred had M.B.A.’s and about 140 had other graduate degrees. So . . . do you have to have a degree to be a CEO?  Probably YES, you need an undergraduate degree, probably NO, you don’t need a graduate degree.  But then, it depends on the other factors—industry, company, experience, getting your ticket punched.

People could argue that some of the best CEOs (and then they could argue about ‘best’ too) of our times—Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Barry Diller—didn’t have undergraduate degrees—why do you need one.  You don’t.  Do you have a killer idea and the energy, stamina and luck to drive it to market and beyond?  If you don’t have a killer idea, then what skills do you have and how do you provide that you have them to the computers and people who are screening your resume and track record.  Do you get results (and can prove it)?  Then you are less likely to have to have additional education.

What about to be a mid-level manager or entry-level Executive?  An MBA or other business degree helps.  It helps because it provides you with an overview, with some depth, on how you run a business and how you get an organization to deliver results.  To be a mid-level manager or entry-level Executive, YES, probably you do need a formal education. (Again, it depends on the industry, company, function . . . but it does help get your foot in the door and provides you credibility that you know what you’re doing.)

 

  1. What job?

 

Obviously, if you want to be a medical doctor, you need a lot of formal education.  If you want to be a hospital administrator, it probably it isn’t a requirement.  If you work at an organization that requires all Executives to have degrees, then you do.

Even If You Don’t HAVE to Get a Degree/Certification, Should You?

 

Again, it depends:

  • How important is a Degree/Certification/More Education to YOU?

 

Many of us were raised to think that people with an education were “better.”  Our families valued degrees, and we were taught to have that as a goal.  Many of us think that we need a degree to be more valuable.  If this is a big deal—even if you went through the analysis above about whether your career goals require more education—you should consider getting that education.  Self-respect and pride are important for personal happiness and career success.

 

  • Do You Find Learning Fun?  Do You Do That More Easily In A More Formal Setting?

 

If you can afford it, and have the time, then by all means—get more education.  It can’t hurt (except in some cases, a PhD—I’ve seen hiring managers not hire PhDs because they thought they were too academic).

Can You Afford It?

Start with a ROI analysis.  What will it cost?  What will the return be?  It’s perfectly ok to  put intrinsic returns in—that’s what you’re evaluating when you decide to buy a big boat or a vacation home—but you do have to weigh the costs too.  The dollars spent for the education v. the dollars spent for a better school (which might help with being a more credible candidate for career acceleration –65 (13%) of Fortune 500 CEOs have degrees from Harvard) v time spent away from family v likely increase in income over your lifetime v how much better you’ll feel about yourself.  Just don’t do this assuming that it will automatically pay off in all the ways you think.  Investigate this carefully.

 

 

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

My Boss Is Young Enough To Be My Child!

Mental Model of Boss

Younger Bosses

It happens to all of us–no matter how successful we are–if you stay in the workforce long enough, you’re going to have a boss younger than you.  Why does this matter?  Why do you care?  Yeah, yeah, it shouldn’t, but to most of us it does.  I’ll go back to harping about mental models.  We have a mental model of what a boss is and that we need to look up to a boss and someone who is younger doesn’t deserve that.  So why does our mental model require that our boss be older than us?  Back in the day, when people entered the organization immediately after high school or college and then moved up the organization step by step, the bosses were 55-65 year old men who retired and made room for the next person  (Oh, by the way, back in those same days, women only had some non-boss roles –I very specifically remember when people (both men and women) had the same issues with women bosses–bosses were NOT supposed to be women!!).  I know there are lots of people who don’t remember those days.  Most of the people, though, who are struggling with younger bosses now do remember those days.  In fact they are mostly from those days.  Things are different now.  It’s time to change our mental models.

I certainly had the experience of working for bosses who were older than me who were not as smart, or knowledgeable or skilled at their job as me (I’m sure it was no one who reads this blog, though:-)).  Age didn’t have anything to do with this.  Neither did race or gender or even educational backgrounds.  You aren’t guaranteed good bosses.  Given that, though, good bosses come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders and educational backgrounds.  There are people who are younger than you who have more knowledge than you about somethings.  There are people who have less education, less experience, or talent who can be good bosses for you.  Good bosses bring what the job and the team need AT THE TIME.  So change your mental model.  Start thinking about what you need in a boss and stop assuming that someone younger than you can’t bring it.  I know twenty-somethings who are better people managers than most of the middle managers that I know.  I know fifty-somethings who can explain technology better than tech professors.  One of the very best Executives I ever knew only had a high school education, but he sure knew how to gather information and make a quick and effective decision.  He had an instinct that I’ve never seen in anyone before or since.  I had a female boss, back in the days when that was rare, who focused so completely on the customer that she changed the culture (and the profits) of the organization.  She did it before it was “THE THING TO DO.”

Mental Model Actual Bosses

My point is that you’ve GOT to stop thinking about bosses as if they should be a certain gender, race, education or age.  Ask yourself what your boss brings to the table.  What does s/he bring that you don’t have?  How and what can you learn from him?  How can you improve the chemistry/relationship with her?  How can you earn his respect?  Unless you are knocking at retirement’s door, this is not the last boss you will have.  Bosses will come in more different versions as our world changes.  Get used to it.  Get good at it.  Especially if you want to be the boss.

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Filed under Bosses, Career Development, Career Goals, Communication, Diversity, Inclusion

Reflections on Being a Mother, Working and “Leaning In”

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a great day to reflect on being a mother.  And on being a mother who works.  And on the controversy over Sharon Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.  I come from a family of working mothers.  My mother worked.  Her mother worked.  It frankly never occurred to me not to work. It never occurred to me to hold back or not be ambitious (something that Ms. Sandburg says that some women do). I guess I was lucky–I had models of working mothers who managed both jobs and families. I had the luxury of having a husband who believed that I should work, who supported me in working and who carried close to a 50/50 load at home (he traveled more than me for many years, so it wasn’t 50/50 in those years).  My kids were adequately cared for–if not perfectly cared for; my house was never really clean, and my career worked well enough–until I got near the top of the organization.  Whatever the reason for my not becoming a C-suite-r, it wasn’t because I was a mother or because I cut corners because I had a family.  Or maybe it was.  Maybe the people above me made decisions about my career taking my family into consideration.  I don’t know.  I just know that a certain point I chose to leave the organization where I worked because I definitely wasn’t going up any more and there were interesting opportunities for me outside of working for that company.

The bottom line is that being a mother is very important. Working is very important(to some). Being at the top is very important (to some). You have to find your balance among them. You have to find your own happiness.  There are prices–guilt, being tired, dirty houses, missed soccer games. As long as you’re being driven by your own values and dreams you can make it work. I have two very successful daughters, in part because they had a model to follow.  My successful sons regularly do more than 50%.  I guess they had a model too.

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