Ingredients for Becoming the Complete Executive–Fold Together and Serve

It’s hard to resist the opportunity to sample secret sauce ingredients for executive success. So, when invited, I was happy to taste the morsels in Karen Wright’s new book, The Complete Executive: The 10-Step System for Great Leadership Performance, and share some of them here.

Everyone wants them–recipes for fixing things like:

  • Problem employees
  • Broken work methods
  • Complaining customers
  • Stalled careers

Recipes work when we’re cooking: The same combination of ingredients produces the same outcome each time. It’s different,though, when we’re trying to put together the right behaviors to produce career success.

Invest in good ingredients.

Careers grow when we combine the right ingredients in the right way at the right time, folding them together until they blend to meet expectations.

Our career goals may be either modest or bold. Achieving them means understanding the knowledge, skills, and experiences (the ingredients) required and then systematically assembling them.

In her new book, The Complete Executive: The 10-Step System for Great Leadership Performance, Karen Wright, career coach and founder of Parachute Executive Coaching, identifies 100 practices for successful executives.

These practices will help you succeed where you are right now and/or position you to move up, while maintaining a balanced, satisfying life.

Wright describes the foundation for achieving leadership completeness this way:

The individuals who consistently thrive in the face of the extraordinary expectations of high-level leadership are the ones who have found the optimal combination of habits, practices, and personal discipline that sustains and strengthens them across all dimensions of their lives.

Her 10-step system covers everything from health and fitness to business basics and fun. She makes this especially striking point about leaders:

Someone who fully engages in building positive relationships at work probably places similar value on them outside the office. Similarly, if an individual is difficult to get along with or get to know at work, she is likely the same in her personal relationships.

Who we are goes with us wherever we go. Everyone sees how we conduct ourselves and makes a judgment. When folded together, those judgments start to form our personal brand,  our career currency.

Relationships matter.

The complete executive, as Wright notes, needs to place high value on building and maintaining healthy and mutually satisfying relationships.

She explains that it starts with our primary relationships (i.e., life partner or single-hood), children, extended family, neighbors, friends, and community. Then it expands to our business competitors, peers, and direct reports. For leaders to be complete, Wright reminds us that they need to invest in relationships that represent all aspects of their lives.

We often think that networking is the best way to expand our relationships. Wright debunks that notion with this compelling perspective:

 ‘No executive at a high level does anything called networking.’ What they do is focus on building a valuable network. ‘It will grow through connections with the people you know through your kids, your parents, your siblings, and your other family members. You just never know when a connection in your network will lead you to another, helpful one, creating potential future business value.’

It’s all a matter of building on relationships that form naturally from your life and your work. To this Wright adds:

Contributing to your network is what makes it strong. If you only take from your network, it will be too weak to support you when you need it.

The book lists these relationship building sources that you can tap: alumni associations, lunches/casual meetings, club memberships, professional associations, and social media sites like LinkedIn.

Wright acknowledges that relationships ebb and flow. We learn along the way which ones are sincere and fruitful and which are not.

Intuition as ingredient

There’s a leader in all of us whether we’re atop the business organization chart or not. Reaching our full leadership capabilities is an ongoing process.

Wright’s practice #100 is intuition: An effective leader will state:

I recognize when my intuition is engaged, and I value and reflect upon the messages it sends me.

She finishes by  quoting Albert Einstein:

The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will, and the solution comes to you and you don’t know how or why.

We all need to give our intuition a chance to work its magic for us. Hey, if it worked for Einstein, who can argue!

Calling All Grads! Here’s Help to Land That Job.

Straight talk about how to get a job and keep it is often hard to come by, especially in a concise guide. Marco Buscaglia fills the bill with Calling All Grads! Turning a Degree Into a Job, an e-book he edited that covers all the bases. He put his staff  at Tribune Media Services, Inc. to work mining expert advice on what new grads need to know about the job market and how to engage it. I was invited to comment on his 74 pages of practical, resource-rich advice tailored specifically to new grads. Great stuff!

Graduating is a big deal. It marks the end of those years of formal study and, for some, life on a college campus where living essentials are provided.

For most, the goal of graduating is to get a job, so you can live on your own and chart your own course. That can be motivating or paralyzing. In all cases, it means stepping up to the plate.

What’s your MO?

News Flash: When you’re unemployed, your full-time job is job hunting. To land a job and launch a career, you have to work for it.

Proactive grads have already started their search big time before they put on their caps and gowns. They’ve experienced meaningful internships, attended job fairs, scheduled appointments with campus recruiters, and engaged in some serious networking.

For the others, I offer this New Grad Alert: There is no hiring pixie waiting to put a job offer under your pillow.

If you approach the search creatively, you’ll find that it’s a stimulating adventure and Calling All Grads! Turning a Degree Into a Job by Marco Buscaglia provides both treasure map and tools for digging.

Buscaglia writes:

In putting together this book, our staff writers interviewed career experts, hiring managers, authors, other employment specialists and students themselves to present a concise but thorough guide to getting a job during difficult times.

The guide’s job facts, insights, and advice are the product of named experts and career authors who deal with the needs and issues of grads each day. They are an important leg up.

Cutting to the chase.

The guide neatly captures five phases of the job search and gives you an unfiltered look, using job and salary data as well as behavioral examples, at how they work and what you need to do:

    1. Explore your options and possibilities, then jump right in
    2. Who you know, who you meet are the keys
    3. Craft the right resume, cover letter to score an interview
    4. Master the interview through practice, patience, professionalism
    5. You’ve been hired. Time to ditch some old habits

It’s a book of straight talk:

If you want someone to hire you, that someone has to know who you are. Sounds obvious, right? Then why do you keep posting resume after resume to mammoth job sites, hoping a recruiter will simply gravitate to your name based on your education and experience? Wait, you‘re not the only one with great academic credentials and a record of decent part-time jobs? Well, what do you do now? You get out there, that’s what.

It’s advice encourages and forges positive perspectives:

Granted, you‘ve just finished college and are fully expecting to grab that first job. But remember, your career is a marathon, not a sprint. You‘re in this for the long haul and you‘ll have to make a few adjustments along the way.

The importance of networking is strongly reinforced as the most important job search strategy:

To make the most of networking, realize that everyone you know — from family and friends, to your former professors and co-workers — is a member of your network. You can also realize new opportunities by joining civic, volunteer and professional organizations.

The guide covers many topics like:

  • on-line image building and the need to balance it with face-to-face contact
  • attending job fairs and turning temporary jobs into permanent ones
  • crafting the resume and that all-important cover letter
  • interviewing approaches and skills (unfortunately there was nothing on  behavioral interview questions, alas!)
  • dressing the part, questions you should ask, and writing the “thank you” note
  • how to be successful once you get the job

No more delay

The job search can feel arduous. That’s how a full-time job feels some days. But you still have to slog through it. New grads need to answer the call of the marketplace and their own sense of self by knuckling down and doing the work that lands that all important job.

The help is there in Calling All Grads. It’s worth a look. Perseverance pays!

Workplace Friends and Foes—Your Forever Network

Ever been to a high school reunion? Some former classmates look the same. Some you only “recognize” if they have a name tag. 

It’s not how people look that flips our memory switch. It’s their names that get us to remember how each person has been preserved in our minds: 

  • How they treated us (and we them)
  • How smart and/or accomplished they seemed to be
  • How they behaved alone, in groups, and with those they dated
  • If we trusted them, could confide in them, or could rely on them

What we remember is how they branded themselves. The same is true for us. 

Behavior traits stick. 

It’s tempting to blow off our high school image as not the real us. After all we were young, developing, and learning how to be grown-ups. 

It’s usually not what we did but the perceptions about “why” that stick for a long time. People remember. 

Every person who’s crossed our path is in our network. Right now, we either are or aren’t tapping those relationships. 

Your network grows every day through your interactions at work, in the community, among family, and on-line. Every impression you make sticks. 

When your name is mentioned and someone recognizes it, s/he has an impression or perception to share. That’s often how conversations start. Each mention, just like the @ on Twitter, reinforces perceptions. 

Everyone is a link to someone else. The degrees of separation keep shrinking. Just spend an hour exploring Linkedin and you’ll see the power of that. 

The multiplier effect of impressions is staggering. So if we want to succeed, we need to be mindful of how our behavior is perceived. 

Choosing to be friend or foe 

We work in competitive environments. Our companies compete to be profitable. We compete to be recognized, rewarded, and/or advanced in our careers. 

Everyone we work with is competing too. Often we’re competing for the same things: 

  • The boss’s attention or approval
  • A promotion
  • A big raise
  • Recognition or an award 

We might compete in a way that: 

  • Overshadows others, diminishes their efforts, and/or undercuts them
  • Engages others, showcases their efforts, or recognizes them
  • Presents an optimistic, can-do attitude or a self-important, hard-nosed one
  • Bullies our coworkers or motivates their enthusiasm to get work done
  • Panders to the boss or showcases our principles 

The way we compete brands us: Everyone watches. 

You at work is like you back in high school only older and wiser, hopefully. Everybody you work with remembers what you’ve done in their world and passes their perceptions along. Were you someone whom they trusted or someone they doubted? 

Networking is about your network. 

Like it or not we are brands. Everyone is labeling us, including ourselves. 

People who tell me they hate networking often presume it means connecting with new people and then developing some kind of tit-for-tat benefit. 

New people are valuable, but there are hundreds of people who already know you that you should be (re)connecting with to enrich your career. The question is: Why have you let those relationships wane and what’s keeping you from rekindling them? 

Is it because you’re unsure about how they see you and have let so much time go by? Remember: that answer goes both ways. 

Take stock. 

Periodic self-assessment is smart personal and professional planning. We learn by seeing ourselves through the eyes of our colleagues. If you have a chance to take a 360 degree assessment, that would be a great start. 

Otherwise, ask your coworkers their perceptions of you. Okay, that can feel uncomfortable for you and them, but you need to know. If you were a box of cereal, you’d want to know if your customers thought you tasted good enough to keep buying. 

Remember: Everyone you work with is in your network in some way forever. It’s good form to treat them well.  Be nice. 

Photo from CapitalK buy design via Flickr

Who’s Got Your Back? You Need to Know!| The Essential Internal Network

You’ve got a decent job, a reasonable boss, and nice co-workers. You do good work, get good performance evaluations, and don’t make waves. All’s well, right? Well, maybe not.

Businesses are volatile places. The good times and the bad times don’t last forever, but a lot can happen during those transitions. No job is guaranteed to last, so getting comfy in your daily work routine isn’t a good strategy.

It’s not about “who you know” but “who knows you.” 

Relationships are the underpinning of successful careers.

Businesses are transactional. When there’s a nod in your favor, it means that your work benefits both the nodder (your manager) and the business. More often than not, the first thing noticed about you is your work style, attitude, and ability to collaborate. The work you produce comes next. When both are good, you attract the attention you want.

If, however, your visibility is minimal, your chance for growth is stymied. (Unfortunately, there are some supervisors who like to keep talented employees under the radar for their own selfish purposes.) So it’s important to become known outside of your work group.

Relationships are your lifeline. 

Productive relationships move your forward and draining ones slow you down. So it’s important to find people who share your work values and commitments. Then form a proper business relationship and become mutually supportive.

Nothing beats having well-regarded people in other departments talking about their positive experiences with you. Nothing beats advanced notice or insights into upcoming changes courtesy of your connections. Nothing beats someone tipping you off that there’s a problem afoot that involves you.

Why would your connections want to do that for you? Because they value what you bring to the company and to them.

People have your back because they recognize that you are committed, caring, smart, helpful, dependable, ethical, and reliable. They want and need you in their midst because people like you keep the business going.  

A strong internal network is your success ticket.

Internal networking is not about making a list of people to meet and then checking their names off when you’ve met them. It’s about connecting with other people who can expand your understanding of the business. Ultimately, what you offer each other is broader insight into “what’s really going on” around you.

You need to be strategic about the way you build your internal network:

  • Start by looking at the work you’re accountable for and ask yourself, “What insights am I lacking? Who can help me fill in the blanks?”
  • Then write down the questions or discussion items that you’d like to talk about with specific people outside your work group.
  • Arrange for a time to talk to each person.
  • Commit to how you will follow up and keep the dialogue going. 

Here’s what can result from those conversations over time:

  • Deeper insights into how the business operates and its challenges
  • Understanding of the pressures and problems stirring in other departments
  • The inside track about changes, new initiatives, and competitive opportunities
  • A wholistic perspective on issues facing the company
  • The possibility of attracting a mentor for yourself 

Where does this get you? 

Internal networking demonstrates that you care about the company as a whole, not just the interests of your work group. Your efforts to get a handle on the big picture, your appreciation for work done in other areas, and your desire to use your talents to make the right things happen will make you a standout.

Business fitness means staying connected (a private move) and attracting a following (a public move). Internal networking gets you both and a great group of people who will now know you in the best way. It’s a thing of beauty!

Have you tried internal networking? How has it worked for you? Any tips to share?

Unemployment Got You Down? | Build Up Your Skills

Being unemployed is your big break. Why? Because you can finally focus all your time on yourself—your future. Most people squander that time. Please don’t let that be you. 

Stress makes people stupid. 

Think about it. In the face of the unexpected, fear, or hard criticism, we become confused, befuddled, even frantic. When we reach our stress threshold, our decision-making ability implodes. 

Not having a job, for whatever reason, can deliver high doses of stress. In knee-jerk fashion, we frantically try to find a replacement job which often looks like the old one. At the height of our stress, we forget to ask ourselves important questions: 

  • Did I really like that job? Was it a good fit for my interests?
  • Did I have the skills to be really successful at it?
  • Could I have made a career of it?
  • Did I like the industry that was home to that job?
  • Was I working with the kind of people who were good for me? 

A deep breath and serious introspection can ease the panic. 

Start with a reality check. You’re out of work now, but

  • Do you seriously think that you’ll be out work forever? The answer for most is, “No.”
  • Do you need to replace the job you had or is there something else just as good or better out there? The answer: ”Most likely”
  • Is the job you want going to fall into your lap? “No.”
  • Are you going to have to work hard to figure out your options, how to present yourself, and where the leads are? “Yes.”
  • Do you care enough about yourself to commit to finding a job that will deliver what you need? Only you know this answer. 

Start thinking. Keep thinking. Take smart actions.  

Thinking puts your mind to work discovering information, insights, opportunities, and solutions that you can act on. It needs to replace worrying, brooding, procrastinating, and nay-saying. 

Right action reduces the stress. While unemployed, you have, at least, a week’s worth of eight-hour days to develop and implement your plan for finding the right job.  

For starters, use part of each day looking for openings and opportunities through your personal and professional networks, posted positions, and career fairs.   

Then, invest time filling in the skill, knowledge, and experience gaps in your resume. 

Spend time figuring out how to stand out as a candidate. Avoid accumulating certificates, courses, or community work without clear purpose.   

Do things that will build skills essential to the jobs you want. Try these ideas on for size:

  • Identify a local non-profit looking for board members. Express interest. Volunteer or serve on committees. Say “yes” to a board seat offer. (Showcases  your leadership, talents, commitment, and energy; Builds your network) 
  • Become a blogger. Post articles on subjects related to the kind of work you’re interested in. Include evidence of research done on each subject. Invite followers and comments. Reference your blog on your resume. (Showcases subject matter knowledge, communication skills, social media savvy; Expands visibility) 
  • Offer specialized skills/services as an independent contractor. Target companies/individuals in industries where you want to work. Do some work pro bono in exchange for a testimonial. Mention this work on your resume. (Showcases entrepreneurial spirit, motivation, relationship building, skills; Adds references; May lead to an offer.) 
  • Seek out public speaking opportunities. Too scary? Enroll in Toastmasters and get over that. Speak to groups of any size.  Mention relevant topics and audiences on your job applications. (Showcases self-confidence, public presence, courage; Expands visibility) 

The right effort delivers the right job at the right time. 

Patience, a steady pace, disciplined action, and your network are your best job search assets. This work is about YOU, no one else. If you spend half your time focused on the marketplace and the other half expanding your capabilities and your reach, you’ll have a full workday every day and a great job as your reward. This is how you’ll get business fit. I’m pulling for you! 

Can you add other ideas for building skills while out of work? Are there any traps to avoid? Got a success story to share? I love those!