Why Good Leaders Go Bad

Have you ever wondered how some executives actually got to their level of success? I know I have run into a few that I felt probably needed help tying their own shoes. While you will certainly find managers who shouldn’t be in a management position, there are managers who were great at times but have changed in ways that have made them less effective. In this post, I’d like to identify a few things that high achievers need to be aware of to avoid going from great to bad. These situations are very important for you to recognize now as they are silent killers of performance that most people never see coming.

Impostor Syndrome. This is a situation where a high achiever moves away from serving their talents to serving their fears. Maybe it’s a fear of failure, fear of success, procrastination, workaholism, or perfectionism. This fear creates an enormous amount of anxiety which triggers the transition. For high achievers, success often comes rapidly. Sometimes it occurs too rapidly. If the rate of success is too quick, then the conscious mind won’t be able to analyze past performance to rationalize why the success has occurred. They simply have no memories of how they earned their way up. There is also another problem. As they develop the higher level skills to manage organizations, they lose their more detail technical skills. Technical memory is reduced and they recognize that. This is where the anxiety comes into play. The brain, amygdala in this case, activates the anxiety out of an inability to remember what made you successful or how the technical things work. This is a disruption to the thought process, leaving the leader with a constant focus on their fear. Is it a little embarrassing that a leader of a technical organization doesn’t even know how their own products work? Sure it is. Highly stressed high achievers are aware of the stress but not their brains handling of it. At certain levels of stress, the brain only runs on the unconscious mind, shutting down the conscious mind’s activities. As Srinivasan Pillay, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says “It is like a figure skater who suddenly questions his or her flow on the ice and starts to stumble, or a musician who loses the spontaneity and starts to play mechanically.”

Mirrored-self misidentification. This is a fairly common in highly successful leaders. It’s a situation where, after being submerged in a problem for a long period of time, they don’t recognize themselves anymore. In extreme cases, affected persons are unable to recognize their image in the mirror. While it may look like them, they don’t really think it is. On a more subtle level, executives can get wrapped up in complex problems for too long. Even if they are successful, they won’t recognize the success, no matter how much they are praised for it. Their behavior begins to show narcissistic tendencies in that they begin to worry that others will see them differently. They may want to represent a certain set of social values when they really don’t. For example, when John Edwards, a 2008 U.S. Democratic presidential contender and former South Carolina Senator, was interviewed about his adulterous affair, he admitted that narcissism played a role in his unethical behavior. In short, great success can easily confuse a leader and convince them that any unethical behavior isn’t really unethical. The “mirroring” problem is a form of self-deception, the paradoxical capacity to deceive oneself regarding the truth in the process of protecting self-image.

Summit Syndrome. Sometimes great leaders move upwards at a neck breaking pace and then, come to a halt. They suddenly become “stuck.” A leader who has mastered their position and accomplishes their tasks with ease can become bored. They may push to achieve some unheard of stellar result, only to crash and burn. Eventually, they retire, move on or fall back down the ladder. The problem is that many of these high achievers are high sensation seekers and monotony deprives them of novelty. The brain can respond by reducing cross talk between hemispheres of the brain. This leads to neural atrophy and eventually a decline in performance. Essentially, it’s a situation where a thrill seeker is placed in a position of a complete lack of excitement. It’s not a fun place and their behavior will eventually communicate that.

So there you have it. These are just a few things that can make a good executive go bad. If you watch the news any, you can certainly find evidence to support my claims. The problem with these situations is that they are often unnoticed and untreated, until the executives sink the ship. Hopefully, you can consider these in your own career development. Coaching is one of the best ways to get yourself out of such compromising positions, but this requires you to recognize some of the signs and seek support.   This is a great reason for you to establish a good network of professionals to support your career development. You’ll need people who will consistently be open and honest about your performance.

Cheap plug coming….Stay tuned for our next ebook on mentoring. Even great success can bring your career to a halt. A mentoring team can help you build great success and they can also help you keep it!

Mentors: Be careful who you ask

We are very close to releasing our next ebook on Mentoring. We’ve been talking with a lot of people to put this together and when we do, questions always arise. One question that seemed to come up too often when we spoke with MBAs is “who should I tap on the shoulder to be my mentor?” So, we decided to share a little information from the book prior to release. Here is one interesting idea that came from our research on Mentors.

The 5 Year Span. Over the past decade, we’ve interviewed thousands of professionals around the globe, including professors, entrepreneurs, students, millionaires and billionaires. We’ve asked for their advice on many topics. One interesting fact that was noticeable with the interviewees is that they had trouble recalling or predicting information, in detail, several years away from where they currently are. For example, we’ve spoken to billionaires at length about their path to success. Many of these individuals were older baby-boomers and had difficulty recalling the barriers they faced when they began their start into entrepreneurship. What we learned from all of these interviews is that most people can’t advise you effectively about your situation if they are too far removed from it. A 2015 MBA student may not gain useful advice from a 1995 MBA graduate, as the student will want details that likely can’t be recalled. The answer to this problem is to choose someone closer to your situation, within 5 years. So a 2015 graduate would consider connecting with graduates no earlier than 2010 graduation year. This is just a rule of thumb for gathering advice about your current situation.

Career Timeline
Career Timeline

It’s unlikely that you’ll run into the problem of having too many mentors. Most professionals don’t have mentors and don’t know the value of them. In fact, most professionals don’t plan their career. Mentors can be invaluable to your career. Our clients have mentioned that many of their jobs have come at the hand of their mentors.

To use mentors, it’s helpful to find numerous mentors with experience that spans across the entire breadth of your career. You’ll want to befriend professionals who are in the same stage you are in. Then, you’ll want mentors who are a few years ahead of you and so on. If you only have one or two mentors, you might be missing out on advice that is directly applicable to where you are, leaving you with the burden to determine when you need to use the info.

That’s it….stay tuned for the release of our next ebook.

Testing the Job Market

We recently played around with the recruiting process by looking at a few resources that we are asked about. Here’s what we did and the results we found.

Retained Executive Search Firms. These firms find candidates for specific companies with job openings who retain their services. We identified the top 10 firms in Atlanta and sent them several resumes to understand what would happen. We also contacted some of their executives directly through email to pitch our situation and get a response.   The response from going online, setting up an account and submitting resumes was as expected. It was simple and nothing happened. However, once we began sending email directly to their leadership with our credentials attached, something unexpected happen. Before I begin to describe their response, it’s important to note that most of the emails we sent did not get a response. Repeated emails did not improve that either.

For the managers that did respond, we were surprised to see that in a few cases, they suggested we contact another company. One response was “well, that’s only about 20% of our business. You should go check out another company.” They did provide the name of a company. Over and over again, the firm’s leaders did not provide anything useful at all. They either said, sign up on our website or go somewhere else. That’s not what we were hoping for but in this little study, it seemed to be the standard response.

After we spent a little time on their website, reviewing their openings, it became clear that most of these firms serve the academic market. Obviously, academia has become a huge market. So much so that most firms we connected with listed academic positions as their most recent accomplishments.

VC firms. This resource isn’t something most people chase but it does exist. Venture Capitalist firms fund startups, early stage organizations, expansion, and mergers and acquisitions. While they typically work closely with entrepreneurs, they also stay connected to a group of managers and leaders who make themselves available to run the companies they fund for some length of time, which can be months to years. We looked up 5 firms in Atlanta and tried to reach out to them. Only one response from an administrator that said they didn’t deal with hiring managers. We also tried to reach them directly but no replies were provided.

Executives.  We know that many executives use search firms to help them find their next big assignment. So, we tapped the shoulders of a few executives to ask who they use and would they make a recommendation to their search firm for us. Strange thing about these search firms is that they don’t just work with anyone. The best way to get in is to have a referral. We tested this a few times and had good results with the executives that would work with us. You may find, however, that executives don’t like to give up information about how they get their jobs. It’s like showing your cards to everyone in a poker game. Your challenge with this resource is finding executives who will help you. This will almost be a mass marketing exercise, meaning that you will need to reach out to many executives to get a little bit of support.

Headhunters.  These are the free ones. You know, the resume banks. They work directly with companies who pay them to make recommendations for interviews by perusing through a stack of resumes they’ve collected. In our interactions with several, we received lots of encouragement from them with phrases like “if we see a match, we’ll get in touch with you.” To be successful with these guys, you need to build relationships with them over time. Otherwise, it’s a passive approach to finding a job.

Job Boards. This resource includes sites like Monster, ExecuNet, Linkedin, Ladders, etc. Many of these sites have a free sign up or are free altogether. We’ve tried out a few and didn’t find anything useful from them. We basically confirmed the old age that “anything worth having won’t be given to you.” Free service on these sites just means no service. Some of these sites have pay for service options as well but we found most of these to focus more on helping you with your resume, interview tips and job search methods. I think you can find most of that for free on the Internet already.

If there is one thing you need to know about the job search is that it is a business for most of the resources you will use. These resources have to be paid and this funding often comes from the companies doing the hiring. Don’t ever get the idea that they are working specifically for you, even when you are paying them. These companies make money by promoting the idea that they have influence on the companies (and maybe some do). Your best bet is to network with employees inside the company and gain their support in promoting you to hiring managers. Before you start the networking process, make sure you have a well-defined personal brand. Selling yourself is difficult today and if you don’t have a well-tuned communication plan, people will lose interest in you. Oh, you may also want to consider using many of the old techniques such as actually meeting people and talking about opportunities. Make it personal. I know we all consider the job search to be formal and rigid, but it isn’t. It’s often informal and very personal.

The MBA Nightmare

Here’s a story that might keep you up at night. I was talking with a client who had graduated with his MBA just a year ago. He was upset that things had not changed for him in his current company. No raise. No promotion. No new opportunities. In fact, no one even recognized that he earned his MBA. “My job doesn’t require an MBA but I have one. Now I worry that my current employer will see me as overqualified, likely to get bored and leave, further damaging my career mobility,” he explained.

He also heard that if he doesn’t move up soon that recruiters will think he’s not a real go-getter. I had to ask about that. He felt that while he was working his day job and earning his MBA at night, he would be viewed as a high achiever. However, since he graduated and stayed in the same job he was in before starting his MBA, he would be considered somewhat “unmotivated” if he remained in that job for several years.   “Wouldn’t employers wonder why I went through the effort and money to earn the MBA and then did nothing with it?” He worried that his job title wasn’t representative of his skill sets and felt that employers would avoid him because he wasn’t working towards his potential. The one degree that was supposed to offer a buffet of opportunity, career growth and money failed to deliver on all accounts.

That’s his story. What do you think? Have you seen that before? Are you wondering if things went according to his plan? Did he fail to plan? Did the college fail to help him? Did his company fail to utilize his talents? Who’s to blame for his stagnation?

This is not a good place to be. It’s not a good feeling and eventually it can destroy your job satisfaction and happiness.   So what went wrong? Here’s a few observations.

Too much hope. Too many students believe that the MBA experience will provide for their needs. What are their needs? Many identify money and opportunity as their main reasons for earning an MBA. But how does spending two years of your life and $80,000 meet these needs. If you consider that you give the college money and work your butt off for two years with only a piece of paper to show for it, you might feel the need to rethink this approach. You don’t get money at the end of the program. You get a bill. The agreement you have with the school is the opportunity to learn new skills from professors. It’s not a guarantee that you will. You have to put effort into it. That’s all. If you want anything beyond that, you have to go get it yourself. Working professionals who earn their degree have the expectation that their current company will recognize them, reward them and give them a new office beside the CEO. If you want to understand the probability of this happening, look around. Connect with MBA professionals and ask about their experience. They’ll tell you that it doesn’t happen. Why would I give you more money to do a job that doesn’t require an MBA to start with? You were hired to do that job. If you want to go develop yourself further, that’s great but I still need you to do the job I hired you for. Hope is not a strategy. You can’t wait on something to happen.

Lack of action. If you consider that you wanted money and opportunity from your MBA, you must realize that the college can’t give that to you. That’s not what they do. They educate. That’s it. Move on. You need a company to do that or you need to start your own. My client was sitting in a job with a big bill and the same needs he had before starting the MBA. He hasn’t filled his needs yet. So why did he stop his pursuit? It was obvious that the mere possession of the MBA was insufficient. It’s a credential that has value. That’s why you spent time and money on it. But if you are in an organization that doesn’t care, it doesn’t have value to them and your needs won’t be met. So why are you still waiting on them to reward you? It won’t happen. Do you think that waiting longer will help? Go-getters are always in action. They do what they can with what they have. They don’t stop until the needs are met. Then, they find new ones and start all over.

The wrong attitude. Growing your career is tough. There are a lot of barriers that are put in front of us. Sure, some kids grow up in luxury and have free entry to the top echelons of organizations. For those of us who don’t, that doesn’t matter. We have to build our own success. Education is just a part of the journey. There is never a point in the journey where we can simply rest on our credentials.   This week I worked with numerous professionals who were laid off. Their company is struggling to survive. These professionals had law degrees, engineering degrees, CPAs, etc. They are smart people and yet they have just experienced what appears to be a setback. What do you do? Just stop working? No. You must realize that you have value and you must search to find someone who will pay for that value. The wrong attitude is to simply pretend that you are satisfied with where you are. You have to satisfy those needs because they won’t go anywhere. They will keep screaming louder and louder, until you respond to them. Have you ever wondered why your life isn’t filled with people who want to make your life a huge success? It’s because people are trying to fulfill their needs and create their own success. The wrong attitude is to believe that someone else can give you your happiness. They are searching for their own.

Gaining success with an MBA, or any degree, requires work. Define what you want and how each credential can help you get there. The MBA gives you knowledge, skills and abilities. It does not differentiate you from others. There are 150,000 new MBAs every year. Your differentiation comes from the value you can provide to others. Your value is driven by your desire to build success, even if only one small step at a time. It is the accumulation of all of these small steps that put your career motion and move you further to your goals. The MBA is a tool that can be used to build a better career. You have to swing a hammer to drive a nail. Drive enough nails and you can build a house. Sure, it takes time and effort…but it’s worth it. It meets needs. Professionals that don’t achieve all they choose to do so because they accept it. I know what you’re thinking…but what about this?….but what about that?….but, but, but. “But” is the argument for your limitations. When you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them. Define your needs, then go fulfill them. The solution lies within your drive and determination. When you stop, so does your career. Let your actions define you. Go get your success now. Never be satisfied.

6 Questions to Ask Your MBA Program

I recently read an article about the Executive MBA that outlined the career benefits of this type of program. As you look over these, think about the impact you would want the MBA to have on your career.   It included four things:

  • Studying part-time while working – this is great if you can’t go to college full time.
  • Experiential learning and reflection – put your skills to use at work while you’re learning them in class.
  • MBA partnerships – you get connected with professors and other students.
  • The MBA challenge – you’ve been selected to be part of a program and have the opportunity to show employers you can meet the difficult rigors of the MBA.

Are these benefits anywhere close to what you wanted the MBA to do for your career? Is there a misalignment? Most MBAs are career changers who are after more money and opportunities. Too often MBA graduates subscribe to the philosophy that “I don’t know what I want but I do know this isn’t it.” Too many professionals aren’t happy with their career progress and think the MBA is the answer to their problems. Well, the colleges and universities aren’t going to talk you out of this idea. In fact, the US has seen just the opposite. Colleges are popping up everywhere and some even allow you to design your own MBA (like that’s a good idea). This is why the MBA is so popular. It’s an instrument that is often sold as the answer to your career problems.   Don’t believe me? Here are some example statements from advertisements that support this claim.

“Accelerate: Take your career to the next level. Evening & Weekend MBA program” – Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Conquer the corporate world” – The University of Wolverhampton

“Be an ambassador of change.” – Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan

“Great leaders don’t just solve complex issues, they seek them out.” — University of Notre Dame

“Stand out from the crowd.” – Saint Louis University

“Recession Protection.” – Chapman University College

On and on this could go. These types of ads are everywhere. What do they really mean? Nothing. It’s just an ad. The things you need to focus on before enrolling in a program is how the MBA will impact your career.

Think about it…you’re about to embark on a journey that will eat up all your free time for the next two years, as well as a ton of your money. So what questions should you be asking? I’m not talking about the questions you should be asking yourself (okay, maybe just one). I’m talking about the questions you ask of the people you’re about to give your time and money to! Why? You’re purchasing a service for a lot of money and you need to make sure you will get value from it. I’ve worked with too many MBA graduates that have earned their MBA and are still in the same job as when they started their program, except now they have another $80k in debt. Is that where you want to be? No? Then, consider asking these questions before you begin any program.

  1. What are the benefits I need from this program? This question goes to the heart of why you are seeking the MBA. You should be able to define the things you want from the MBA. For example, I expect to get a job before graduation making $105,000 per year, with a sign on bonus of $10,000. Or maybe you’re focused on the specific skills you need to enter a new career field, such as private equity.   List all the benefits you think you need to make the change in your career that you want. Yes, you have to think about it. You’ll need this list to compare with the the next question you need to ask.
  2. What benefits does the program offer? Look back at the benefits listed at the beginning of this post (not from question #1). Would these be helpful? From my own experience with the MBA, I can tell you these benefits were NOT on my list. So I would have definitely encountered a misalignment of expectations. When you go speak to anyone about the MBA program, take your list of benefits and ask if they can support them. They should be able to answer the questions specifically. After all, you’re paying for the benefits so they should be the ones you need. If they don’t cover all of your needs, ask them how they can help you meet them? In the end, you own the discrepancies between what they offer and what you need. The sooner you know the differences, the better you can plan to fill the gaps. My advice here is to perform this analysis before you start and use the two years to cover all of your needs before you graduate.
  3. What services does the program provide for job search support? Many MBA programs have their own career services group. So what do they actually help you do? Most cover resumes, interview prep, company introductions, etc. But do they help you evaluate offers? Determine best career paths? Also, are they actually able to help you do the things they say they do? In a recent Wall Street Journal article, UCLA’s corporate relations director stated they were too busy helping recent graduates to help the incoming students. It’s critical to know how much and what kind of help you will get in your program.
  4. How active are the alumni groups? Here is your greatest source for future jobs, unless your university doesn’t really have an alumni group. If you’re in an online program, you probably won’t get this benefit. Here’s a list so you can where your program ranks. You’ll want to know what jobs they have and what companies they work for. If the alumni groups don’t exist or are not active, then you must realize that the career services department is probably not very strong either and will most likely be of little help in shaping your career and finding that dream job.
  5. Do you have MBA mentor programs? These programs connect graduate students to senior level leaders to build strategic relationships that support leadership development and career advancement. This is where you begin building a successful and powerful network, especially if you’re a career changer or an entrepreneurial aspirant.   Mentors give you personal one-on-one attention and can help you with specific issues such as salary negotiation, influencing stakeholders, and leadership resilience. If your MBA program doesn’t offer this, you should build your own. This is too valuable a tool to go without.
  6. Do you use external career consultants? I hate to say it but sometimes colleges and universities don’t really keep track of what’s going on in the corporate world. They get in a rut of dealing with the same companies for hiring and fail to branch out to other industries. So this means that some MBA programs are geared to certain industries, so make sure you’re aware of which one you’re attending. External consultants can bring a degree of objectivity to a situation which may be politically impossible within the university. Most importantly, they help you understand the current trends in hiring, career development, salaries and more. The corporate world typically moves at a faster pace than academia. Some universities have transitioned to using external consultants to help manage MBA student careers. If your program has them, use them. If not, call me (I know… shameless plug).

These questions are not all encompassing but are designed to get you thinking more about the end of the program than the beginning. Too often colleges quickly push you into discussions on the MBA experience, rather than the impact it will have on your career. Sure, the experience is important but that’s not what you’re getting the MBA for. You need the MBA to help you grow your career. So you need to do some real investigative research on why you’re doing this and how the program will help you achieve your goals. Without a plan, you’ll be left with the same job you had before and an additional monthly payment that’s as big as a mortgage payment.

Colleges try to make you feel special by admitting you to the program but, in reality, you’ve earned it. More importantly, you’re paying for it. You are a customer, not just a student. Of course, there’s a benefit to the college in admitting you as well. You’re a paying customer who will most likely complete the program. That’s job security for them.

So there you have it. Treat your investigation of MBA programs like a criminal trial. Put each college up on the witness stand and drill them with the hard questions. This is your future. You have to make sure you’re getting what you need because no one else will. Remember, academia is a business and if you aren’t pushing to get what you want, you won’t get it.

There are other questions to answer….check out our free “Career Launch” guide at http://www.blitzteamconsulting.com/.

10 Wishes for the MBA

I’ve been following the MBA, students and graduates for a long time. A lot of our discussions focus around things that the MBA doesn’t do. Many of these things we feel the program should be able to do but somehow it falls short of our expectations. So, instead of focusing on the shortcomings, I thought I would use this post to offer a few suggestions for improving the whole MBA experience. Imagine sitting in the front of the auditorium during your MBA orientation meeting and the director steps on stage to say a few things. Here’s what I wish they would say.

10. I wish they would tell students that specialization is not bad and is currently better than generalization. If you’ve earned the MBA and are looking to change careers, you probably already know this.

9. I wish they would tell students that they don’t provide a lot of career guidance.   It’s usually best to take advice from MBAs who’ve been in the corporate world for a while about the issues MBAs will experience. You also want information about the market as it is now and how it has been in the past few years. Getting advice from 20 years ago may not be relevant. That’s why you need to use MBA alumni groups. (shameless plug – read our ebooks at www.bt-books.com).

8. I wish they would teach students to communicate their value as an MBA.   This is important as more than two-thirds of MBAs are looking for a career change and will be asked about the value they will provide. If they can’t articulate it, it must not but be real impressive.

7. I wish they would tell students that they need to focus on differentiation. Earning the same degree everyone else is doesn’t help you take advantage of opportunities.

6. I wish they would tell students to focus on creating successes during their program. Earning the degree isn’t as powerful as they think it is.

5. I wish they would tell students to learn to work together and get to know each other. They’ll soon be asking each other for a job. So make as many friends as you can.

4. I wish they would tell students that networking is the key to finding a job. In fact, Networking is the key to just about everything you’ll get out of your career. Most of the accolades you’ll seek will come from someone else.

3. I wish they would tell students that internships are critical to getting into your desired industry. Some industries require experience, like private equity, before they’ll hire you. The MBA, without the experience, is useless.

2. I wish they would tell students that the job search needs to begin when you enroll, not when you are done. It’s so sad to see students unemployed after graduation. It shouldn’t happen. Give yourself plenty of time to get a job. Start early.

1. I wish they would tell students that the MBA is just a degree in fortune telling. Saying you know something about business is much different than proving it. You have to do some good things before people will believe in you. Remember, advice without a proven track record of success is speculation.

The MBA has greatly increased in popularity around the world. In recent discussions with companies around the globe, MBAs are graduating without the skills they need to be effective. Now combine this with the fact that most graduates don’t have a plan for their career, or even the first job, and you can begin to see why so many are struggling today. Nonetheless, the responsibility for your career is yours. Pointing fingers and assessing blame doesn’t help you any. Read, study, talk with MBAs and whatever else it takes to plan your career. You’ll pay a lot of money for that MBA and if you want to get a good return, you’ll have to plan it. Otherwise, the only thing you’ll see from it is a bill each month.

What do you wish for?

5 Steps to Maintaining Sufficient Career Motivation

Staying motivated throughout the life of your career is challenging to say the least. There are so many forces that will drive you away from career satisfaction. The major problem is that we are always changing. I don’t just mean you will change, I also mean that your environment will change as well. I hear arguments all the time that you need to make sure you have a good “fit” for the new company you want to join. While I agree with this idea, it’s important to understand that organizations change too.   In fact, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) seem to be very common today as M&A activity has increased by 42% in the last year and now rivals records set for such activity in 2007. Even though M&A activity is exciting to Wall Street, it can wreak havoc on your career. Many years ago I worked in an organization that was acquired twice in 18 months. There was so much change occurring that I didn’t know who I was working for from month to month. After each acquisition, restructuring always occurs. Luckily, most companies don’t engage in this much change but organizations do seem to be changing their culture to meet the rapidly changing demands of the marketplace. All of this change will not be handled well by the companies involved and will place considerable pressure on your career plans.

You’ve probably already seen your current organization’s responses to some of these tensions in the marketplace. One organization I worked with in assessing their cultural transformations had flattened their organization considerably to the point they had no organizational chart, which was their response to increasing speed to market by pushing decision-making to the lowest level. As you can imagine, this environment has little tolerance for failure and isn’t one of your best learning environments. Then, there’s the factor of flexibility, where organizations are responding to both globalization and diversity forces. These forces are pushing employees to be more cognizant of different cultures and, at the same time, are allowing employees to be more flexible in their working arrangements (e.g. telecommuting).   These forces have induced the need for greater communication skills as employees are now communicating with individuals directly, anywhere in the organization, as opposed to communicating through “proper channels.”   Globalization, diversity, flexibility, flatness, and networking are huge stresses for organizations today that won’t go away. Most struggle to optimize these factors, which has a tendency to complicate matters considerably. In other words, companies will continue to transform themselves for as far into the future as we can see.

Therefore, you have to develop a strategy to deal with a lot of change. Many years ago, your career was driven by your own needs, but this was a time when companies were more stable. It was easy to assess a new company’s culture and decide whether you liked it or not because it didn’t change much. Once you were in the company, creating a long career was easy, assuming your needs didn’t change too often. Today, your job satisfaction is determined more by your ability to deal with your company’s changing needs, not yours. This makes figuring out a viable career path very difficult. Here are few things I’ve learned over the years that will help you strike a balance with these seemingly unstoppable forces.

Understand what you need. So few people think about what they really work for. We often have some vague sense of what would make us happy but we fail to define it in enough detail that we can create a plan to achieve it or always make sure we are working towards it. Without such an understanding, our success becomes a victim of circumstances. So what motivates you? I’m not talking about getting a raise every six months and a promotion every eighteen months. I mean you need to know what makes you happy at work. What motivates you to be your best? Is it challenging work, managing people, autonomy, altruism, work-life balance, career growth potential, security, recognition or variety of work? Don’t worry about whether you can control the presence of these factors. Even if we can’t control everything, a failure to work towards your needs is simply leaving success up to chance. Would you need all of them to be happy with your progress? Not entirely. You would, however, be able to understand why you aren’t successful by identifying what’s missing. Then, you could find ways to bring those missing factors back into your life.

Understand your work environment. You’re not going to get everything you need from your job. It’s not any company’s goal to do that. It’s yours. You must manage your expectations accordingly. With that in mind, what factors that motivate you are present in your current work environment? I realize that these factors may be present at various levels, such as you don’t always get exciting work but you do get at least one exciting assignment per year. Check out my table in this link. It’s a view of values from a MBA graduate who is still in their same job after graduation. You can see what’s important to them and what their job provides. Take a little time to figure out what your work environment provides for you.

Find sources for your needs. If we only learned from the experiences in our jobs, how much would we really know? While your job won’t provide everything you need to grow and develop, you can find these opportunities elsewhere. In fact, that’s what drove me into consulting and then publishing. My needs were changing and weren’t being met. So I had a choice: accept it or change it. Once you identify your needs and determine which ones your work environment doesn’t provide, try to find other places outside of work that can help you fill these needs. For the most part, you won’t really care where they are being met, you’ll just be happy they are met. The only time this would become a problem is that if you allow your environment to remain the same for 2 or 3 years. Luckily, change is much faster than that.

Assess your needs often. Decades ago, it seemed that careers were modified by our own personal needs. But, today, the organization is transforming itself at a faster rate than its employees. As companies learn more, they reduce the size of the workforce, outsource, re-engineer processes, merge with other companies, acquire smaller companies and so on. The point is that the company changes often too and this has an impact on your career. Every year at your annual review, you should take time to assess what you need and what the company provides. It’s important to know the alignment of your needs with what your environment provides, as this will often be your sole source of stress. The misalignment will also give you areas to work on improving for the future.

Build your own team. This is probably my favorite idea but one very few actually utilize. A career is still viewed by most as something that can only be done individually. Yet when you look at the history of many highly successful professionals, you find out they had help. Just check out this site to see who got help from others. You should reach out to others to help you in your assessments of your needs and development of plans to meet them. There is such a stigma around career development that most people will never even breach the topic at work, but we will complain to all of our family, friends and neighbors. All you have to do is to talk with a few people you trust and get them to help you. Show them your assessment and get their thoughts. People want to help. It makes them feel valuable and needed. You won’t be disappointed in this tip if you use it.

Little things you should do daily. Success is the result of good habits. I create new habits all the time and test them out for a year to understand how they will impact my surroundings. The good part is that it usually doesn’t take very long to see the results. Here are a few things you can do daily to impact your environment in a positive way.

  • Develop your own catch phrase – Every year I develop one. This year it is “living the dream.” Any time anyone asks me how I’m doing, I respond with my phrase. I try to say it with passion and belief every time. This phrase does two things for me: 1) it reminds me how much progress I’ve made over the years, and 2) it reminds me that I’ve still got a few things to do in my career and that I can accomplish them.
  • Be positive – No matter how bad things get, shed a little sunshine on everyone’s day. Look, a career is very difficult but you can only take it one day at a time. So make every day a good day. Not just for yourself but for those around you. People like being around those who make them happy, despite reality. And if you’re employees really like being around you, maybe managers will keep that in mind should there ever come a need for the unthinkable things companies do to employees (you know… like a layoff!).
  • Stop the comparisons – Too often we judge our success by measuring it against other’s success. We have no idea what others have sacrificed to gain their success or how it has left them on the inside. The comparisons don’t really do much for you other than take time from working on your own plan. If you need to make comparisons, think about where you came from, where you are and where you want to be. That kind of thought has benefits.
  • Bask in the good things – Do you take enough time to soak in the moments when you’re successful? When I experience success, no matter how small, I make sure that I live in the moment as long as possible. I focus on the good emotions so that my body remembers what it feels like when success happens. I want it to develop an addiction to those feelings and a longing to repeat it over and over again.

Yep…there’s nothing magical about this post. It’s all common sense stuff. But how many of us don’t do them on a daily basis? How many of us get trapped in our daily lives? It’s too easy to do. Life and your career can be much better. All you have to do is plan a little and develop some good daily habits. If you’re not doing this, then you already have good habits or the pain isn’t bad enough yet. By why wait? Give yourself every possible advantage to be successful and happy. And who doesn’t want that?

How to Get a Raise With Your MBA

If you’ve got an MBA, you’ve probably already realized that getting the MBA doesn’t lead to more money, despite what the statistics say (at least not immediately). When I was working on my MBA, I had three friends who were earning their MBA too but at different schools. We were quite competitive with each other and were very interested to see who would benefit the most after graduation. You see, we all worked in the same company. I hate to admit it, but I didn’t win the free lunch, which was the prize for getting a raise upon graduation. If you’re looking to make some money after you graduate, you’ll want to read about our little experiment. Here’s what we did to earn a raise with our MBA.

There were four of us enrolled in four different universities. Three were in the traditional brick and mortar MBA and one was in an online MBA program. In the last semester, we all began trying to figure out how we would sell our new skills to management in the quest of that trophy of champions, the raise. And who doesn’t want that?

The first brick and mortar MBA graduate felt that his university had significant brand power (well, it was a top 25 program). So, he didn’t do anything. He felt that once management caught wind of his new accomplishment (MBA from a top program), he would instantly gain access to the club, more money and a new position in the upper echelon. Unfortunately, his was wrong. Management didn’t throw a party for him nor did they offer any of the accolades he had dreamed of.

The second MBA graduate had a little more strategy to his plan. He took some of his learning and used it to find ways to reduce the cost of operations. Surely, creating a list of activities that could help the company save money would be worth something. So, he studied and researched some effective methods. He even put some probabilities, budgets, schedules and return on investments in his analysis. It was an impressive list. But, alas, it turned up no coins to jingle in his pocket. Management was happy to receive it but wasn’t moved enough to reward his behavior.

The third graduate took a slightly different approach than the second. He didn’t focus on saving money. He sought ways to make money. To begin his pursuit, he asked management what were their biggest challenges they had. Then, he knew what problems he needed to solve. So, he worked just like the second graduate by researching and studying the challenges the managers identified. He outlined several ways to overcome the challenges and created plans for achieving them. Even though a couple of these plans were acted upon later, this effort did not yield any money for the graduate.

The fourth graduate tried something totally different than all the others. He set out to prove that he had acquired some desirable skills from his MBA program. He focused his efforts on marketing since this was a passion of his. He worked with several departments to understand what their marketing challenges were. Then, just like all of the others, he set out to find solutions. Once he found them, he put them into action, without discussing it with upper management. Risky move? I thought so too. However, when he presented his list of problems and solutions, he included one piece of information that the rest of us failed to do. He presented results. “That’s the initiative we’re looking for” was management’s response. They didn’t want to know what the problems were; they knew that already. They didn’t want to know what you thought would work; they wanted to know what would work. That meant you had to do something to understand what would work. They could then take the methods that really worked company-wide but they had to know what worked first. Needless to say, the fourth graduate got the raise.

The lesson we learned that semester is that it isn’t about what you know nor is it about what you can do. It’s all about what you actually do. Your value isn’t based on what you have. It’s based on what you give. In learning to earn a raise, three of us found that potential energy is nice but you’ll gain much more if you convert it to kinetic energy. In short, do something. An MBA is not proof that you have any specific skills, knowledge or ability. It’s only proof that you took some classes. Accomplishments are the real proof that earns rewards. When you think about asking for a raise, don’t go into the discussion empty handed. Don’t give them ideas or possible solutions. Give them a clear view of your drive and determination to make the business a success; that is to say, a clear understanding of what they can do to make the company more profitable as determined by what you’ve already done.

6 Reasons Your MBA Doesn’t Work

In developing our latest series of ebooks for MBAs, we’ve spoken with many MBA graduates around the world.   Our discussions seem to present only two real value assessments for the MBA. One category of graduates feel that the degree provided sufficient knowledge and skills for proper career growth, while the other group claims the MBA has done nothing for them. In reviewing the backgrounds of the more optimistic group of graduates, we found some interesting observations that may prove to be quite useful if you’ve found that your MBA isn’t impacting your career as you expected. As you review each point, consider what impact they would have if you’d have thoroughly investigated it and implemented it into your strategy. Would you then say your MBA is still broken?

You didn’t establish any realistic expectations. If you look at almost any MBA program, they’ll suggest that you’ll “develop the ability to accelerate you career.” Does that mean you’ll be CEO in two years? Hardly. Very few MBAs graduate with the mindset that they’ll have to work another 5 to 10 more years to earn their next promotion or the opportunity to manage a group of employees. Most think they worked hard for two years and they want their reward now. Good luck with that. Save yourself the disappointment and talk with other MBA professionals in your industry to determine real goals.

You don’t demonstrate the skills. Just because you own a basketball doesn’t mean you should be a starting point guard for the Miami Heat. You’ve just spent two years learning a lot of things. You should be able to walk into a business and start making improvements instantly. If you don’t, your company will begin to wonder what you wasted your time on. To be a big player, you have to demonstrate your skills and prove that you’ve got what it takes.

You don’t need it. Too many graduates engaged in the quest for management greatness by earning an MBA only to find out that it can’t create that kind of magic by itself. I started out my career as an engineer. Yep, I’m the stereotypical engineer who got an MBA to move into management. Little did I realize that my managers didn’t have an MBA. They didn’t see it as a necessary characteristic for a manager to possess and even asked me “why would an engineer need an MBA anyhow?”   The strange part of it was that the company helped pay for my MBA. So don’t extrapolate too much from company policies or programs.

No one knew you had one. Did your employer throw a big party for you after you graduated? Probably not. The MBA was beneficial for you but those benefits haven’t been transferred to your company yet. So even if they knew you just graduated, they won’t be nearly as excited as you are.  This point is really aimed at helping you overcome the idea that just because you have an MBA doesn’t mean that management will recognize it and put you in charge. The people that are in charge now don’t want to give up their jobs to anyone. You’ll have to earn your way, just like you did in your MBA program.

It’s just a college degree. This is probably the hardest concept to accept. You put a lot of time, effort and money into this degree with the hopes that all of life’s problems would be solved once you got it. But, alas, the MBA is just another college degree. Actually, you spent more time on your undergraduate degree. Were your expectations for it much higher? In reality, Education is a tool for evaluating your environment to make it more efficient and more effective. It’s about working smarter, not how you can manipulate your surroundings to get more money and power. It doesn’t mean you won’t work any harder. If you really want to achieve higher levels of success, you’ll have to expend higher levels of thought, energy and time. The MBA gives you a taller ladder to reach places you couldn’t before. Regardless, you’ll still have to climb to get there.

You didn’t have a plan of action for it. This is simply the #1 reason most people are disappointed with the MBA. The MBA’s biggest benefit is its biggest detriment; that is, you can do anything and go almost anywhere with it. The challenge is defining the “what and where.” Do you want to go into entrepreneurship, consulting, private equity, or management? To develop the plan, you need to decide what you want to do, outline your path, plan your goals and resources, and put it into action. The MBA does nothing by itself. It has no value. It’s a hammer. Use it to build something.

The challenge for many graduates is to determine what they want to do and how the MBA can help build a better career. The problem is that this consideration isn’t thoroughly researched until after they graduate. The MBA is a tool that can help you build a better career and life for yourself. However, it does require planning and effort before, during and after graduation. You never stop thinking. You never stop planning. You never stop implementing. Learn from those who have the MBA and a great outlook on their career. Try what they have tried and you just might find the MBA has a real purpose in your future.

How To Maintain Focus On Your Career Goals

If you had to identify the biggest challenge most of us have with achieving our goals, you’d probably guess correctly that most of us just don’t plan for it. Sure, we work hard to accomplish specific tasks but we do so with the hope that someone else will see these great feats and automatically make the connection to the next step in our career. We don’t think about what these connections might be or how to make them ourselves. It’s not an easy thing to understand and takes time and analysis to comprehend. But, we don’t take the time or is it that we don’t have the time.

With so many things competing for our attention today, how can we effectively wade through the barrage of information to sort out what is truly important to our career?

In order to understand our challenge a little better, I interviewed David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done,” to find out what we could be doing differently. While the question was directed at MBAs, David’s answer will give everyone the key we’ve been looking for. Here’s part of our discussion.

Todd: What do MBA graduates miss when they develop their career goals?

David: One of the biggest things they miss that they don’t get in their training is to create a personal systemic process to manage keeping their own work and lives under control and being focused on the right things at the right time. This is a core or a meta-behavior or a meta-set of best practices that make all other best practices viable. If you’re out of control and unfocused, you can read all the best “market yourself” books but you won’t be able to execute on it. The critical element is that when you think about going into a job or a career, in terms of how well you manage the stuff you need to manage, you must be able to keep track of it.


It comes down to the two aspects of self-management: control and perspective. The only time you think you need a better system of management is when you think one of these is suboptimal. Either things are not as in control as possible or you feel you’re on unstable ground. If you’re on unstable ground, there’s a part of you that has the inability to focus appropriately or execute appropriately. You don’t have any traction.   Even if you’re on stable ground, are you pointed in the right direction? If you’re pointed at the wrong stuff, you’ll create instability again. There’s a direct correlation between control and perspective.


If you have good self management skills, you’re ready for anything. If you have these behavior sets, you are ready for surprises that show up or if things don’t go as expected, you can recalibrate yourself quickly to take in new data, new situations and decide what they mean. Then you can hold this up against everything else you have going on and re-point yourself in the right direction. Simply put, can you keep yourself only as organized as you need to be and no more? [End of Interview]

To maintain control and perspective, you must possess a method that you can refer to when you need it. It must be easy to use. It must be simple. We’re already too busy and a lengthy process would never find time in our calendars.   Well, David has suggestions for that too. In his simple approach, you must take the time to understand what it is that is commanding all of your attention. What are all of the things that are living inside your head? When it comes to mental processing, your conscious mind does not do the hard work. Most information goes to your subconscious mind anyway, where your problems are really solved.  Your conscious mind actually gets in the way when you have too many things you’re trying to focus your attention on. You subconscious mind wants you to just tell it what you want it to figure out and then forget it. It will do all the work and come back to you with an answer. If you’re constantly thinking about an issue, your subconscious can’t help you figure it out. Your task is to keep your conscious mind clear.

Here’s a tip you can do today that will clear your mind and free up some processor time to solve problems and plan your path. Grab a notebook and write down all the things that are occupying your attention. This could include some basic needs like paying bills, getting new tires for the car, homework for a college course you’re taking, meetings you must attend and so on. This activity can take you several hours to complete. Notice I didn’t mention any work-related, networking or other career-related activities. You must write them all down. Once you complete your list, you’ll find that you normally have a lot on your mind. Most likely, you have too much on your mind and you’re occupying thought time on things you probably shouldn’t be (but this will be addressed later in another step in David Allen’s process).

Well, I hate to leave you with only the first step in this great process but this post is getting too long. Stay tuned for our next ebooks to be released where we’ll share the rest of David Allen’s process for removing the clutter from your conscious mind and how you can put your subconscious mind in top performing condition. You’ve heard the old adage “that life is all about the little things.” Well, it’s those little things that can slow you down in achieving the goals you really want when you spend too much time thinking about them. Free your mind and let it work the way it was meant to.

Thanks to David Allen for a great interview and advice on how we can improve our mental performance. You can learn more about David Allen at www.davidco.com.