The Greatest Challenge of Any Career

In a recent discussion, I was asked to identify the most common career challenge a person would face ….but only using a single word.  Without hesitation, I replied in one simple word….”People.”  They are the single greatest source for your success and also the single greatest barrier to it.  Maximizing the utilization of this resource is challenging to say the least.  After all, this resource does have a mind of its own.  With regards to achieving success with people, you’re totally dependent upon the people that surround you.  Makes sense, right? If you’re a real go-getter and want to move closer to living out your dreams, read on.

Credentials don’t matter.  I know most academic institutions will tell you that your MBA or other advanced degree will take you far but that’s just crap.  Academia and Private Industry have been at odds for many years on what young professionals need to be successful at work.  Let’s look at two work situations: where you have less credentials and where you have more credentials.  Years ago I worked in a research company with over 400 PhDs.  I didn’t have a PhD but began working on it during that time.  Meetings with these guys were what I called “swimming lessons.”  They were tough shouting matches and the best logic won.  They didn’t care what your credentials were.  You just had to be able to make a sound argument.  If you couldn’t, you educated yourself before you jumped in an argument.  Honestly, I’ve always appreciated meetings with people who prepare for the discussion ahead of time.  More recently, I’ve worked for companies with much less credentials, mostly bachelor degreed professionals.  The atmosphere is totally different.  They didn’t support free thinking and you certainly wouldn’t argue with anyone in a meeting, especially a manager.  This workplace characteristic stifles creativity and forces you to figure out ways to get your ideas out in the open, potentially reducing your value to the organization and even your will to try to help out.  So no matter how you look at it, your credentials won’t mean much to people around you.  However, you are much better off around people who will allow you to grow your thinking and learn from interactions with others.  It’s contribution over credentials.  If the people around you aren’t giving you that opportunity, your success will be very limited.

Managers do matter.  The bad part is that you don’t get to pick your boss.  When you join an organization, you’re assigned one.  Most of us join an organization because we need a job.  So we don’t question the assignment.  It isn’t until we learn that our boss isn’t a good match for us that we realize our career mobility is doomed.  While it’s difficult to express the probability of getting a good one or a bad one, the greater challenge is doing something about it when you do get a bad match, as this is more likely the case.   It’s the most important case anyhow.  A bad match can drive you crazy.  The question is what do you do about it?  Do you find another position in the company?  Do you change companies? Do you do nothing and hope the situation improves?  This is the most influential member of your career in a company and it’s critical that you understand who they are and whether or not they will assist you in growing your career.  If not, you need to find an advocate somewhere else in the company or find another company.  I’ve seen too many highly credentialed professionals sit in positions that didn’t need advanced degrees for too long waiting for hope to deliver an answer to their situation.

Peers are great but don’t bank on them.  One of my favorite speakers, Les Brown, said that you’ll make within $6000 (or so) of the people you put in your circle.  Well, if you aren’t making what you want, then you’ve got the wrong people in your circles.  If you want to get promoted, your coworkers probably can’t give that to you.  Most professionals still cling to the idea that doing great work will gain you all of the accolades you seek.  This simply isn’t true.  Hard work is necessary but there is no one watching you and waiting to shower you with success.  Most everyone is hoarding it for themselves.  The rapid pace of change and a declining loyalty to employees puts everyone in the short term mindset; that is, grab everything I can now because there’s no telling when my company will change and let me go.

Before we look at some possible solutions, we should understand why most of the people in organizations won’t provide much help.  There have been several changes in the corporate world that have spawned a transformation of the workplace.

  • No organizational structure. It’s really hard to seek help on how to grow your career when the company fails to define the possibilities.
  • No training or development. Employees are becoming disengaged and restless when the organization shows no interest in developing its own people.  According to an IvyExec survey, the main reason professionals seek executive education is to calm the desire to expand one’s professional and personal breadth.
  • Too much change. Companies that fail to figure out how to grow will constantly make drastic changes to improve their performance (e.g. restructuring, reorganizing, M&A).
  • Poor leadership focus. Management focus only on the financial aspects of the business, mostly to ensure they keep their job.
  • New employee mindset. Younger generations are seeking fulfillment from their jobs and will jump from company to company to find a meaningful career.  They want more than a job.
  • Remote work. Many companies have instituted telecommuting, flextime and working remotely, which separates employees from other members of the company.

These and other factors have drastically changed the work environment from one filled with strong personal relationships to one built on weak working relationships.  Employees are friendly at work but don’t really associate with each other outside of work.  We don’t take much of a personal interest in our coworkers anymore.  This is why simply allowing your environment to recognize your contributions to the business and reward them fails so miserably.  You must actively develop a team that can influence your career and promote your talents to those who can make a difference.

So, how do you find the right people?

Finding the right people is really about knowing who to look for.  Over the years, I’ve worked with some really brilliant people who are working at the top of some of the greatest organizations in existence today.  These professionals search for three key factors in the people that they put in their network.

Level of Success.  As I’ve said before, it doesn’t do you much good to connect with people who have the same or less success than you do.  You need to find people who have achieved what you want.  They can show you how they get there.  With that knowledge, you can chart your own course.

Reputation.  Reputation is everything.  Reputations were once only word-of-mouth opinions.  Today, they are everything you write, tweet, blog, publish and memorialize.  Once you find a highly successful person with a good reputation, get out a notebook and prepare to learn.

Expertise.  Most highly successful people know what they don’t know and how important that lack of knowledge is to their career.  These voids are filled by professionals who are experts in these areas.  Don’t waste time trying to learn everything.  Find experts who can provide the specific information you need.  That means you need to know what you need from these experts, which is where most professionals fall short.

Where do find them?

You probably won’t like this but many of the people you need in your network actually will meet you face to face.  I know the Internet tells you social media is the best place for everything.  Unfortunately, that’s not how real relationships are made.  That has to be done in person.  Networking events and professional associations are still the best scenes for building your network of successful people.  Yes, it takes work and time to find the right people.  Sometimes, it can take years but it is well worth it.  After all, your career will last a long time so don’t try to sell yourself short on the resources that will make your life a phenomenal success.

Thanks for reading such a long post.  Here’s to your success!

ASK DR BUSINESS – How do I brand myself as an entrepreneur?

In this week’s post, we ask Dr Business about branding ourselves as an entrepreneur.

Question:  How do I brand myself as an entrepreneur?

Dr. Business says:

“The most successful entrepreneurs brands are a reflection of themselves e.g. Steve Jobs was Apple, and Apple was Jobs. Likewise, Ralph Lauren is Polo and Polo is Ralph Lauren, and Bezos is Amazon, etc., etc. Typically, entrepreneurs create a solution for a problem that they have themselves and pursue the commercialization of their solution with a passion that is a reflection of themselves. So, in essence they are the embodiment of the brand that they create.

If we take Jobs as the classic example of an entrepreneur that actually branded himself as an entrepreneur, he did that by coming up with one wonderful solution after another to problems that consumers did not realize they had until he delighted them with one neat new electronic i device before the last one was fully adopted. In so doing he embodied the epitome of cool creations. Others, like Bezos and Lauren continue to introduce new ways to delight consumers. I would say that the closer you can come to emulating these entrepreneurs and others the more obvious it becomes as to how necessary it is. 

The bad news is that you can’t copy these great brands easily. You can, however, execute the basic strategy. You must focus on doing things better or, better yet, uniquely. Demonstrate a passion for the details of your business more than your competitors do. Develop innovative ways to communicate and connect with your customers. Circle back and improve the things that can get better, and replace the things that can’t with something else. Then repeat this over and over. “

If you have a specific startup issue, share your problem with us and we’ll have Dr. Business assess it.   Send us your challenges at

The Prime Mover Inside the Entrepreneurial Mindset

Years ago, I read Robert Kiyosaki’s book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  The book does a good job of explaining the mindset that holds many people back from ever becoming an entrepreneur.  Ironically, Robert’s story compares the advice of his academic dad (i.e. poor dad) and his entrepreneurial dad (i.e. rich dad).  Robert suggests that working hard and earning good grades isn’t the best advice anymore.  Working for someone else won’t lead to financial independence, which is where you’ll likely end up by earning a college degree and hoping for a corner office in a big company.  You’ll find that the people you work for aren’t willing to give up the good life or share much of it either.  The biggest gains go to the shareholders.

I can attest to Robert’s concept myself.  My dad was the employee with the great work ethic who worked in the same company for over 30 years and I was the son with all the college degrees.  Neither one of us found financial independence that way.  Today, the young professional mindset is changing slightly.  Professionals are getting the college degrees and then chasing the entrepreneurial dream.  They are using both paths.  The downside is that most of the lessons they get from academia and the parents who haven’t owned businesses still lack some important truths about entrepreneurs.  Here are the truths that will help you understand the makings of the entrepreneurial mindset.

Don’t just think about it, do it.  All through college, you spend your time solving problems that already have answers (i.e. they’re in the back of the book).  If you brave the world of graduate school, you’ll likely solve problems analytically because you can’t really test your solution in the real business world.  I think all of the analytical techniques are great to learn and easily taught by academia but it forces you into a state of analysis when you run into a situation for which you don’t know the outcome.  In other words, the more educated you are, the less likely you are to take risks.  Why?  Because you’ll spend too much time estimating the risk rather than just taking it.  Risk can also result in failure which could damage your “I’m a smart person” self-image.  If you plan to be an entrepreneur, you need to get over this idea and develop the “anything it takes” self-image.

“Entrepreneurship is neither a science nor an art. It is a practice.” – Peter Drucker, management consultant, educator, and author.

You won’t figure it all out.  Most startups don’t create a business or marketing plan before they launch.  So they don’t have a good picture of what resources and effort are really needed for the initial phase.  This leads to considerable effort figuring out how to do many of the activities that must be completed.  Another factor that makes this overwhelming is that startups also begin with as little resources as possible, which forces you to spend too much time on what I call non-value added activities.  For example, if you plan to use social media as part of your marketing plan and you aren’t good at it, find someone to do it.  You need to spend your time selling and directing the business.  This is why you build your plans before you launch.  The other benefit of building plans early is that you can do this while working another job.  Then, you can easily step out and launch the business.  There are a lot of benefits to planning early and defining who will do what. Plan it first and use expertise where you can find it.

You will fail, hopefully.  Most startups fail, roughly 9 out of 10.  Failure is inevitable.  This is worth saying twice.  FAILURE IS INEVITABLE. The key to overcoming the failure, at least according to the 10% of companies that succeed at startup, is versatility and teamwork.  Challenges and setbacks are a huge part of success.  They often put you back on the right track.  Versatility is the possession of numerous skill sets among your team.  If you’re launching your company alone, your versatility will be limited.  You might consider building a team or getting a partner.  Teamwork will then become vital in rebounding from setbacks and failures.

“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.” Beverly Sills, opera singer

Be a punching bag.  As a business owner, you’ll get feedback from customers, vendors, suppliers, employees and investors.  The majority of this feedback will be unfavorable.  The success of your business will depend on how well you handle it.  You can’t become aggressive and fight it.  You can’t just rollover and accept everything either.  Feedback is some of the best learning you can get and most of the time is offered to you at no cost.  Soliciting feedback is the ideal way to extract information about your product and how well it meets your customer’s needs.  This is key in getting them to buy your product.  So why wouldn’t you eagerly accept this advice?  Don’t let your passion and ego get in the way of growing your business and allowing others to help you do it. You’ll grow faster that way anyhow. Just remember, every blow you get will only give you more information on how you are doing and will help you find ways to improve.  If you’re unfamiliar with making feedback actionable, check out this article at

Don’t make all the decisions.  Just as we discussed above, you’re not going to be able to provide all the answers to your questions, but you are going to feel compelled to answer them.  It’s your company after all.  Well, if this is what you’re going to do, you need to create as many habits as you can.  These habits will save you time so that you can focus on the tough problems.  One of the most important habits you need to develop is to reduce the number of decisions you make, especially the little things.

Even President Barack Obama avoids making the little decisions that don’t usually mean so much to the success of his business.  “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”  Focus on the major value adding decisions and create habits that don’t steal your time.  Again, this is best accomplished when it is laid out in a business plan.

There’s nothing easy about being an entrepreneur.  Those that can’t handle it become employees.  It’s not for everyone.  If you’re considering it, it’s critical that you establish the right mindset.  Remember, entrepreneurship is a journey, not an event.  It will be difficult and all consuming.  It will eat everything you have (e.g. time, money, energy, passion, drive, attitude) if you don’t adopt the right mindset.