Category Archives: Career Advice

The Only Resolution You Need

Over the past decade, I’ve helped many plan their path to greater success.  I’ve spoken with many billionaires to understand how they got there.  I’ve written articles and books with many of the great consultants who have found a way to their own success by helping others.  I’ve started several companies for which most failed.  I, like many of you, have been searching for that secret ingredient.  You know….that one thing that could totally transform your life.  Well, there is one thing.  It’s not easily obtained. It’s not given.  It’s earned.  Here’s the best part….you don’t need anyone else.  You can get this totally on your own.

There are so many people in the world chasing things that something or someone has convinced them is critical to their success.  We search for the best college degree and pay heavily to obtain it.  We search for the best companies to work for.  We seek the emerging technologies that are projected to be in high demand, ensuring stability for our future.  We push ourselves hard to obtain these things.  Yet, most of the time, the destination isn’t what we had hoped.  We thought we did all the right things but yet it did not provide the accolades it guaranteed. 

If you do only one thing this year, as a promise to your future, it should be to develop COURAGE. 






Courage is the ability to step through a doorway without knowing what’s on the other side.  It’s a conscious decision to find your way without a map (or an app).  The path to great success is NOT the path most of us have taken.  There are few predictable paths to great success.  Most of us don’t have the answer to great success.  We aren’t there either.  We face the same challenges you do.  We are afraid to seek it out.

Some of the greatest things ever invented were accidental discoveries.  They were unintended consequences of intentional action.  Penicillin, transistors, stainless steel, anesthesia, x-rays and much more were found because certain people were taking action to find something.  They weren’t totally sure what they would experience, but it was the desire to see what was on the other side of the door that moved them to step through it.

If you only do one thing this year, develop the courage to chase your dream.  You never know what you’ll find.  And as you begin to build the strength to chase your dreams, let me know so I can share it with the world, as inspiration for the rest of us.

The Go-Getter Dilemma

A close friend reached out to me recently with a story I’ve heard and experienced way more than I care to admit.  He had started out in a new company and began to rapidly climb the corporate ladder.  Unfortunately, he was recently fired and the reason for his dismissal was personal.  In this post, we’ll find out why and we’ll identify the single greatest challenge for a go-getter.

Before we dive into this post, it’s best I provide my definition of a go-getter.  In my experience, most go-getters are highly educated (e.g. master’s degree or higher).  This is not always the case so don’t get offended. I’m just sharing my experience here.  A go-getter is an individual with significant drive, determination and an unwavering passion to be the best they can be.  They want to learn and grow in their work.  They are enterprising, ambitious and aren’t afraid to pursue what they want.  They are also intelligent, get things done and are able to accomplish work without direction.  I know….that’s a lot to cram into one person.  But they exist.  I know many people like this.  You might even expect that these people would be highly successful.  They are but not always with respect to position on the corporate ladder. With that, let’s talk about why go-getters can’t always climb to the top.

My recently unemployed friend told me about another high level manager in the company that didn’t like him and his meteoric rise.  This manager monitored his actions closely for a way to get my friend terminated.  Well, he found a way.  The disturbing part of the situation is that the other manager spent a lot of effort and time into something that was not good for the company; that is, eliminating the company’s national sales leader.  A logical person might feel that to grow the company, it is useful to have a high rate of sales. I’ve learned over the years that when people do things that are illogical, it’s usually because the driving force is emotion, not logic.  To make matters a little worse, the company’s senior leadership admitted to knowledge of the situation but chose to fire the national sales leader to keep the more senior but spiteful manager.   Low performance harmony is better, right?

You would think that companies would run their organization like an NBA team; that is, hire the best and brightest, tell them what you want them to do, give them the resources to do it, and then get out of the way.  Logical?  Well, authority and power are not always logical.  In my experience, most aren’t.  You see, most managers feel some anxiety about their role.  Maybe they earned it and maybe they didn’t.  Either way, they are in a leadership role and feel they must lead (even if they don’t know how).  In my friend’s case, this other manager couldn’t manage his meteoric climb.  “If you can’t manage them, they have to go.”  Managing the smart and talented is not easy, especially when your abilities fall below theirs.  That’s why you see so much information about leadership on the web.  There just aren’t that many great leaders out there and most of the ones we study are dead.

So as you go out into the world to obtain high levels of formal education and achieve great feats, don’t expect that it will shower you with accolades.  Here are few things you will run into.

I can’t manage you.  Some managers shouldn’t be managers.  They will be unable to handle the difference between your abilities and their own.  The only way to handle that is to get out of the situation entirely, which means YOU have to go.

Don’t threaten me.  If you’re too good, you will threaten your boss with your success.  They may not view your success as a reflection of their leadership abilities but rather in a more selfish light; that is, you took their success.

I’m a prick.  Some managers are just mean.  I had manager write me up on a dozen infractions during a two week holiday shutdown.  I was asked to work a solid month in December to get some challenging products created, tested and shipped by the end of the month.  I worked with several vendors since my company was home on holiday. In a highly successful completion, my boss wrote me up for breaking company rules such as working more than the company allowable hours in a day, pulling parts from inventory without following full process (i.e. remember, no one is on-site), and numerous other things that were a result of everyone being on holiday.

It’s a competition and I’m the boss.  Have you ever been around people who were highly competitive? They are always trying to outperform every story they hear.  It’s unusual to have a boss that will work hard to help you grow.  If you’ve got one, hold on.  If not, try to avoid any confrontation with your boss.  It’s not in your best interest….ever.

Many believe that your boss has the greatest impact on your career.  I disagree.  I think it can be many people in the organization.  It can be other managers or those who influence them.  In my experience, your greatest career challenge will be other people who will push things in your way and try to drag you down.  It can easily impact your employment, as my friend found out recently.  It’s also important to realize that fighting the system rarely gets you anywhere.  HR, regardless of their intentions, is too ineffective in such situations.  Senior leadership will usually side with their management team, regardless of the validity of the argument.  It’s really hard to believe but the people who can do the most for your career are actually the least likely to do anything.

How do you get away from this?  Be your own boss.  Be an entrepreneur!  Put yourself in a position where your limits are set by your own abilities.  Get in a place where you can run as fast as you can run….and not as fast as your boss can.  Be in a place where your rewards are a direct result of your effort.

Why You Should Want to Work With Smart People

I read, post and respond to a lot of questions on Quora.  It’s a great place to interact with others and learn.  And who doesn’t want to learn?  With the idea of learning in mind, I wanted to share one of my answers which addressed working with smart people.   The question asked was “What is the most annoying thing about smart people?”  While I realize smart people may be portrayed as annoying but you really should consider the alternative of being surrounded by, or even worse, working in organizations led by the less intelligent.

One of my all time favorite articles that addresses this question is from 2005 Harvard Business Review, entitled “Competent Jerks, Lovable fools and the formation of social networks.” It basically says that people consistently and overwhelmingly prefer to work with a “lovable fool” than with a competent jerk.  Now, by competent jerk, we are talking about smart people that are socially awkward.  You might even think they are a little arrogant.  Whatever the reason, you’ve found a way to dislike them.  But is this a good approach for you?  Is it best for the company?  Before we dive into the discussion, here’s what I’ve learned from smart people and why I would prefer to work with them as opposed to a “lovable fool.”

My first experience with smart people was in graduate school.  My advisor and I were about the same age.  He did all of his work at Purdue University.  He was one of those “never made a ‘B’ kind of people. He was different but he was smart.  He had ten students that he advised.  Intellectually, I probably ranked number 10 on the list.  I knew it and didn’t have an issue with it.  I knew there are two kinds of people in engineering graduate school: smart people and those who work their butts off. Well, you know where I fit in.  But, I had to graduate and I knew that smart people would help me get through it all.  They did.  I opened my mind to learning.  Sometimes I felt dumb because I just didn’t get it.  There was one engineering technique, called the standstill frequency response, which took me a year to understand.  No matter how hard they described it, I just was picking up what they were putting down.  Then, I’m working the lab and BAM, it just hit me.  I thought, wow, why was that so hard.  They helped me graduate.  I was much better off hanging around them as opposed to people who didn’t understand everything we were doing.  The benefits of being around smart people were real.  But this is college, right?  Try befriending a lot of dumb people and completing your degree successfully.  It just might be a little harder.

Years later, I worked in a company of 700 people, where over 400 of them held PhDs.  It was a Research and Development Consortium.  I jumped into it mostly to see if I could survive.  I knew how to learn and ask for help when I needed it.  The good thing was my coworkers were smart. I mean like “Masters from MIT and PhD from Berkeley” smart.  This type of atmosphere can be a little intimidating.  After all, your own intelligence is vetted very quickly.  But that shouldn’t be a problem.  I wasn’t as smart as they were and that was ok.  It became evident that I had to find the value I had to offer.  For the most part, it was I that benefited the most from what they had to offer.  Here’s what I learned about smart people.

  • They never knew enough.They constantly studied, experimented and learned about their area of expertise.  It turns out that this is the behavior that makes you an expert.
  • They debated when they had an argument.Managers don’t do this because feelings get hurt. But technical people argue around the facts. Ensuring the team is right is far more important than ensuring someone’s ego isn’t bruised. Do you really want to risk failure to save someone’s feelings (who shouldn’t have inserted them to start with)?
  • They didn’t contribute for the sake of it.If they didn’t know anything about the discussion, they stayed out of it. Diversity of thought is nice but it must be helpful to be worth consideration.
  • Unfamiliarity didn’t scare them.If they entered into a situation they had no experience with, they studied and learned what others have done in similar situations to get some idea what any particular action would result in.
  • They are always eager to help.I’ve never worked for so many people who truly saw the value others had to offer and often displayed that understanding by sharing their time to develop others.
  • Team success was more important than personal success.You’ve probably never seen this in business before but these professionals are heavily focused on achieving goals and creating success. They don’t focus on power and money.
  • Success was about effort.They didn’t hesitate to dedicate time and effort, which was usually defined by the difficulty of the task, not by the number of hours in the day.

To get a better perspective on smart people, I thought it necessary to assess working with the intellectually challenged.  This could be your “lovable fool.”  In this discussion, I would like to consider the impact these members could have on your organization, especially if they occupy influential positions.  If you’ve had any experience here, leave a comment and share your story. I’m sure you’ll find many who will appreciate it.

  • They make “gut” decisions. They avoid any objective or analytical approach to decision-making.  This could occur for many reasons, such as don’t know how to do the analysis, don’t understand the value of the analysis or don’t realize that they probably aren’t the first people to ever engage in any specific situation so there should be some learning that could occur from other companies’ experiences.  It’s the exercise of unfounded theory.
  • They have no creativity. They avoid thinking out of the box or engaging in creative methods.  This type of thinking creates risk and reduces their sense of security.  If they do something different and it all goes wrong, then they’ll have to take the blame for it (even though it was their decision).
  • They don’t use metrics. Metrics….smetrics! Who wants to know how well they are doing?  Using metrics is likely to get them called out for poor performance.  If they don’t establish any quantitative measures, no one can know how epic their fail really was.  What a philosophy! I never fail because I don’t measure what I’m doing.
  • They use feelings. Their decisions are driven heavily by the desire to avoid negative feelings. It’s about how they want to feel or what they don’t want to feel. For example, a person who feels anxious about the potential outcome of a risky choice may choose a safer option rather than a potentially more lucrative option.  Now, can anyone tell quantify the correlation between feelings and success?
  • They avoid accountability. They lack the motivation to monitor to their own decision-making.  Even when motivated, obtaining accurate awareness of their decision-making is next to impossible.  We still want to love the fool, and when they are in charge, we want them to love us.
  • They focus on self-preservation. To some extent we all do this.  But few of us have the ability to change the organization to ensure our own job stability.  Sometimes this pressure to self-preserve leads to good decisions for the individual but bad decisions for the organization, such as chasing short term profits to ensure they get their bonus.

Ask me if I miss working with smart people? Damn right I do. I’d much rather work with smart people.   Sure, sometimes you are humbled by how little you really know but I now view that as an opportunity to grow and learn.  If you don’t care to learn anymore, then you should never be offended by smart people.  After all, who doesn’t want to work with people who love to solve the hard problems?  As an entrepreneur running my own company, I want smart people working for me.  Mistakes cost my company money and threaten my future.  The fewer of those I have, they more financially stable the company will be.  In the end, you have to ask yourself this question “will smart people help the company grow?”  In my experience, they do.  If you don’t have a lot of experience working with smart people, you may ask yourself another question “will the intellectually challenged people negatively help the company grow?”  You don’t have to really answer this question from your own experience, as there are many examples of organizational failures to provide the evidence.  Some statistics show that 95 percent of companies fail before 10 years of operation.  These failures happen very often.  They can drive companies into the ground with poor decision-making, which I’ve witnessed way too often. They can also wreck a company by chasing their own financial gain.   All of these turn out to be detrimental to any successful career you try to build because you fall victim to things you can influence, impact or control.

One last thing to consider, if you’re working hard to earn numerous graduate degrees that create the perception that you’re brilliant, you might want to consider in your career planning the idea that the world may not see your brilliance in a flattering light.  As you know, the brilliant people don’t always rise to the top and lead organizations….unless they create their own company (which is a discussion for later).

The Single Greatest Challenge With Today’s Career

No matter how well you prepare yourself for your career, there’s a rising force that is creating huge barriers for professionals today.  College degrees don’t matter.  It can’t prepare you for this.  Even a great network of professionals and coworkers and years of experience has limited impact in this landscape.  This force creates an environment like no other in the history of business.  For those in power, it provides the ultimate in flexibility in use of talent but for the talent, it affords some serious confusion in determining, much less traversing, any kind of career path.

Just a few decades ago, my father worked in a 100 year old company for over 34 years.  The company had a well defined structure, including a management hierarchy, job roles, payment structures, career paths and incentive plans.  I became a part of the company as I grew up.  Strangely, when I graduated college and starting working there, I couldn’t see the company I knew as a kid.  Changes had already begun and continued every year I worked there.  It was the beginning of what we call the “constant change” that we see today.

A softening structure.  When I began my first job, the organizational structure was rigid and well-defined.  Everyone had their place and knew what their responsibilities were every day.  I had a manager to help me when I ran into problems.  The organization chart was clear to each employee in many ways.  Now, let’s look at the difference within the last ten years.  I’ve helped many professionals who work in companies that have no organizational chart.  Companies engage in these practices because they say they want to remove barriers and allow their employees to approach anyone at anytime.  Having studied a few companies that have utilized this method, I can’t say that is highly successful, as many have failed.  While it seems like a good approach, employees quickly learn that there is still a hierarchy.  The management structure is well defined, just not put on an organization chart.  Decisions are still made by this structure and when things go wrong, it rolls downhill.  While some superficial facets change, many things don’t.  It’s not all bad though.  Employees do have the ability to interact with other business leaders, which can lead to new opportunities. Remember, there’s no structure so there is no real career path either.  You have to figure that out for yourself.

It’s hard to roll with my role.  Now, more than ever, high achievers are engaging with organizations that want to hire them but don’t want to provide a clear definition of their responsibilities.  Companies feel a strong need to remain flexible, which means they need to be able to use their talent any way they see necessary.  Role definitions tie their hands and contribute to an inability to change directions quickly.  Of course, it’s also possible that companies don’t know exactly what they need so they hire people who can function in ambiguity and aren’t afraid to charge headfirst into the unknown.  When I was a kid, I often worked as a farm hand.  This is a job that requires you to do whatever the landowner asks you to do.  They didn’t ask if you had certain skills or talents.  They needed something done and I was the person to do it.  Today, we see that even with the best business knowledge and expertise in the world, work boils down to that same simple principle.  Somebody has to do it.

There’s no work schedule.  This is certainly a more recent trend for companies that has been ushered in by technology that helps us work from anywhere at any time.   The typical work week was defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which was established to ban oppressive child labor, set the minimum wage standard and the maximum work week. Of course, with most employment, this doesn’t apply to you.  High achievers are often salaried exempt employees, which mean your work schedule isn’t really protected by law, as long as your pay is the same each pay period.  You can work 40 hours a week or 100 hours a week.  To make this more challenging for you, there is no real definition of work hours.  With a cell phone and laptop, you are reachable any time of the day and reachable almost anywhere in the world.  Growing up as a kid, my dad had a pretty good schedule.  He was an hourly employee and worked from 6AM to 3PM.  He could easily plan his life because the schedule was well defined.  Today’s work schedule is ill defined and makes your life a little more unpredictable.

Working ‘at-will.’  As if your career wasn’t already lacking of any real structure, states have created laws that allow employers to dismiss you for any reason and without warning.  Yep, that means they can walk into your office on Friday and terminate your employment without any justification.  Friday is a good day because it doesn’t disrupt the normal workday of your coworkers should you be terminated without reason.  So, the length of your employment at any company is always at risk.  Many years ago, this wasn’t much of a risk for the workforce but now many managers have figured out that balancing the bottom can include terminating a few employees to keep their division’s budget in the black.  I know we are all professionals here but when your job is on the line, you might be forced to do things you wouldn’t normally do, like terminating employees.

All of these factors have created a completely amorphous environment, void of any reasonable predictability, which further perpetuates the need for change.  We can’t see where we are going and that makes us uneasy.  Professionals remain in a job for 2 or 3 years but choose to leave because their future in the organization continues to remain undefined.  We are creatures of habit and embrace predictability, to some extent.  We’ve built our lives around our jobs and when that stability becomes unstable, so do our thoughts on satisfaction and happiness.  We once had a system that built careers on a visible, logical progression.  You went to college to earn a degree and then entered the workforce in your field.  After years of work in that field, you were promoted up the chain in a career that lasted a lifetime.  Bonuses and promotions were an annual part of your growth.  Today, we see more job uncertainty than we ever have but it appears to be occurring in times with sufficient economic stability. Nonetheless, young graduates will find themselves entering a workforce that struggles to define what it can offer in return for their efforts.   Whatever it is, it is likely to be short term.

Education Overload – Earning Multiple Graduate Degrees

Recently, I’ve received hundreds of emails about earning multiple graduate degrees and the impact it will have on a career.  With such interest in this approach, I felt it was time to share some thoughts on the pros and cons of earning so much formal education.

There is no ladder to climb.  Just a few decades ago when I began my career, there were defined paths for upward mobility.  Companies would outline how one could transition from position to position, eventually gaining responsibility, authority and greater benefits (e.g. pay).  Today, that doesn’t exist.  Many companies don’t even have an organizational chart.  They will tell you that it provides you the benefit that you can go anywhere you want without restriction and that those old predefined paths only restrained you to a certain future.  They will say you have complete control over your career.  I really like this idea but it was really done to reduce top heavy management ranks, which is often slow, inefficient and expensive.  It wasn’t done to move more people upward.  You can make all the lateral movements you want, but moving upward, well, this is where you have to apply your knowledge to navigate an uncharted organization.  If you’re really searching for structure, you’ll need to target big corporations.

Graduate degrees are not required for executives.  While it seems logical that the most brilliant people will rise to the top of organizations, this simply isn’t true.  In fact, many businesses are started by people with little formal education.  I mention this because you might join such an organization.  You’ll take the job and then do research on the executive team, only to find that they are not highly educated like you. I’ve found this many times in tech and high tech companies, where you might expect to find highly educated managers. If you desire to be around the highly educated, you’ll need to seek them out.  Most are in technology and finance.


I know it’s hard to believe that being highly educated could have a down side, but it does. Here are a few things you might encounter when you have a lot of formal education and you’re working in Corporate America.

You’re a threat.  You might not ever actually see this directly but to management teams that don’t have graduate degrees, employees that do can be threatening.  They fear being embarrassed by their lack of understanding of many topics and feel there is some secret competition at play.  A good judge in determining the type of organization you’re in is to assess the leadership.  If they are more interested in growing their career, you’ll be considered a threat.  If they want to grow their organization, then you might have a chance for growth.

Possible solution: If you find yourself here, you have to be humble and give your ideas for growth and improvement away.  Show your management you’re here to help them become a success.

You’re underemployed.  Face it.  There are not that many jobs that require a graduate degree and hardly any that will list two graduate degrees as necessary.  Unless you can afford to search for that perfect job for a long time, you’re likely to accept a job that you can easily do.

Possible solution: Begin your job search when you are in graduate school.  Utilize the university’s resources to place you in a higher position.  Work with professional organizations while you are in your academic program too, as they are more likely to help students than graduates.

You’re Academic.  I always thought this was a good thing but I’ve had a few instances where senior managers have told me I was too academic.  I think they meant it to be derogatory and imply that I didn’t have enough experience.  Well, when you’re a young professional, this will be a problem.  Again, this is a biased view from a less educated management team, where experience is more important because it is what they have most.  What I found is that being labeled academic is good and bad.  It’s bad because it implies you do threaten people around you a little.  It’s good because they realize that you are well educated and have the ability to perform industry recognized analyses.

Possible solution: Don’t waste any time or energy on proving you are smarter.  Let your work show that.  You should focus on results and creating tangible successes that define your value to the company.  It is helpful to show management that you can help them improve their own career.  Once they feel that support, they won’t be as inclined to keep your career suppressed.

You’re Expensive.  High credentials mean high salary.  This is what companies will see and that can scare them.  They’ll overlook the fact that you can bring high productivity, high efficiency and high output.  Most companies don’t try to identify the financial impact of such indirect benefits.  They only focus on the direct costs that are easy to measure, like your salary.  This can make finding a job really difficult.

Possible solution:  High salary is offset by high returns.  You’ve got to be able to show real situations where you have greatly reduced cost, created new earnings, or improved existing earnings.  Companies want to make money and you must be able to provide evidence where you’ve helped do that. 


The majority of the advantages of higher education are personal.  It brings a sense of accomplishment, pride, an understanding of how to learn and confidence.  These emotions are powerful and will help you push through challenges that are ill-defined, untested and unbeaten. The difficulty is keeping this confidence under control and avoiding being overbearing to others, as most people aren’t excited by change and challenge.

You’ve got credentials.  It feels good to help those degrees and more importantly, the knowledge and understanding of how to learn.  Multiple graduate degrees communicate the message that you are smart.  In organizations that like utilizing smart people, you’re an asset.  You have numerous advantages, like being able to work alone without supervision, solve difficult problems, create new ways of doing business, research how the competition does business and so much more.

Career Strategy:  Don’t focus on communicating your brilliance.  The degrees will do that for you.  You should however strive to create tangible accomplishments that clearly articulate your ability to put that brilliance to work and create success.  These tangibles are what others will consider to be work experience.

Changing fields is easier.  Many multiple degree holders have earned these illustrious credentials to afford themselves the power to change occupations much easier.  In my experience with such high achievers, it does help to have a considerable depth of expertise in multiple areas.  Transitioning from one industry to another is possible but not necessarily any easier.  The advantage of your credentials is that you usually don’t have to entertain a lower position at the new company.

Career Strategy:  While you may have knowledge in multiple areas, it’s important to create tangible accomplishments in these areas to communicate that these skills and knowledge are still current and valuable.  If you can’t create accomplishments with the knowledge, create some successes with the skills that can be transferred to other fields.

Instant Recognition.  When you submit a resume that has multiple graduate degrees, companies will recognize they are dealing with someone who is smart and can learn.  They will search for the value you can provide.  This is very important as most first reviews of resume are typically to identify factors that eliminate you from consideration, not inclusion.

Career Strategy:  Ensure your credentials include accomplishments and accolades that are expected for someone with such qualifications.  The value is not just in what you know, it’s in what you can do with what you know…and that you have to prove.

The mind that wants to learn and grow constantly is special.  It seeks to create value wherever it can and as often as it can.  Most of us are not like this, as we seek to settle into life, create stability and entertain ourselves until retirement.  While we appreciate its abilities, it also reminds us of our own abilities and how we may not measure up.  It scares us and, at times, makes us feel as if our stability is being threatened.  Education is very important and we should all seek to constantly improve ourselves.  But we don’t.  So to those who chase many academic credentials, your success will be found with those who appreciate and value such knowledge. Please know that all companies don’t appreciate you.  So you may have to spend some time searching for those who will embrace you, preferably while you’re still in school.  Finally, I leave you with a quote from the British Author and creator of the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who once said “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.”

Soft Skills – A Career Killer

Soft skills are associated with one’s emotional intelligence quotient and are a main factor in the success of one’s individual contributions to an organizations success, either their own or someone else’s.  Soft skills are related to a cluster of personal qualities, habits, attitudes and social abilities.  They are a complement to hard skills; that is, a person’s knowledge and occupational skills.  Soft skills are important because they deal with personal interactions, which are a major factor in today’s global market.  These skills do contribute to organizational success, but more importantly, they will impact individual career success.  In research from the research firm, Leadership IQ, it was found in a study of 20,000 new hires, 46% of them failed within 18 months. But even more surprising than the failure rate, was that when new hires failed, 89% of the time it was for attitudinal reasons and only 11% of the time for a lack of skill.

Soft skills are a challenge for everyone.  These skills aren’t taught in college or the workplace.  For the most part, society rewards those with talents in specific soft skills, such as negotiation, influence, communication, creativity, networking or cross-cultural competence.  Today’s leader struggle with soft skills because of the global nature of business and the increasing demand for diversity.  Every culture places a different value on each soft skill and, in most cases, defines them differently.  For example, Americans love to negotiate, but the Australians don’t value it as much and are less confrontational than Americans.  Therefore, a balance must be utilized in such negotiations.  Too often leaders fail to regulate (or develop) their soft skills when interacting with other cultures and ideas.

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In a survey by Korn Ferry last year, CFOs mentioned that the most important skills they need now are not the technical skills.  It’s the soft skills, such as communication and interpersonal skills, that separate the great financial professional from the average one.  Why? Financial professionals are frequently becoming key decision-makers and business leaders in organizations.  They provide vital information needed for critical strategic decisions. Therefore, they must be capable of interacting with a diverse set of stakeholders – from peers to boards, investors to government officials – and they have to communicate such information effectively and efficiently.

The important part of soft skills is to understand what they are and how others define them.  This can be done by a simple process, reading.  In a book released in 2013, BT Consulting identified the nine key soft skills that are most important for leaders in the global economy today.  These include power, negotiation, influence, cross-cultural competence, communication, self-discipline, creativity, interpersonal relations and networking.  Once you understand these, you can utilize a simple 12 step plan to begin to improve your abilities with respect to each soft skill.

Here are the steps:

  1. Assess your weaknesses before someone else does. There are numerous tools on the web to help you identify the social skills you need to improve.
  2. Practice. Once you know what you need to improve practice, practice, practice. Mastery of almost any skill requires repetitive exercise.
  3. Ask for feedback. Get your friends, family and coworkers to assess your strengths and weaknesses. This gives you continuous feedback on your progress.
  4. Study the experts. We all know people who are really good at a particular social skill. Study what they do and ask them to support you in developing that skill.
  5. Take risks. Experiment outside your safe zone. This allows you to truly assess your authenticity, as opposed to learning specific behaviors in a common setting.
  6. Set specific goals. Don’t attempt to improve everything at the same time. Identify each skill you want to improve and plan it thoroughly. Then, implement the plan.
  7. Be active in groups and associations. There’s no better place to develop social skills than in a social setting. Be active. Participate.
  8. Get training where you need it. No college degree provides everything you need. You must seek continual improvement of your skill set.
  9. Fight your bad habits. You know you tendencies better than anyone. Learn to recognize them when they occur and change them instantly.
  10. Avoid today’s standard methods of communication. Don’t text, tweet or email. Engage in direct communication as much as possible.
  11. Focus outward, not inward. When practicing your skills, don’t focus on getting people to like you but focus on learning more about other people.
  12. Control your emotions. Focus on the skills you are trying to develop and avoid accepting the emotions pushed on you by other people. Building skills is tough. Maintain the proper attitude and people will respond positively.

If you’re going to work on your skills, the soft ones do more for career mobility than the hard ones.  Sure, you’re likely to work for some really challenging people in your career but you must remember to focus on improving yourself.  You can’t change them.



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!

5 Reasons You Can’t Find Opportunities

One of the activities we put so much energy into is finding opportunity.  We will spend an enormous amount of money and years of our lives to earn a college degree, in the hope of creating opportunity for ourselves.  Others choose to work long hours, travel extensively for the company and tackle difficult problems to earn access to opportunity.  Yet, others search and search for opportunity in another company or job, repeating this many times during their career.  But what if opportunity isn’t that complicated?  What if it is all around us but we just don’t see it for what it is?  Here is a look at one week in my life and the opportunities I came across.  I write all of them down in a notebook.  Opportunity is everywhere.  The question really is “what will you do with it?”

From my notebook:

On Sunday, I was mowing my lawn when a neighbor came across the street to talk to me.  He had a brilliant idea for a business and wanted to know what I thought about it. 

On Tuesday, a friend emailed me an idea for a mobile app.  She knows I started a Mobile apps development group. 

On Wednesday, an acquaintance emailed me an idea for a new book.  Just a few hours later, she sent an outline for the book.

On Friday morning, a business partner sent me an idea for a new product.  He wanted to create the product but wanted me to do marketing and distribution.

This is a typical week for me.  A few years ago, if you would have asked me how many opportunities I get in a week, I would have said I had no idea.  I wasn’t paying attention to what people were giving me.  Now, I log every single idea in a book I carry with me everywhere.  I won’t let an idea die without some consideration.  Of course, they are never dead as long as they remain in my book for consideration every month.  Opportunities are everywhere.  So why don’t we see them?

Fear.  Fear destroys our vision.  I have a close friend who has spent a lot of money and time earning college degrees in the hopes of moving up into a management role.  He’s been sitting in the same job he had before his MBA for 5 years now.  I’ve asked him so many times “What are you waiting on?  Opportunity? How long will you wait?”  He had invested so much into those credentials and is now burdened with a student load debt that feels like a mortgage, which he must pay with the same salary he had before the MBA.  His greatest fears are enveloped by the fact that he doesn’t know where to go or what to do.  What if he changes companies and it doesn’t work out? What if he asks for a raise or promotion and they say NO? The “what-if” syndrome keeps him locked in his own prison.  My “what if” question to him was “what if the opportunity never comes?”

Failure.  There’s no better teacher than failure.  Unfortunately, it can leave an everlasting distaste for taking risk.  One of the best stories I’ve ever heard about this was from Tom Stanley’s book, The Millionaire Mind.  In this book, he describes a situation where millionaires were sharing their story with each other.  One salesman stands up and begins to tell a yarn about the numerous sales jobs he had.  In his first job he learned about quotas and what can happen to you if you don’t meet yours.  On and on he goes about each job and how it didn’t work.  When he was describing job #5, someone in the circle of friends mentioned that he should just quit trying to be a salesman.  When he got to job #9, he mentioned he found the right company where he could be successful.  Then, after a year or two, he quit and started his own company.  Now, what if he would have quit at job #5?  Well, he wouldn’t be a millionaire sharing his story.  Don’t let failure imprison your ability to take risk.

Perspective.  Learning to spot opportunity requires some intentional conditioning.  Most people look for opportunities from their employer.  The bad part about this approach is that even though companies create processes to measure performance on a yearly basis, it rarely leads to opportunity for you.  This is also the reason most employees are unhappy with their work.  Jobs are unfulfilling and offer little personal growth.  So why do we only look to the company for opportunity?  It’s easy.  We know the process.  To see the opportunity that exists in your world, you need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, where everyone around has the potential to help you grow and develop.  As in my week described above, others offered numerous opportunities for me to build new skills, such as writing, marketing, sales and so on.  Which ones should I take?  The choice is mine.  Isn’t that the situation you want to be in?

Confidence.  By nature, most of us are followers.  In another post, I mentioned that the Wharton School of Business published statistics that indicated about 7% of the MBA graduates went into entrepreneurship.  That implies that 93% would be going to work for an existing company in the corporate world.  Why?  It’s safe.  Sure we have just built some awesome skills that will lead us to great success but we don’t want to put them to the real test where we risk everything if we fail, like when starting your own company.  As a follower, we wait to be told what to do.  So, I don’t get a promotion until my boss says I get one.  I won’t even consider asking for one.  This trained behavior keeps us from considering opportunities that others present to us.  Our lack of confidence in our own abilities makes the opportunity sound completely absurd.  Yet, many of us sit inside companies and shake our heads at those in leadership roles.  Can you really do any worse?  You won’t know until you try.

Bias.  When it comes to the future, we all think way too narrowly.  We make a single estimation about what our opportunities will be and then we close our minds.  We seek closure on this prediction because it’s easy.  Instead of exploring risks and uncertainties, we sum of our path to success in one single swoop and close the question.  The problem is that we have a strong tendency to be overconfident in our estimations, which leads to considerable error (and lack of action in the case of your career).  In the Harvard Business Review article “Outsmart Your Own Bias,” the authors propose a simple process for “nudging” your gut feelings which we fail to test sufficiently.

Since I began looking, I’ve found opportunity just about everywhere.  I have friends at the gym who always bring me business and product ideas.  Spotting opportunities is similar to the phenomenon we experience when we buy a new car.  Suddenly, we see our car everywhere.  But we didn’t see it before we bought it.  Why?  You’re looking now.  Opportunity is no different.  Open your eyes and see.  It’s right in front on you.  Then, you’ll just have to ask yourself one question “what shall I do with it?”

Defining Your Value to Your Company is Crap

The problem with defining our value as a working professional is that most of us tend to do this by highlighting our credentials and allowing our audience to interpret how these accolades can benefit their situation. This can lead to misinterpretation or a downgrading of the true value you offer. More importantly, in today’s society of an instantaneous communication process, it’s more likely to deter your audience from reading your credentials altogether.
As technology expands into new horizons, it focuses on making communications faster and faster. Unfortunately, it means that we will include less and less information but we will convince ourselves that we can make better decisions that way. While I’m not sold on this idea, I think it’s important that we all understand the power of brief messages. Twitter type communications will create an impatient and “get to the point” audience. So, do you want to utilize the little time you’ll have in communicating your value by telling them about your credentials or do you want to briefly describe the benefits you’ll provide that they need?

When it comes to drawing interest from your employer, they are only interested in 3 things: making money, reducing cost and getting someone to do the crap they don’t want to do. If you can develop all of your marketing materials around these ideas, you’ll attract a lot more attention to your skill sets.

Making Money. This is your company’s purpose. There’s no greater value than someone who can generate revenue for their company. Usually, we look to sales people as the creators of growth in the company, which is why they get paid so well. But they aren’t the only ones who can demonstrate this value. You can create products, services, intellectual property, ideas, etc. I had a close friend who earned an MBA the same time I did. He took his new knowledge to the marketing department and helped them solve one of their toughest problems. He took that evidence to the CEO and got a $10,000 raise that week. It’s that easy. Don’t tell them how you can make money. Give them a little example of it. Then, tell them what it is worth to them. Once you put the money in the bank, send me some, since I gave you the idea.

Reducing cost. This is another huge activity companies engage in all the time. If they can reduce the cost to build the products and services, they can improve their margins and make more money. In my first job out of college, I asked my company to fire a contractor they had hired to do some programming for their industrial controls. You know, the software that keeps a production line running that builds products. Anyhow, my company was installing 10 new production lines in a large scale project. The contractor would program a production line, then charge my company money for putting the same program in the next production line. I told the company I could save them $30,000 on each production line. After I proved it, they gave me the project to run. Find better ways to do things with less effort and less time and you’re likely to find yourself in a much better financial position.

The Crap. This is my favorite part of defining your value. Most people don’t consider this to be of value but it’s a great skill to have in your toolbox. Businesses don’t run smoothly. I don’t care how many Harvard grads they hire (and I’ve worked under a few). They will run into obstacles. And when they run into obstacles, it costs the company money to figure out how to get around them. Why? If the problem is spotted near the top of the organization, they’ll contract a consultant to solve the problem who may know less about it than they do. Sometimes companies even create their own problems. I know…it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I’ve seen companies buy smaller companies, then fire the sales people. Strangely, they can’t sell any products because they don’t understand the market or the customers. Step up and help out.  Opportunities for helping here are abundant.

There are other times you can demonstrate some valuable skills, such as dealing with a “pain in the butt” customer. Companies have to show growth which means sometimes they have to work with customers they would rather not work with because they need the revenue. So they take the work. Here’s your opportunity. These are just a couple of examples of the kind of crap organizations get into in the quest for money. Most of the time no one wants to deal with such headaches. We all want the easy work that allows us to work on our “Career Plan B” during the day. I’m not saying you should sign up to handle all of the crap but it does have value. Here are a few kinds of crap dealing skills you can boast:

• Solving problems
• Dealing with difficult situations
• Creating and Leading Change
• Training and managing new people
• Working with other cultures

Defining your value can be done in just a few steps. First, consider the areas I discussed above. What skills do you possess related to these areas? Write them down. Then, take some time to think about what tangible evidence you have related to each one. What accomplishments prove you have the skill? If you don’t have any supporting evidence, go get some. Find opportunities by talking with other groups in your company about the problems they have. Help solve the issues. You might even take ownership of it and drive it to resolution. Lastly, deliver this info to those who can reward you for your efforts. That’s it….skills, evidence, and delivery.

Where do you market this value? Everywhere. Online profiles, cv/resumes, performance reviews, friends, etc. are great locations for your value. When people know what value you can provide, they’ll keep an eye out for opportunities to use your value, especially when it benefits them. Oh, and remember, getting all the crap jobs at work might not be so bad. It just might be a key definition of your contribution to the company.

Where Does Opportunity Grow?

During a recent speech to college students, I was asked several questions at the end that told me they were searching for the source of opportunity.  Who isn’t it, right?  There are so many possible career paths that this is really a hard question to answer.  I decided to take a look at my own customer base to get some idea where opportunities have come from.  Here’s what I found.

First, let me say that this is not statistically accurate.  This is only my assessment of my own business and I don’t recommend you extrapolate it too far.  It’s intended to provide some insight into possible locations for your next opportunity or, at least, provide support for a strategy.

To understand where success was coming from, I took a look at the pre and post profiles of all of my past clients.  I was particularly interested in reviewing what they wanted and how they went about getting it.  Then, I looked for commonalities in their approach.  The graph below shows the results.  Note that I grouped the opportunities by strategy.  The “sit and wait” strategy is one where a certain amount of effort is initially expended before any opportunity can be obtained.  For example, many clients come to us seeking a raise or promotion in their existing company.  They had accomplished many things in their jobs and even built a great reputation.  Yet, this effort didn’t seem to lead to any major gains in income.  So many people couch themselves in this type of situation for years; that is, they settle for a job when they want a career.  It’s a low return proposition.  If you’ve been in a company for years and haven’t reeled in any great opportunities, “sit and wait” is probably the only method that will really work for you, but why waste the good years of your life on that approach.

The second bar on the graph was from business owners who chose to invest in SEO, online marketing, etc.  It does provide results, 6.5% in this case, but you can’t make huge leaps and bounds with it.  You might think I wouldn’t be saying that this since my company does offer such services.  I’m just letting you know what we’ve learned.  That’s what a coach does.  As for job seekers, we see many of those.  However, their results of creating ideal profiles in social media space don’t provide those huge returns you may read about on the web.  There’s just too much competition.

When you look at the graph, you don’t really see big success until you reach the “Go Get It” strategies shown in Green.  In reviewing these clients, their strategy involved two very important things:  people and action.  It was striking to see the improvements in success as our clients engaged in activities directly with real people, not the virtual ones.  Opportunities are more likely to be found or created when you are directly in front of people, not connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook.

People do business with people they know and trust.

With our entrepreneurial group, we’ve seen considerable success creation when business owners are connected, such as with partnering to sell complementary services to expand their customer base.  Each owner could easily chase new customers on the web, but it’s much faster when you directly engage with a known group of buyers.

Lastly, action is a big key to building greater success.  Earning a degree, starting a company or getting a new job in a new industry seemed to give our clients feelings of great success.  I suspect much of this is due to the fact that these very intentional and all-encompassing activities put the full use of their power and talents to work.


One of my favorite speakers, Jim Rohn, once said “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”  Constant action with people will bring you your greatest success.  Remember, people will allow you to do anything you want.  If you want to sit and wait, they’ll let you do just that.  They might think that’s what you want to do.  If building greater success in life is what you seek, you have to define it and then go find people who can help you get it.

Opportunity is everywhere.  Where are you looking?

Here are a few lessons from my analysis to keep in mind as you consider how to approach new opportunities.

  1. Be active. I know updating social profiles and networking online are touted as the keys to greater success. They are important but it really isn’t an active process because it relies on someone finding your profile and viewing it.  Most people on LinkedIn are looking to receive opportunities, not give them away.  What are you doing today?
  2. Engage with people. Business started out with direct interactions between people.  It’s still the most effective way.  You can ignore an email but it’s a little harder to ignore a face-to-face request.  Who did you reach out to today?
  3. Change methods. If your current methods aren’t working for you, change them.  Don’t stay in a job for 5 years waiting on a promotion.  Go find one somewhere else.  What changes have you made today?
  4. Consider a coach or mentor. Most people use coaches and mentors because they push them to action.  Find someone who will help guide and push you to do what you should be doing on your own.  Eventually, you’ll build the habits you need to manage your career.  Who is helping you find your opportunity?
  5. It’s a lifestyle. Pushing yourself to build your dreams into reality requires constant effort.  Most of us create new goals once we achieve old ones, encouraging ourselves to move onward and upward.  The habits you create in chasing opportunity will serve you well your whole life and create the perception that others will develop of you.  How do others see you?
  6. Assess your surroundings. Having studied high performers for many years, I’ve found that they level of success you achieve is a function of the success achieved by those around you.  If you surround yourself with high achievers, you’ll become one or they’ll kick you off the team.  Who is on your team?

Your opportunity is out there. 

What are you waiting for? 

Go Get It!