My Biggest Career Risk That Paid Off

When I started at GE there were very clear career paths. You knew if you did ‘this,’ you would then go on to do ‘that,’ and so on. Today, there’s not a linear career path, which unsettles some people and excites others. To me this uncertainty is exciting and offers great opportunities if you can deal with risk and learn to adapt.

Back in 1984 I was attending a conference and ended up sat next to Jack Welch over lunch. He was talking to the table about cross-functional moves and I boldly said, “Jack, it isn’t happening the way you think it’s happening.” I was working as an auditor in the finance department at the time and told the Chairman that I would love to take a job in manufacturing. The next working day I got a call from the vice president of manufacturing, Dick Burke, saying “I understand you are coming to work for me.”

This was a risky move, no doubt about that – putting aside the audacity of telling the chairman that something he thought was happening was not! Everybody in Finance thought I was crazy. The head of the Audit Staff took me into his office – the only time I had been in his office in four years – and tried to convince me not to do it. He talked about the careers that people on the audit staff would have, becoming the CFO of this business or that business. It was interesting, but I wanted a stretch.

I was single and I had one mouth to feed. I said to them, you might be right, but if I am going to make a mistake, then 26 years of age seems like a pretty good time to do it. It is easier to take a big risk when you are younger.

If you are going to develop a career, it is hard to do it and not take some risks – at any age. There are some people who take the more established and comfortable path, and it can work out well. You may not end up in jobs that are as stimulating or as impactful as you want them to be. It may end up being the perfect job for you, but people who say they want to be CEO or fill another big leadership role should be prepared to take some personal risk and get out of their comfort zone.

Determining your own goals and plotting the right path – when others will question your logic – can only be done by you.

The one trait you need to succeed

gritcover2Do you believe that you need talent to be successful?

You’re wrong.

You need Grit.

Grit” is a trait studied by Angela Duckworth, a psychologist and the bestselling author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

Leaving a high-paying job in consulting, she began teaching math to seventh graders in a New York public school where she realized that IQ wasn’t the only thing separating the successful students from those who struggled. To learn more, she joined University of Pennsylvania as a graduate student and began studying people in different types of environments to find common factors that determine success.

“In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.”

gritis

Luckily, you don’t have to be born with grit. It can be developed. Studies of world class achievers show they develop grit in four stages:

Interest – This first stage happens when you start to fall in love with an activity and it becomes a passion that drives you to keep getting better at it. Therefore, you should avoid taking on roles or careers in fields that you are not in love with or at least heavily interested in. You must like what you do and be interested in becoming the best at it. Otherwise it will be impossible to become successful.

Practice – The second stage is a period of prolonged skill development and dedicated practice. This is the hardest part because it requires you to keep doing the same thing over and over and over. In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve world-class mastery in a field. The Beatles would practice eight hours a day seven days a week and had played over 1,200 concerts before they shot to fame. Kobe Bryant, a world class athlete, would practice shooting from one spot until he made 400 baskets.

Same goes for nerds like Bill Gates. The Gates family lived near the University of Washington. As a teenager, Gates fed his programming addiction by sneaking out of his parents’ home after bedtime to use the University’s computer and had racked up over 10,000 hours of programming experience before he founded Microsoft.

Beyond-the-self purpose –  A “beyond-the-self” sense of purpose gives you a much deeper motivation and can sustain you over a much longer period. This means that you should invest your emotions, your time and your energy into your passion because of reasons other than just being rich or becoming famous or even becoming the CEO of your company. Picking a career just to make money will rarely result in success. Seek a higher purpose, even if it is as simple as being the best at what you do.

Hope – Gritty people are resilient. They have a growth mindset, which provides them with the ability to bounce back and see each obstacle as a chance for improvement. When you lose hope, you fall into a fixed mind set of “things aren’t going to change.” As you look for more and more evidence that nothing is going to change, you’ll prove yourself right because you have stopped trying.

A growth mindset is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort. When people read and learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenge, they’re much more likely to persevere when they fail, because they don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition.

willing-to-fail

In the end, success comes down to perseverance. The deep desire to complete what you started. To follow through on your commitments. To keep going even if you fail the first time or the first few times. To keep pushing for your ideas even if they get rejected initially. To keep executing on those ideas though you’re up against a bunch of naysayers or road blockers.

Develop grit. That’s how you keep getting promoted. That’s how you get to the top.

Be a squeaky wheel…(with class)

squeaky_wheel

They say that the squeaky wheel gets greased. The message of this old idiom is that he who complains long enough will get what he wants.

In the context of an office environment, however, no one likes a complainer. At the office, complainer usually eats lunch alone. Or worst, he’s the first on the list of people to get the pink slips.

But that doesn’t mean that this old idiom should be ignored. There is some real wisdom in it. Said another way, it shows that  the most noticeable person is the one most likely to get the most attention. The key is in how someone is noticeable.

A corporate climber is someone who uses this idiom to her advantage. She communicates with her managers and other stakeholders. She asks questions often and seeks constant feedback.

When in a role, especially a new role or taking up a new project, it’s crucial that you demand (tactfully) of your superiors what is expected of you and maintain an ongoing communication with them with regards to issues you are running into.

Ask for feedback. Ask for counseling and coaching.

The quiet, new person who keeps to himself and whose work a manager has to correct is more likely to be shunned than the new person who constantly asks (smart) questions and stays on her radar.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

For example, once I had two new staff under me. One drove me absolutely fucking insane, question after question and second guessing everything, even my decisions. But as he worked he would keep me apprised of his situation and in the loop. He would seek help and clarification as soon as he encountered an obstacle or an issue. He made sure I reviewed his drafts and working files and that I helped him hone his deliverable to my expectations. In the end, his work was very good. It was always exactly what I wanted.

The other staff was quiet and solitary. I’d assign him a task, with an hourly deadline, and he’d go off on his own. No communication. I thought he had everything taken care of. Come deadline he had some half-assed work ready for me. I was not happy. Not only did he misinterpret my instructions and provided the wrong deliverable, I had to sit with him and spend hours helping him fix his mistakes. It felt like he just wanted someone to hand-hold him through the work. Eventually, I learned to rely on him less and to check up on him more frequently when I assigned him a task or project.

Moral is…make your own personal presence known among your bosses. Show you are active. Even if you are missing things and the numbers don’t add up, asking questions early and often avoids a lot of headache later. Being proactive  just shows that even though you need assistance, you are eager to learn and grow. Be the employee you would want if you owned the company.

Demand feedback.

business women on a chart isolated over white

Five Ways to Fast-Track Your Promotion

This article, by former GE CEO Jack Welch originally appeared on LinkedIn

By Jack and Suzy Welch

Who isn’t impatient to get ahead? According to a recent national workforce survey conducted by IPSOS, a global market research firm, and the Jack Welch Management Institute, 31 percent of American professionals said they have been passed over for a promotion they felt they deserved and 43 percent thought about quitting their jobs in the past year, due to frustrations at work and limited opportunity for advancement.

And while promotions can sometimes be limited by the growth of your organization and other factors outside of your control, there are always certain things you can do (and make an effort not to do) to accelerate yours.

Obviously, the only surefire way to move up in the organization is to consistently deliver great results and deliver them the right way. But here are some additional tips to think about that have the power to help you to stand apart and get in the running – fast – so that the next promotion that comes around doesn’t pass you by:

Over-Deliver.

What does that mean?  Whenever your boss gives you an assignment or asks you to figure something out, he or she usually already has a pretty good idea of what the answer is. For example, if your manager wants you to confirm that the market share of one of the division’s products is 35% and you go out and do the work only to come back with “Yes, you’re right, it is 35%”, that isn’t over-delivering. It’s just doing what you were assigned.

But guess what? School is the only place where you get an A if you do exactly what you’re asked.  Work isn’t like that.  To over-deliver, you’ve got to redefine the assignment, make it bigger, and open your boss’s eyes to a larger horizon.

Don’t underestimate the incredible power of positive surprises. If you come back with something that’s truly eye-opening and presents a new opportunity, your superiors are going to remember it for a long, long time. In the example above, for instance, if you came back defining your market share within a larger market definition that no one had thought about before – that spells opportunity… And nothing will serve your promotion ambitions better than making your boss look smarter to his or her leadership.

Don’t Make Your Boss Play Defense.

No matter where you work, your boss has a certain wonderful thing called political capital in the organization that he or she has earned over the years by getting results and being a good team player. The last thing he or she wants to do is use it up on you – especially if you want a promotion. If someone has to come to your defense because you’ve done something stupid or careless — you’ve upset the client or you’ve been late a few times, you are using up political capital. If you ask your coworkers to cover for you, you are using up political capital.  And if your boss finds him or herself forced to say things like “Please cut Mary a break because she’s really a good employee; she’s just having some problems with her dog, okay?”, you’re definitely using up political capital.

That usually works precisely one time and then it gets very old.  So, pick that time very wisely, once every five years.  ­

Love Everyone.

When you’re gunning for a promotion, you often start being very, very loving to the people above you – it’s just what happens.  And as you spend all of your time tap dancing for the powers that be, you might tend to forget the people who work alongside you and below you and start to ignore them.  That’s ugly. Nobody likes it.  In fact, even the people in power probably take note and are grossed out by this behavior.

Now, a little bit of boss-handling is always par for the game.  “How was your vacation?”, “Understand your son scored two touchdowns on Saturday… Nice going.” Fine — everyone does that sort of thing.  But you have to go beyond kissing up and also show some love to your coworkers and people who are subordinate to you. Get to know them as human beings. Find what you authentically like about each one of them — not just in your immediate group but in the whole organization.  And yes, it really has to come from a place of authenticity — this is not something that can be phony because people can sense that right away. Yuck.

Just remember the path to your promotion is paved with big love, that’s real, and in every direction.

Volunteer for Tough Duty.

Every once in a while, a boss comes along with an assignment that nobody wants. A risky new initiative. A new job that involves working overnight.  The customer with the bad personality that everyone avoids representing. These kinds of risky or unpleasant assignments that no one wants are actually a great opportunity for you to raise your hand and really get out of the pile. You may not succeed at them, but you will get points just for putting yourself out there and saying, “I’ll take the risk. I’ll do it.”

Take those tough assignments just to get yourself on the radar — even if you have to hold your nose while you do it.  It could end up being the best career move you ever make.

Seek Mentors… Everywhere.

Look, everybody wants a mentor.  Under the right circumstances, having a mentor can be great.  Just remember one thing.  You’re limiting yourself greatly if you think you have to look to a single person as your mentor. Everyone’s a mentor, everyone.  Every person you know knows something that you don’t know — alongside you, up, down, and sideways. People in other companies. People you read about in the newspaper… Everyone.

So if your definition of mentoring is too narrow, redefine it to make everyone your mentor and soak up all the insights, ideas and best practices that live all around you. You’ll be so much smarter for it.

Ultimately, these five “extras” are no substitute for delivering solid results, all the time. But if you wake up every day thinking about how to supercharge your performance with them, it will be very tough for your organization to ignore you for long.

How your level of engagement at work determines your success

Great Linkedin post from David McIntosh

Maslow

ask_for_help_at_work

Power Climb Rule 2 | How to get things done by asking for help

ask_for_help_at_work

You know people like this at the office.

They always seem to be having fun. They’re social butterflies, engaging everyone, moving cube to cube, talking, smiling, laughing and generally just enjoying being at the office. You can’t imagine how they get any work done. But they turn out to be one of the most productive and highly regarded people in the company. It’s annoying right?

Want to know how they do it?

They get help.

Many high achievers worry that asking for help is a sign of weakness. That they must do everything on their own otherwise others may believe they’re not up to the job.

Some think that if you want something done properly, you just have to do it yourself.

Ambitious women, especially, have this feeling that asking for help will somehow indicate that they’re not as good as their male counterparts. They’re afraid to come off as whiners.

This type of thinking is self-defeating and a barrier to your career growth.

Doing everything on your own sucks precious time into the black hole of grunt work.

Asking for help i.e. delegating, on the other hand, actually reflects leadership qualities. First, it shows that you can influence others to follow you. Secondly, it reflects your ability to manage and motivate others. Finally, it gives you the opportunity to think strategically on best use of your time for high visibility.

Robert Greene, in his The 48 Laws of Power, writes:

Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed … Never do yourself what others can do for you.

The key, however, is to make sure you go about it the right way.

Robert Greene goes on to say:

There is an art to asking for help, an art that depends on your ability to understand the person you are dealing with, and not to confuse your needs with theirs.

It’s never a good idea to just blindly ask help. You’re naive if you think that people will help you out of the goodness of their heart. Everyone around you is there for the same reason – they want to grow their careers. So they have to believe that by helping you, they’re also helping themselves. You’ll never get someone’s best effort and quality if they think they’re doing you a favor.

To do this right, you’ll need to put your soft-skills to work.

Appeal to their self-interest

If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and good deeds. He will find a way to ignore you. Instead, uncover something in your request, or in your alliance with him, that will benefit him, and emphasize it out of all proportion. He will respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself.

– Robert Greene

Before you make the approach, do your homework. Find out what’s important to the other person and how helping you will benefit them. If they’re ambitious, you can offer to get them visibility by public recognition of their contribution. Or offer to share credit on the end-result if they make significant contributions. It could be as simple as an email thanking them for their crucial contribution, also including their manager in the CC. Not only will they happily accept, they will work their ass off to ensure you get the best quality.

For some others, you may have to offer quid pro-quo i.e. something in return. It could be a promise to help them on their next project or help them solve a problem they have today. Sometimes, people are motivated by external issues. Maybe you can offer to cover for them when they have to duck out for personal reasons. Or you can offer to help them look for a car, or house or even move.

Basically, if you can ensure that the other person is helped by helping you, you’re in.

Caution: It goes without saying that money and sex should never be a part of the conversation. Don’t offer money in return for help. It cheapens everything.

Similarly, never, ever, never (seriously, don’t even think about it) offer sex or anything closely related to sexual stuff in return. It makes you cheap and complicates things.

Set them up for success

Always make sure you’re asking the right person for help. The person’s expertise should match with what you’re asking them to do. Asking the marketing girl to help you with financials is probably a bad idea. It’s just not her expertise. Asking her to jazz up your PowerPoint is probably a better way to go.

It’s also best to do as much of the legwork and prep as possible before you hand over the task. Clearly communicate your expectations and deadlines. Then be available to help them along the way. Otherwise if things go wrong, they’ll throw you under the bus by proclaiming that you set them up for failure. You’ll be stuck redoing their work on top of your own. Set them up for success by making sure that all the guesswork and pre-work is done, especially if it’s not their area of expertise.

Check up on them often.

Not in the annoying “Hey, are you done yet?” way but more in the “Hey, I’m just checking to see how you’re doing. Can I help in any way?”

Offer to help as much as possible. Help them overcome challenges. Connect them with others who can help with other parts of the puzzle. Facilitate. Facilitate. Facilitate. This way, not only do you ensure their success, you guarantee your success.

Show gratitude

Who doesn’t love a pat on the back?

After getting the help you need, make sure to thank your co-worker as much as possible. Make it clear to them and their manager that you could not have completed your part without their input.

Go out of your way. Be genuine.

Give them more credit than they deserve. It won’t hurt you at all.

Nurture the relationship

Don’t you hate those friends and family members that reach out to you only when they need something?

Same goes for work colleagues.

By asking for and accepting a colleague’s help, you’ve created a relationship with that person. They now see you as a partner to their career and as someone they can trust. It’s your responsibility to build on that by checking up on them from time to time. Even if it is to reach out just to say hello.

They will gladly come back to help you again.

And this … is good for your career.

Manage others’ expectations and you manage your success

This article by Paul Tolton, Director at KPMG originally appeared on LinkedIn:

Managing Expectations

I recently had an earache. After several visits to my GP and numerous ineffective drops and pills, she sent me to an ENT doctor. I later found out it meant “Eyes Nose and Throat” doctor and not ENTertaining doctor as I had much hoped.

After reading three articles on the latest research on rhinoplasty, I was ushered into to his small neat office. The doctor was a well-rounded, soft-spoken gentleman whose attempt at growing a beard was more than slightly less than successful.

“I’ll just look in your ear,” he said which increased my confidence in his abilities immensely. He peered into my aural canal and made gentle but disparaging noises. “There is some debris in there.”

The next thing I know is that I am hearing one of the strangest sounds I have ever heard. It was as if he had taped the squeaking sound that a balloon makes when you pinch the end of it, played that sound backwards and then he added the sound of individual angry popcorn kernels popping. At first, I was delighted with this new noise, until the pain started.

It felt like a pterodactyl was attacking me eardrum. I gripped the chair and one of my legs flailed uncontrollably as pain ripped though my body. And it went on until it stopped.

I gathered my composure, wiping a single tear from my eye and asked, “Did you just vacuum my ear?” “Yeeeeees,” he said as he smiled, eyes bulging in muted excitement.

Give me a little warning

If you are going to do some non-evasive evasive mucking around with my lughole, please let me know beforehand. Give me a few moments to prepare, brace myself against the oncoming flood of terror and put on a manly facade.

Giving people warning allows them to prepare. Giving people warning is managing their expectations.

Imagine you are at home and a friend pops by and says, “Let’s go for a drive.” You leap into the passenger seat full of excitement and joy. Half an hour later and wildly exasperated, you turn back to get your passport. If your friend had said, “Let’s go for a drive to another country,” you would have grabbed your passport, iPod, some snacks, that book you keep promising yourself to read, some motion sickness tablets, a blanket and a set of signal flares just in case. If you are expecting a long journey, you prepare for a long journey. If you don’t know what to expect, how can you prepare?

Task

If you are a manager setting a task, you need to be very clear about the expectations. If you throw a job at someone, maybe they will spend way too much time on it or dash it off while reaching level 324 on Candy Crush.

If you say to someone, “I am doing a presentation next Monday. I need some information about the Integrated Resorts focusing on original projected profits, actual profits and future profits. Spend no more than two hours on it and make it one page and no more than 500 words. Graphs would be useful. Please send it to me on Thursday morning,” I bet you would get want you want.

If you said, “I need something on casino profits, “you may end up with a 600 page history of Las Vegas including some strange speculations about the Hilton fire of ’81.

It takes a little more time, but you get want you want the first time and that saves time.

The missing context

Imagine you are heading back from a client and you get the following email from your manager. “Come and see me as soon as you get into the office.” How would you feel? Probably a little nervous and you would prepare to be shouted at.

If the message was, “We have possible new client that we are meeting tomorrow and we would like you on the team. Come and see me as soon as you get into the office. Thanks.” You would probably be excited and ready to contribute.

If we manage expectations, people are prepared.

Easy or hard?

Many years ago I did a two-month intensive course. At the interview for the course, they basically promised me hell. “Forget your friends for two months. You are going to lack sleep and lose weight. Go buy vitamins now.” And they delivered.

Because I knew what was coming up, I did prepare, right down to a study schedule and the 2 drinking days I gave myself as a reward.

If something is going to be difficult, say it. Never sell by covering something with icing sugar because the reality will dishearten and demotivate. And never promise the world when you can only deliver a small part of Madagascar. Be open and honest with your communication so people know what is coming.

If my ENT man had said, “I am about to vacuum your ear. This is going to hurt a bit but it will only last for two minutes” I would have been ready, willing and able. But he never said those words and I have a new doctor.