Hot air is for balloons


It’s pretty easy to say, “Well, of course, I own my career–no one else does.” But saying it doesn’t make it so. Over the next few weeks, I’ll focus on what it really takes (actions, behaviors, words) to be the owner of your career and, by extension, the keeper of your ‘job security.” You’ll be able to assess your relationship with your career, determining what changes if any you choose to make in order to increase your satisfaction and security.

Let’s start with career itself. A career consists of two things: 1. work that is your contribution to the world and that you take pride in doing well; and 2. a “path” for that work that is flexible, multi-directional and constructed to best reflect your values and talents.

Take note: “job” is not mentioned nor is putting in hours. A career isn’t necessarily linear and it’s not something you fall into because a career today is constructed–intentionally. It’s flexible, including the timing, the business, the work itself.

Now let’s consider ownership. Owners care for their possessions in a more intentional way than renters ever would. When you own your home, you consider “location, location, location” before you buy; you make sure the amenities fit your needs; you allocate maintenance and decorating dollars; and (most often) you work with a professional who can maximize the house you get for your money. You make an investment intending to gain value over the years.

We own homes yet rent careers, moving from job to job and stringing them together to make a lifetime of activity. The location is often whoever is hiring; the maintenance is only when a weakness crops up; and the professional is considered only when all else fails.

Here’s a quick check to see if you really own your career:

    Your work matters to you, and you take pride in it.
    You use your talents and walk your values every day.
    You have a rotating one-year learning plan that you follow.
    You are paying for the learning yourself.
    Your career “path” is sketched out for 3 years, yet flexible if markets or your options change.
    You know the value you provide and you make it known.
    You know–always–the way to increase your value.
    You have a career coach who is a sounding board and supporter.
    You have at least 3 mentors from whom you learn.

If you really want to own your career, then pick one or two of the items above and put them in place. You’ll be able to do that more readily if you work with a coach who can guide you to developing a map that works for you. But the map only works when you do. Taking on the responsibility and being accountable for the follow-through is what really makes you a career owner.

Anything else is just hot air.

Meet Bill. And how he became a Career Owner.


Bill is always at the Panera before me; he gets there early, has a coffee and is ready to begin as soon as I arrive. He has his list of items for discussion and we move through it with practiced familiarity.

Bill and I have been coaching together for over a year. At this point, we meet about once a month so Bill can review his work and career activities and accomplishments and realign with his career direction for 2010. When we started, he was frustrated with his employer and uncertain if he was cut out for management: everything about managing seemed lots more challenging than just doing the work himself.

Now, Bill is comfortable in his leadership and knows what he wants to accomplish with his career direction; as his coach, I’m a check-in point along the way. As a Career Owner, Bill’s direction became clear when he focused on his values and began to use them consciously. In his words:

I realized that for most of my career I was doing what I thought I needed to do to get ahead and those things were not the things that I wanted to do. This caused a lot of frustrations between who I was at work and who I was at home, to the point where people would say I have a split (dual) personality. Like a downward spiral, the harder I tried (to do the work things) the farther I deviated from who I really am. Of course it’s not all ‘work’, there’s some personal stuff in there too.

By going through the process of answering a bunch of questions (most of which I though were meaningless at the time) I was able to pick out common themes among my experiences that led me to understand what is truly important to me.

Now that I have a clear understanding of what my core values are and why, I can apply them to any decision or situation that comes down the pipe. I can process everything according to my core values and then I will know the right thing to for me to do. Sometimes the answer is not an easy one and can lead to life changing decisions, but I at least know that I’m being true to myself regardless of the consequences.

Using his values, Bill will find his next position with an organization that mirrors those values and that provides challenges to grow him as a leader. He is deliberately meeting with other C-level leaders in his industry in order to learn from them and to grow those professional connections.

How do your values drive your career?

If you keep doing things the way you’ve always done them…


Human beings really get in ruts. We love to do things that are comfortable, even when it’s to our disadvantage. Case in point: employment.

News is telling us that the economy is improving, although employment is called a lagging indicator meaning any uptick in employment will come along later, way later. In other words, hiring isn’t going to pick up any time soon. That means many people will continue to be out of work, for a lot longer than they ever expected. So their job searches will continue for a lot longer, too.running in circles

People will continue to do the same job search things they’ve always done and expect that–eventually–the outcome will be a job. One that lasts. One where they won’t have to go through job search hell ever again. And for some that may happen.

But for most, it won’t.

“Permanent” employment is a thing of the past, but human beliefs and behaviors haven’t changed to deal with it, let alone get ahead of it. Organizations perpetuate this with outdated human resourcesdancing practices that are the ‘way things have always been done’; and people continue to buy into this dance because it’s comfortable and they know how.

Organizations still look to fill “jobs” even though what they really have is “work” and “projects.” Work is always there–it’s permanent. Projects are temporary and everybody knows it. Jobs are (believed to be) permanent although most are only around until the global marketplace changes the competitive direction once again. And, that happens frequently. So a job filled today can be unnecessary in 12 months, and that results in lay-off, outplacement, and hiring in another, newly-competitive area.

And guess what? Because the jobs are different, the same person can’t move from one to the other! And, apparently, neither the organization or the person has thought to have the individual learn the new job’s skills and move from the unneeded job to the new one!

Remember the movieSo, what’s wrong with this picture? Everything!

1. the organization is wasting the skilled individual who is already on top of the learning curve, and adds the expense of outplacement or severance pay, as well as the expense of hiring and subsidizing the learning curve for someone who doesn’t know the company. Dumb.

2. the individual is stuck in a vicious cycle: looking for another job that matches the old one, along with thousands of others doing the same thing. No additional skills or competencies because the organization didn’t provide them. Dumber.

Who will blink first?

Will organizations figure out that there are more intelligent and effective ways (to say nothing of economical) to deal with a changing competitive marketplace than by throwing out the old and buying new? Will they figure out that people can be ‘recycled’ and learn the skills to flex from one area of work to another? Will they figure out that tossing out the brains that bring success to the business is condemning it to failure?

Or, will individuals–you!–figure out that you are more employable and more attractive to buyers when you become highly skilled and flexible with your (current and new) competencies? Will you figure out that only you create your own work security–because there is none in the employment market today? And will you figure out that you can take responsibility for your own improvement and development by carving a learning path that makes you highly adaptable to an organization’s needs?

My money’s on you.

When you own your career, you are the owner of your fate. You depend upon yourself to be flexible and skilled and adaptive to marketplace and customer needs. self-efficacyYou create your work opportunities to stay ahead of your organization’s decisions to change direction. You avoid the downsizing rolls, the job search chaos, the repetitive outplacement systems, the depression and desperation that come with a difficult employment market.

And what’s that worth?

An incredible peace of mind, confidence in your own efficacy, increased capacity to navigate an uncertain economy, and alignment with business reality!

4 Baby Steps Toward Security


As I read two articles in Sunday’s paper with bleak news for job seekers, I found myself thinking once again about how fortunate I am to be in charge of my own career direction. I made the leap to self-employment a bit ahead of the curve (1997), and even with all its challenges, I never worry about someone else running my business. Or making decisions for me. Or going in to work on a Monday morning to be met with a pink slip. Or living in fear that one might be there next week.

What's your value?

Can you state your value?

Over the years I learned–often the hard way–that I needed to be very clear with statements of my value. My business is intangible and some still mislabel the content “soft skills.” [As though anything about relationships could be anything other than hard!] But value can always be measured, sometimes in the words of clients or sometimes in the visible results.

I learned that a paycheck doesn’t automatically appear every other Friday unless I focus on the Important rather than the Urgent. The discipline needed to put the big rocks in first came in a series of difficult lessons; and I’m not really sure I’m done learning!

I learned that marketing myself and my services never really stops; I can take a break, if I choose, but business follows only when potential clients hear my messages. And the clients are there; it’s just up to me to find them and be consistent in messaging.

I learned that I had a lot to learn and that I had to stay ahead or fall behind.

Navigating changes

Navigating changes

And in any business environment, customers always have choices. So staying ahead rather than “resting on laurels” always kept me intrigued with new approaches and new ideas. So I tried new ways of doing things that I might not have been certain of—learning from thought leaders’ and the success of others.

As I learned these lessons (and I’m not done yet!) I saw results that gave me confidence to move forward and try again, try something a bit different, and build on even small developments. I moved ahead a step at a time over the last dozen years. The small steps add up, and it’s important to just start.

Hungering for security?

Take these same 4 baby steps, especially if you’re in an organization and want to stay, or if you’re going after your next position. Each one will work to your advantage, and you can begin today.

1. What’s your value?

Define it, describe it, get clear on it and start talking about it. Letting others know your value isn’t bragging, it’s educating them about how you contribute. Strategic organizations keep people who contribute. Managers depend upon performers who contribute because they know you can be counted on. Learn how to talk about your value in the language of the listener, so there’s no question that you belong. Action item: take 20 minutes and write 5 statements of your value. If you get stuck, ask your coach or trusted peer. Put at least 2 of them in your conversations this week.

2. Work on Important first.

If you’re searching for a position, it’s easy to kid yourself into thinking that lots of activity is effective, especially if it entails sitting at a desk cranking out paper–just like you’re used to doing in the office. rocksThe Important stuff is usually the hard stuff; in this case, it’s maintaining your network contacts. If you have an office and want to keep it, then prioritize your tasks based upon the organization’s priorities. Save your emails for after 5 o’clock…if they’re that important, you’ll get a call. Action item: re-prioritize your work activities, putting the hardest ones on top. Stay focused on the Important tasks, even if you’re tempted by other people’s urgencies.

3. Be aware of your customer messages: make them count.

Even if you’re not in direct contact with external customers, you have internal ones. Every word you speak, every facial expression and gesture you make, every note you send is plainly marked with one of two messages: ‘I’m glad to be of service;’ or ‘I’m doing this because I’m supposed to.’ Every contact you have is important, so put a smile in your voice and become intent on serving your current, potential, new or returning customers. Action item: Select 3 ‘customers’ today who you can serve: perhaps another job seeker; a co-worker to whom you can offer assistance before s/he asks; or a member at your service club lunch who needs cheering or encouragement.

4. Keep on learning!

Whatever you’re doing, there’s something new to learn. And if you’re not doing what you love, there’s lots new to try! Take responsibility for your own learning, for staying or getting up to speed in your industry, profession or skill sets. Check out community college, continuing education offerings and professional association seminars; and identify mentors who can give you informal opportunities to learn. Define new competencies that can help you take on new and challenging responsibilities, then arrange to master them. Action item: Determine one new area you would like to learn about and find two people who have expertise. Ask at least one of them to be your mentor and get you started.

4 small baby steps!

4 small baby steps!


Your challenge: 4 baby steps

Wherever you are, whatever your work, you will be stronger and more secure in your being by taking these 4 steps and beginning today. Each is a small but significant one toward taking responsibility for your own career direction and stability. Whether you work for a larger organization or a smaller business or you’re looking for your best work fit, your future really is yours to ensure. “Cradle to grave” security begins with these smallest of steps.

Does the world owe you a living?


Last week a 27-year old graduate of Monroe College in New York sued the college because in the three months following graduation she had not found a job. Her suit alleges that for $70,000 in tuition, the school’s responsibility is to find her a position. The young woman (whose name I refuse to mention, thus possibly extending her 15 minutes of fame) is angry about her position, especially since her student loans will be coming due. She is in no position to pay on them, and so her family will have to take on the additional burden. (Find the story: http://tinyurl.com/mxh3v4)

Her position on the college’s responsibility: “They have not tried hard enough to help me.” The college’s position: “[we pride ourselves] on the excellent career-development support that we provide to each of our students.”

Sounds to me like a gross miscommunication around the concept of personal responsibility–and by everyone who has been part of this 27-year old’s long, long adolescence!

Expecting a handout?

expecting a handout?

It apparently takes a “crash and burn” event to separate many people from their “entitled” view of the world. Guess the folks at Enron were just doing what they were told, and didn’t have any responsibility in their loss of retirement dollars. Guess the people who hate their jobs don’t have a choice but to stay…have to pay the bills somehow, right? Guess those who are “victims” of this current recession are just that, with no responsibility for their ill-prepared out-of-work status. Guess the “older workers” who aren’t valued in the current workplace are just disrespected for all their Industrial Age experience. And, apparently, the younger workers coming out of college are just not responsible for finding their own jobs–they are entitled to one as an result of the money they spent on the degree they received.

How does this thinking happen?

What happened to the idea of earning what you get? Of taking responsibility to use your talents, abilities and resources (a college degree falls into this last category) to get a job or move in a new career direction? Of being completely responsible for the outcomes in your life?

The young graduate who is suing her college apparently doesn’t know about the ‘personal responsibility’ part of life. [And, whose fault is this? When does it become hers?] And while many readers may see this story and say, “How ridiculous…I would never do that!”, their comments on their current work or economic status would belie this.

Are individuals responsible for having a job or not? Are you responsible for paying enough attention to see that your industry or organization must dance to a different tune, that of a global economy or tightening market? Are you responsible for paying enough attention to make sure that you can dance to that tune…even when it entails taking dancing lessons? And you need to pay for them yourself?

Swimming in your best direction

Swimming in your best direction

I believe individuals do have this responsibility, but when was the last time you heard someone say…I should have been ready for this downturn by sharpening my skills? I should have been ready by continuing to build and take care of my network? I should have been ready by learning which industries are growing and which are dying? Or even, I should have seen this coming?

It’s much more likely that you’ve heard someone say: “they” just called me in, and let me go; or “they” don’t appreciate the last 20 years I gave them; or “they” didn’t give me any training to upgrade my skills; or even “they” just don’t care about the little guy!

Here’s what responsibility looks like.

A few weeks ago, when taking a shuttle from my hotel to the Phoenix airport, the driver asked what I spoke about (I was heading home from the National Speakers Association convention). When I replied “workforce change and development,” he began telling me about his transition 8 years ago from manufacturing employee to franchise owner. Employed by Motorola, he was downsized and in his own words said that he “should have seen it coming.”

John Maelstrom, that Super Shuttle owner, decided to deal with the set-back and find work that works for him. He went into business for himself and now has two employees. He is a great example of resilience in the face of change, of someone with a sense of responsibility that defines his character.

Why not take just a few minutes right now and test your own sense of entitlement: Does your employer owe you your job?

If yes, what kind of guarantee do you have? How sure are you?

If not, what are you doing to be sure that you’re ready and responsible for your own livelihood? When you get to this answer, and don’t know where to start–drop me an email or give me a call. I can help you learn to trust yourself and move toward a true security, one you make yourself.

PS: when you’re in Phoenix and need a ride, call Super Shuttle, 602.244-9000 and ask for John by name.

Looking for security? Use your brain!


I’m fascinated by neuroscience and things related, like emotional intelligence and neuroleadership. It’s most amazing that scientists can watch us think and see how an emotion drives a thought. And how we can stop it–or not, as we choose. Our ability to be intentional in our actions is supported by the physiology of our brain.

Neuroscience

Neuroscience

Did you know that scientists tell us now–with certainty–that there is a brain formula for changing? It’s focus + repetition. Our brains are creatures of habit (making us creatures of comfort), in that the strongest synapses–or connections between nerve cells–in our brains are those created by doing things over and over. Doing something new means creating connections (synapses) that don’t exist. So it’s not so much hard, as it is uncomfortable. That’s why change takes some time. We’re literally growing new brain connections to support the change and make it more comfortable, so that the change becomes the habit, or default!

Now, another piece: scientists also tell us that the brain can not distinguish between “real” and “imagined.” [This is what the placebo effect is all about: if I think this pill will ease my pain, it will. And in recent studies at Columbia & U of M, placebo medicine worked in over 30% of patients.] So then it follows that “imagined” practice is a good thing–maybe not as good as the real thing, but very helpful for preparing ourselves for change.

Still one more piece: our mindset. How we look at our abilities and qualities is a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset.” A fixed mindset, according to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, is one that believes qualities are carved in stone, er, tin.

Fixed, tin man

Fixed, tin man

This mindset keeps us stuck: since we have a finite amount of whatever–intelligence, personality, integrity, kindness, etc.–we have to continually prove that what we have is enough because 1) we don’t want to be judged inadequate and 2) we won’t get any more. So every situation becomes a challenge, or a contest to make sure we look and behave “enough” or better than enough.

Growth, learning

Growth, learning


A growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that our abilities and qualities are things we can develop. We can change and grow and cultivate our talents and skills to constantly learn and become better. This mindset is one that is willing to confront challenges and take the risks associated with a difficult task, because hard work and desire make changes happen.

Is your mindset helping you or increasing your job insecurity?

Scientific support

So, backed by science, we most likely succeed at change when we:
1) focus on the change, again and again and again; practice doing the change over and over; focusing and repeating;
2) create a picture in our mind of what the change will be: how it will look, how we accomplish it, what steps we go through, and how the new change will be as comfortable as the old when we’re complete; imagining the change so our brain accepts it as real;
3) develop a view that embraces learning as something that never stops, so whatever challenge we face we can tackle with hard work and belief in our ability to change.

Workplace Security

Whether your current employment is solid or not, your ongoing challenge is to stay ahead of what your employer needs, to become change-agile without being told. What are you doing to increase your knowledge and improve your ability to contribute to your organization? Are you waiting for your manager to tell you what you need to do to stay relevant? Or do you whine and complain (aloud or inside) about every change you need to implement because “things were so much easier in the old days”?

You can create your own security by paying attention to what your brain and mind are doing, and determining very intentionally that you–knowing how your brain works–will make the changes to get that security. You can:

>> take on new challenges and work to raise your profile…be seen as committed to your organization’s success;
>> focus on customer service, listen to customers and then see that something is done with that feedback–take ownership of it and make something happen to respond to customers;
>> take a class or develop a skill that is valuable, pay for it yourself and then offer to share the information with your colleagues: collaboration skills, for example, or conflict styles, or creative problem-solving or teamwork skills;
>> step outside of your job box and look at your workplace like you were the owner: where can you cut expenses, where can you improve how things get done, what tasks might be picked up now that have slipped away during busy times, how can you improve your repeat customer business?
>> what are your competitors doing around new products and services? Knowing what’s happening in the industry and with a little competitive intelligence, you’ve put yourself in a position to discuss near- and longer-term business strategies.

What’s needed now

For too many years, we’ve counted on going to work, putting in time, and getting a paycheck at the end of the week. The landscape has changed and people are coming face to face with that new business reality…a new economy means new ways of working.

You have the brains, the mindset and ability to use what science now knows to increase your own employability and work-agility. None of us is required to stay in an outdated environment using outdated skills and be stuck until someone else decides our fate. All of us, you included, can step up, be responsible, take action and use your brain for your own security.