Waiting for a Career Path? DIY!

Throw away “career path” and build your career plan.

Many employees still expect their organizations to provide a “career path.” This is evident from the mediocre marks that leaders receive regarding career development on employee surveys. As an executive coach, I’m often asked by senior executives how they can improve those results.

I start by challenging the outdated assumption that career path definition is somehow up to the employer or boss.

Even though some jobs come with promotion potential, we are now in the design your own career era.  Why?   Bonds between employers and employees are far looser than they were in the past, due to workforce management (e.g., using headcount for cost control), frequent organizational change, shorter employee tenures, and more virtual and flexible workplaces.  

Excellent careers are created by each individual and are not the organization’s or boss’ job to design.

I tell my clients that the way to fix their survey results is to be excellent and proactive career coaches; I ask them if they have recently discussed career plans with each of their people.  After all, the employees you most want to retain and promote are often thinking about their careers—and if you’re not talking to them about it, then you could lose them.

From the employee’s perspective, unfortunately, the above is the exception.  Most executives don’t proactively discuss career planning with their people, and you need to take that into account.

Your Career Is up to You—in All Cases

The savviest approach is to design, execute on, and evolve your own career plan and then bring that plan to a trusted person as a neutral sounding board. Here are considerations for doing that:

First, target career goodness and don’t settle for less:

  1. Target a role or organization that will energize you most of the time rather than deplete you. If you’re net-depleted on most days, make a change sooner rather than later.
  2. Target conditions (culture, mission, people, dollars, healthy work/life integration, etc.) that will enable you to do your best work on most days. Don’t stick around too long if the conditions are getting in the way.

Of course, no organization can know your heart as well as you do, not to mention what energizes you and what depletes you. Organize yourself around those factors because others won’t do it for you.

Next, consider that the best careers evolve by nonlinear change.

In her seminal book, “Lean In,” Cheryl Sandberg noted that, nowadays, a healthy career is a “jungle gym and not a ladder.” We move sideways, down, around, and up. If you don’t create your own path on the career jungle gym, others either won’t do it for you—or they will, and you may not like it.

Choose each job and organization to meet a career plan need.

In super-dynamic settings like startups and heavy-growth situations, you’ll find good opportunities to design your role and pick your boss, as well as experience unexpected changes and bumps along the way, which will test your agility in career planning. Or, you may want to use a career stint in a more static organization to get one specific experience, such as round out a specific skill. Again, that should be part of your dynamically evolving career plan.

And please, don’t take a job based on a promise for something more later

Get the job you want and the money you need on day one rather than in a promise for later. Too often we take a job bundled with a promise, as in, “I know you’re perfect for that other job, but we just need to get you in, and we should be able to promote you within the first year.” Unless this is an irrevocable agreement in an employment contract subject to no other conditions—and even then I worry—then it’s nothing more than a good intention, an idea, a theory, and certainly not a commitment.

Finally, develop and evolve your career plan.

As this post implies, I’m not going to hand you a template. Roll your own. DIY. Make it one page. Do a vision board. Whatever works for you. Then when you’re happy with it, look at it daily.

Consider your road map to achieve the conditions discussed above and monitor whether or not you’re energized and doing your best work on most days to check where you are, make changes, and evolve that road map regularly.

The headline of your career plan should always be your sense of highest purpose in your work, such as “making a positive difference in the world” or “providing for my family in ways that allow me to be a healthy and happy member of that family”—or whatever it may be for you.

  • Pick excellent bosses rather than put up with bad ones.
  • Get the job and money on day one.
  • Pick your organization carefully for its culture and level of dynamic change that’s right for you at this time in your career.

If you need help, find someone in your world—and I hope your leader is that coach to you—to do a sanity check on your plan. Feedback will help enhance it.

May you and your plan continue to evolve!

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David Peck is Partner, and the US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

Forget Resolutions: 5 Pro-Tools to Maximize Your Year

Check out these three quick questions about your last year:

1)   Were you net/net energized or depleted by your work most of the time?

2)   Did you do the best work of your career?

3)   Did you get the results you most wanted to achieve?

If you answered “no” to any of the above, try these exercises:

First, set your work standards, if you don’t already have them

When I was deciding what to do next in my work life back in 2003, I set three standards for whatever I would choose: 1) I would only do work I found energizing rather than depleting on most days, 2) I would just do something that I would continue doing even if I won a lottery, and 3) I would wake up most days thinking, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.” Friends and family were puzzled. From their viewpoints, I was “giving up” a divisional COO job at a great financial services and technology company like Charles Schwab as the then-youngest member of the senior leadership team. I was told by many, “Only the lucky ones get to do work they love.” I rejected that view, and I am glad I did. While the road hasn’t been easy, for the last decade plus, my work life has consistently met those very standards.

It doesn’t need to be a matter of luck. It’s about setting and aiming for a specific and straightforward set of work standards that are unique to you. Use them to filter opportunities and changes in your professional life. Don’t stop short of achieving them. If you haven’t created a simple set of standards, then 2019 is your time to do that, and keep at it until they are clear and they become your reality. If you don’t do this, then being in the best situation for you to be at your best and achieve meaningful results will indeed have to come from sheer luck.

Next, begin this year with the end in mind and set “retroactive” goals

Fast forward your mental calendar to this time next year and imagine you’ve had your best year ever in 2019. You’ve achieved everything you wanted to do. Congrats! Now picture that energized, satisfied future version of you who had that great 2019.

Through a mental miracle, that version of you time-travels “back” to visit the “present-you.” You can even set up an empty chair in front of you and imagine future-you sitting there. What would you want to know? What would you ask, and what would future-you say? What made their year so great? How did they do that? Record the questions you asked future-you, and the answers you imagined them giving you. Put your notes away for a day or two. Pull them out. What do you notice? How does that inform you?

Finally, identify the “so what/now what” from this exercise. To begin 2019 with the successful end of 2019 in mind, what does that success look like, and what will that require of you? Make a list of not more than three goals that reflect your highest priorities.

Incorporate three key takeaways and three leave-behinds from last year in your plan for this year

Make two lists to go with your goals:

a) What are your three most important takeaways from 2018—the things you learned, did well, loved, or appreciated, that you’d like to invite to the party and incorporate into this year?

b) What are your three most essential leave-behinds from last year—the things you’d like to tell, “thank you for your service, you are dismissed” from this year?

Monitor/manage and debug self-defeating mindset glitches

Mindset glitches are your thoughts and ideas that deplete your own energy or cause you to be unhappy. It’s what you tell yourself (and how you say those things in your mind) that undermine what you hope to accomplish, devalue you, cause you to be overly critical, “less than” others, too perfect (unattainable), a “fraud,” or otherwise not what you want to be.

You need to carefully monitor and manage what you tell yourself about yourself and about what you’ve done and haven’t done. Highlight your patterns of thinking or self-talk that get in your way, including, for example, undermining, self-marginalizing, self-devaluing, or overly self-critical thinking.  When you catch yourself being less than positive and supportive, correct it by giving those patterns the rest of the day off. As I say to some clients, “Just dismiss the itty-bitty-s*tty-committee in your head.” Practice it every day. These thoughts become less and less powerful as you gain more and more real-time ability to notice and dismiss them. Eventually, they fade away.

Understand what you’re hanging on to: “Despite or Because of”

Sometimes my coaching clients say, “I’m successful because I’m a perfectionist, even if that gets me in trouble every so often,” or “I’m successful because I tell my people what to do and how to do it, even if they whine about it at times.” We are successful because of some things and despite others. In these cases I challenge clients to consider the notion that they are successful because of their smarts, experience, drive, and focus, and despite these behaviors.

If you had to make a list of things others might consider to be negative, yet you would say they are part of your “because of” list rather than your “despite” list, then what would you move from one to the other? So how do you want to incorporate that into this year?

Finally, create a daily reminder and practice

Take the results of the five exercises above and turn them into a note on your phone or one-pager taped to the wall in front of you. Anything that you can look at every day of 2019. Not more than three goals at the top and the rest are practices. Share them with someone you trust and revise them if they have useful feedback or suggestions for you.

Read your goals every morning, and pick one practice to try every day. 

I hope that you will be energized, do your best work, and achieve the results you find most rewarding in 2019, and every year after that. Keep this exercise in your pocket for future years too!

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

Are You a Starter, Builder, Fixer, or Runner?

We spend most of our days at work solving problems.  It follows that liking—or even loving your job hinges on picking roles that require you to solve your “Happy Problems”—the ones you most enjoy tackling.  Here’s a way to help you know what those are for you, so you can be one of “the lucky ones” who love what they do.

Coaching seasoned executives and young professionals alike, I see each person is magnetically pulled toward one or two types of problems they like to handle and prefers to avoid (or gets bored with) the others.

Think about “happy problems” in four categories: Starter, Builder, Fixer, and Runner.

In brief: Starters are the people who love solving the problems of starting new things. Builders seek out the issues of growing something from smaller to larger. Fixers prefer turning around a troubled situation and get bored once that’s done. Runners—the Steady Bettys and Eddies—are happy solving the issues needed to keep things on track – with muted highs and lows. More detail about each of these follows below.

By now I’ll bet you have an idea about which one or two is/are the most you?  It’s so great to figure that out and know that about yourself!

If it’s not immediately clear to you, take a look back at the happiest times in your career or life, and the least happy times, and you will see your pattern. What types of problems were you solving consistently among the better times? The worse times?

Of course, a Fixer at times may need to be a Starter and vice versa. In fact, over time our careers will call for us to be and do every one of these things. To be at your best and do your best work consistently, you need to understand your natural preferences and align/realign with a matching job and organizational need.

Looking at the Four Preferences

As you consider each of these preferences, ask yourself: Which one or two is/are the most “you” at this point in your life? Which of the challenges give you your biggest thrill, or sense of fulfillment at the end of the day? Which would you rather avoid? Which would you like to spend the majority of your time doing? Are you doing that now? If not, what needs to happen? 

  1. The “Starter”is the serial founder or (if internal) person who volunteers for that new office, post, or project. She or he loves the challenges of the blank canvas, or likelier the empty whiteboard. If that sounds like you, then you see it as an invitation to innovation, invention or creation, and like to paint the vision and roadmap ahead. You probably have more than one domain name, patent, or trademark at the ready. You may have a few VC’s or Angel Investors on your short list of friends. You have the soul of an entrepreneur/instigator and the energy to go with it. As you get through the formative stages, and people around you start talking about “leverage” and “scale,” your interest tends to move on to your next big idea on a (no doubt) long list of them. 
  1. The “Builder’s”mantra is “take it to the next level” or “build it bigger,” and s/he loves the challenges of growing something to a larger (or even hyper) scale. Is that you? If so, you’ll be dancing when the volume, sales or client, or other metrics are spinning up – and your hands are turning those wheels. You love applying cleverness and skill to balancing resources versus constraints versus high demand and are happiest with the “nice to have” problems of too much on the plate, versus not enough. Over time, as the growth line inevitably begins to flatten, you’ll probably be ready for a change. 
  1. The “Fixer” loves the challenges of something or someone in need, and the promise of making a big difference by dealing with a gnarly issue or problem. If that sounds like you, you are intellectually stimulated when things aren’t right. You likely want to get into those issues right now — the tougher the better. You’re sure of your ability to resolve, fix, and instigate change, even when others see a blank wall or daunting puzzle. You’re happiest when applying smarts and skills to make a big impact that leaves thing far better than you found them. Once done with that, you’re probably not one to stick around for too much longer.  It’s time for the next new challenge. 
  1. The “Runner” loves the subtler mysteries of the long game. If you’re a runner at heart, you enjoy the stewardship or caretaker role, ever keeping a steady hand on the wheel. You’re attracted to mature organization’s who’ve figured out who and what they are, and are not, and are less likely to want to change things over any short period of time. You may make more nuanced course corrections that keep things on track as needed. You appreciate the opportunity and role to ensure smooth sailing as a blessing rather than a burden. When and if things become more turbulent, and that’s prolonged, it’s probably time for a change.

* * *

Ultimately, it’s not only essential to understand your preference(s) here, but also to help others know theirs, and (when hiring) to bring in people who match the role, and the needs of your organization, which of course, are dynamic and evolving.

The big reveal here is that it doesn’t need to be “luck” that allows you to do the work you love or that you were meant to do; it’s focus, self-awareness and courage.

Focus on your happy problems, take the time to reflect and know yourself, and have the courage to make job and career choices that fit you best.

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

Simple Secrets for Networking Like a Champion

Networking can be more streamlined — and far more effective — than you think

How will you find your next job or role? Your next big deal or sale?

Chances are, the opportunity you seek will find its way to you through the agency of someone you know (your network), or someone they know (your expanded network).

That simple realization should open your eyes, and shift your priorities. After all, if the opportunity is only one or two degrees removed from you, the act of finding, targeting and interacting with the key people who can and will help you achieve it should be a critical, career-defining focus.

It isn’t something to be relegated to lead lists, or the “usual suspects” (the people who always come to mind).

Generate new networking ideas with this powerful, downloadable framework

So how do you zero in on the most strategic people without “boiling the ocean”? And how do you optimize your result given limited time?

Here’s a framework I created for just that purpose. The “recipe” rests on a simple algorithm — focused on two parameters, utility and probability. It was shared with me by Frank Ball at Georgetown. The framework builds out that algorithm into practical steps, and illustrates it with real-world examples.

The best part is that you can apply this framework to any goal that depends on influencing others, or getting them on board to help you reach it.

Most executives I coach on networking think they know who the most important people are… until I ask them to do this homework. When they do, they are typically surprised at the helpful things they discover. Try it out and see how well it works for you!

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

How to Command the Room: Gravitas

Whether you’re searching for a job, transitioing into a new role, or simply received feedback that you need to upgrade your “executive presence” (I know, I feel your pain), then you’re certainly not alone. For most people in or aiming for senior positions, it’s not standard equipment. It takes practice and a few new tools.

I’ve coached many leaders to upgrade their executive presence. It boils down not only to what you say and don’t say, but how you read the room, and therefore conduct yourself. With some investment in finding an authentic and influential form of your own voice, you are more likely to be a member of (rather than a visitor among) your senior colleagues. Having an influential voice among those at the big table is what’s often referred to as “gravitas.”

grav·i·tas (grāv’ĭ-täs’) n. (source: dictionary.com)

Substance; weightiness: a frivolous biography that lacks the gravitas of its subject.

A serious or dignified demeanor: “Our national father figure needs gravitas, [but] he’s pitched himself as the kid brother” (John Leo).

Here are six practical ways to upgrade your own gravitas:

1. Be aware of the value of your own contribution

Gravitas requires remaining calm, even under fire, and finding within yourself the assurance that your value at the table is constant and worthwhile, without having to prove it (e..g, trying to be the smartest person in the room, dominating air time, or needing to be right.) It’s natural, particularly when awed or even intimidated by the intellects or accomplishments of others around you, to devalue or marginalize yourself in subtle but noticeable ways. Don’t give in to such fear, but simply notice it in the moment, and dismiss it without reacting to it. Your value to the discussion remains constant no matter who else is in the room.

2. Use good judgment about when to say something, when to ask a question, and when to stay silent

Being judicious about what and when to assert, when to inquire, and when to use attentive silence is key to gravitas. When asserting your ideas keep it short, simple, clear, and contextualized by the current discussion. Don’t restate other’s ideas. When in doubt, less is more. When you are silent, be present by active listening and staying off your devices. Listen like it matters. When asking questions, keep them on topic or message, short, and oriented toward “what” and “how” and certainly not “why,” and toward the future or present, rather than the past.

3. Avoid unhelpful verbal habits

Minimize verbal mannerisms such as “um” and “you know?” and “you know what I mean?” and “like,” and any other filler words or phrases (e.g., “…at the end of the day,” and “to be honest,” and “In my opinion,” etc.) that may sound like nervous habits or ticks. Watch the tendency to “up talk”—that is, don’t end declarative sentences or phrases with an upward inflection, like a question. I often use video practice to show a client these habits, which tend to hide in their blind spot.

4. Be confident and kind, without being arrogant

Arrogance and gravitas simply don’t coexist. When you’re perceived as arrogant, you’re trying too hard. Others read it as overbearing and insecure. People who deserve their seat at the table don’t have to buy it at every meeting. You have nothing to prove. You certainly don’t have to “win” with any particular idea, point, or deep thought. You don’t want to throw your colleagues under the bus, even when you think they deserve it. Treat those you don’t respect with respect. Remember, others with gravitas are doing that already.

5. Watch your body language

80 percent or more of your communication is non-verbal — while that’s a common statistic, it’s often underplayed or disregarded. How you show up physically — arms crossed or not, sitting back or forward, how stressed you seem, how fast you walk in and out of the room — these all shape or limit your impact among your senior colleagues. Noticing your own body language is critical to establishing a strong executive presence.

6. Observe yourself and the situation as you participate

For all of the above to work, you need to monitor yourself and others as you participate. What’s my role here? What’s unspoken here? Where should we head with this, and how is my participation helping, neutral or hindering that direction? What’s needed here? These are all self-monitoring questions that can help you adjust your impact for the better in real time.

When done right, gravitas is not a mask—it’s effectively adding your unique value to important discussions while minding and maintaining important relationships.

When gravitas is lacking, people know it, and when it’s present, they take notice: “She can really hold a room.” “His ideas are always welcomed by the board, even when there’s debate or disagreement.” “When she speaks, people sit up and take notice.”

Get your gravitas on, and your leadership is upgraded. Your contributions at the senior most levels will have the impact and be given the consideration they are due.

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

How to Target Work that Works for You

Here’s a graphic/tool I share with people who are starting to consider a career transition. Setting clear standards for what’s next is always helpful. While the specifics here reflect my point of view on what’s important, I invite you to make your own version and use it to help you target and assess what’s next for you.

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck