Michael Piperno

Some Thoughts on Career Transitions

People call me a career transition expert. It’s not a title that I’ve worn with a badge of honor until recent years. Why? 

Because of what other people thought about my journey.

Silly, I know. But it’s true.

People told me I would never be able to do it. Some said I was crazy to leave the security of XYZ job or industry. Others doubted my ability to pivot from where I was to where I wanted to go.

If people’s expectations are doing the same to you, please try to tune that noise out. If you want to make a change, you owe it to yourself to explore it. 

Today, I’m proud to be called a career transition expert and coach. 

Here are a few things I’ve learned through the years. I hope they are helpful.

  • Career transitions take work — and it starts with assessing your risk tolerance. 
  • The next critical step is doing an inventory of your skills and experience and figuring out how they can apply to your next chapter.
  • And the biggest thing you need to do eventually (and this might not come quickly so you need to be patient) is to get your story straight.

Let me underscore how important that third bullet is.

You need to know where you want to go and why and be clear about it in your head. Only then can other people help you. And if you’re mid to senior level in your career, it’s people who will help make a career transition or change happen. Period.

Think about it. If you say to me, “I think I want to make a career pivot, but I’m not sure if I should stay in a large pharma company or if I would be better off figuring out how to get into a leadership role in an early-stage company doing more innovative work.”

Can I help you? Sure, I can listen, give you advice, and coach you to help you figure it out. I can even introduce you to people I know who have made that type of transition who may be willing to talk to you. 

But I can’t introduce you to anyone else in my network who can help you actually make a move until I am clear on what you really want.

But if you say, “I’ve had a great run in big pharma, and now I’m ready to use my skills and experience to help lead an early-stage company. I’m particularly excited about companies doing innovative work in the diagnostics space.”

Now I’m clear. And what immediately comes to mind is at least 3 people I can introduce you to who can help. Actually, just thought of 2 more.

See the difference?

Bottom line — If you aren’t able to clearly tell someone what you want, they can’t easily help you. This is true for career transitions, and anything else in professional life.

Make it easy for them, and you’ll be amazed how many people are willing to jump in and help.

The Value of Attention

In today’s fast-paced world, it can be difficult to give our full attention to anything. We are constantly bombarded with stimuli, from our phones to our email to our social media feeds. It’s often challenging to focus on the task at hand, let alone on the people around us.

However, as leaders, it is essential that we are intentional about paying attention. When we give our full attention to others, we show them that we value them and their contributions. We also create a space where they feel safe to share their ideas and concerns.

A few more benefits of giving others our full attention…

  • Builds trust and rapport. When people feel like they are being heard and understood, they are more likely to trust and respect us.
  • Boosts morale. When people feel like their work is important and that they are making a difference, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged. 
  • Improves our own decision-making. When we take the time to listen to others’ perspectives, we are more likely to make decisions that are in the best interests of the entire team and organization.

Here are a few tips for paying better attention:

  1. Be present. When you are interacting with someone, give them your full attention. Put away your phone, turn off your computer, and make eye contact.
  2. Listen actively. Really listen to what the other person is saying, and ask clarifying questions.
  3. Show empathy. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Understand their perspective and why they might be feeling the way they are.

Paying attention is a skill that takes time and practice. The benefits are well worth the effort. 

Try to pay more attention to how well you pay attention today. If you’re finding that you’re distracted instead of fully committed to a conversation, identify one thing you can do to avoid that in the future.

The Pursuit of Perfection Causes All Sorts of Problems

With all the interactions we have with one another each day, it’s not realistic to think that every one of them can be perfect.

You’re not perfect, your team isn’t perfect, and you know what? That’s okay. When we put on the pressure for things to be just right or for everything to work out the way we wish it always would, we set ourselves and our people up for disappointment.

The same goes for when you are preparing for a presentation or speech. Look, most people (if not all) feel some level of nervousness when they speak in public. When I coach presenters and work to help them get to the root of their anxiousness, we often uncover that the fear of being imperfect is the main culprit. It…

  • stops them from being themselves.
  • makes them look and sound nervous.
  • puts up a wall between them and the audience.
  • adds unnecessary pressure.

I get it. Nobody likes to look silly in front of others (well, I don’t mind but that’s a story for another day). And you do need to prepare well in order to present well.

But when we let the pursuit of perfection paralyze us, nobody wins. 

Imagine if everyone — every creative person, every parent, every leader — could offer the gifts they have to share with the world without fearing they’re not good enough, smart enough, or whatever enough. 

Wow, I like that image.

I believe that good communication and leadership require intention, thought, practice, and care. Does that mean all communications must be perfect?


Don’t go for perfect. Aim to make your communication matter to someone.

Then you both win.

Compassion Is Key

There are many skills and traits that make a good leader, and I believe that compassion is one that many leaders don’t talk about or leverage enough. 

The ability and willingness to work to understand and empathize with the struggles of others, and to respond with kindness and support, is what we’re talking about here. And research has shown that compassionate leadership can have a range of benefits for teams and organizations. For example, when leaders show compassion towards their team members, they’re more likely to feel valued and supported — feelings that almost surely will increase productivity and engagement (and lower turnover rates).

Compassionate leaders are also willing to be vulnerable with their team members. This means sharing their own struggles and weaknesses, and being open about their own challenges. By doing so, leaders build stronger relationships with their team members, and create a culture of trust and understanding.

If you’re looking to develop a more compassionate approach to leadership, here are some tips:

  • Listen (actively): Take the time to really listen to your team members, and show that you understand their concerns and challenges.
  • Empathize: Try to put yourself in your team members’ shoes, and imagine what it’s like to be in their position.
  • Appreciate: Take the time to recognize and appreciate your team members’ hard work and contributions.
  • Support: When team members are struggling, offer support and guidance to help them overcome their challenges.
  • Be kind to yourself: Remember to practice self-compassion as well, and be kind to yourself as you navigate the challenges of leadership.

Compassion can help build stronger relationships, increase engagement and productivity, and create a more positive workplace culture. 

That’s a win-win for everyone. 

We Don’t Always Learn From Failure

There’s a lot of free advice out there these days. From inspirational and “lessons learned” posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, to tips and tricks for living and working better and smarter that land in your email inbox.

Sometimes these messages can make it seem like most people’s lives are perfect.

We know that’s not the case. Yet, as we scroll we can easily start to feel like we don’t measure up. Or that we need to always be positive even when things are not going well.

Mea cupla.

I talk a lot about how I value my failures and am thankful for them. I honestly try my best to see them as opportunities for learning and growth.

Well, guess what? 

Some failures don’t have a silver lining. 

Sometimes they do not give me growth. Sometimes they do not help me move ahead. And when that happens, it really stings.

Because the truth is that failure can result in negative emotions and a lack of motivation that hinder growth and learning.

So, when you or your team fail, don’t sugar-coat it.

If there are lessons to be learned, embrace them. If there are not, call it what it is and do the work to move past it.

Sometimes that work is hard. Don’t be afraid to lean on those you trust for help, and encourage your people to do the same.

No More New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions, Change, and the Next 10 Years

Those of you who know me personally know that I am typically quite thoughtful in my decision-making. I like to spend time thinking through the options in order to make the best decisions I can for all parties involved. However, sometimes my problem is that I want to move too fast once I make a decision. I get excited because I know what I’m doing is right, so I want to get it done right away! That doesn’t always work. 

As I look back on the past two decades, I’ve made a lot of big decisions. And for the most part they’ve been good ones. But the ones that I was more thoughtful and methodical about implementing were the most successful. 

That’s one of the reasons I gave up New Years’ resolutions many years ago. If I want to make change happen in my personal or professional life and I want it to be successful, I know it will take time. It will also take dedication, accountability, and flexibility. It may even take a failure or two before I get it right. Or you know what, I might fail completely. And that’s okay, too. Risk is always part of meaningful change.

What important change will you make this year, or in the next decade? If you’re passionate about it and honest with yourself about the time and effort it needs to be successful, I know you’ll make it happen.

Happy holidays to you and yours! May they be filled with kindness, laughter, love, and warmth.

This is a repost of a piece I wrote several years ago. I through it was timely and worth sharing again.

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash
kindness is a superpower written on brick wall

Don’t Confuse My Kindness with Weakness

We all have extreme power in our ability to choose how we listen, how we react, and how we treat others. Kindness, I believe, is one of our most powerful tools. It is free, and is an incredible investment in ourselves and in others.

A business associate of mine recently called me a “softie” when he perceived my approach to a challenge in a way that did not resonate with him. I corrected him. “No, I’m not a softie. I’m a kind person, and there is a big difference. Please don’t confuse my kindness with weakness.” 

Being kind does not mean you’re afraid to make hard choices or that you must avoid opposition or conflict. Rooting yourself in kindness simply means that you treat people with the respect that they deserve, and that helps ensure the outcome of even the most difficult situation is as good as it can be. 

No person has ever left this earth with a perfect score. We all make mistakes, mishandle situations, and let our emotions cloud our judgement from time to time. Let’s be more kind to each other when we stumble. 

One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou. She said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

You can never go wrong by being kind. Doing so diffuses tension and helps others avoid feeling defensive. Even in the most difficult conversations, when you show the other person that you care, you make your communications more tailored to their needs—and more effective.

When we remember to be kind we act in a way that invites others to do the same. And that’s infectious.

Photo by Andrew Thornebrooke on Unsplash
Turtle Hiding in Shell

Imposter Syndrome Visited Me Today

I’m a pretty confident guy. In fact, self-confidence is one of the top strengths in my toolbox, according to my favorite assessment, The Strength Deployment Inventory. That strength serves me well in some cases, and gets me in trouble in others. It can make me look arrogant at times (which is not a good look on me).

Self-confidence is not on the menu here today, though. Imposter syndrome has shown up as I get ready to launch registration for a new leadership communication workshop this spring.

I’m confident the program is good — maybe even great. I’ve thought about this workshop for over a year, and have planned it well. I’m also sure that it will be a terrific, two-day event. Actually, experience is a better word.

So why do I feel like a fraud today, and that nobody is going to register? What’s going on here? Is it a fear of success or failure? Is it the fact that I don’t like promoting myself that’s making me want to close my laptop and go back to bed?

According to Psychology Today, “People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them. Those with imposter syndrome are often well accomplished; they may hold high office or have numerous academic degrees.”

Okay, it’s pep talk time. I’ve got 3 degrees, a proven track record, people who believe in me and my work, and a roster of clients who all count on me to help them be better communicators and leaders. I’ve also founded 3 different companies, and have made several career transitions and reinventions that most people would think were impossible (and many did at the time). I’ve heard more people tell me, “you can’t” and then I’ve shown them that, in fact, I can. 

That feels better…. 

Don’t worry about me. This is temporary. I’ve dealt with it before. Today I’m sharing this feeling with you, because I want you to know that you can overcome imposter syndrome. I’m going to work on it right now.

  1. I’ll start by not comparing myself to others who I admire and who I think do what I do quite well. Nobody else delivers programs like my co-facilitators and I do — we’re one of a kind.
  2. Then I’ll remind myself that perfection doesn’t exist. My programs don’t have to be perfect. They just need to be expert level and make people get tons of value for their time spent (and feel inspired to tell others about the great experience they had).
  3. Finally, I’ll recall that while promoting myself and this new offering is uncomfortable for me, it’s necessary. If I constantly create and never promote, nobody will benefit.

Imposter syndrome be gone! For the rest of today, anyway….

Photo by Josh Eckstein on Unsplash
Office worker in conflict, frustrated

(Re)Defining Conflict

When it comes to relationships, conflict is inevitable. It’s going to happen from time to time, and how we handle ourselves when it happens greatly affects how fast we resolve it (or push ourselves further into the abyss of uncomfortableness).

Learning how you experience conflict — and understanding that most people you interact with experience it differently — is critical. I teach those tools in several of my workshops, and the self- and -situational awareness they bring to teams makes it easier for everyone to help each other recognize and resolve conflict quickly.

Now, you may think the key word there is resolve. Sure, we all want to resolve conflict — how many people do you know who like feeling conflicted?

I argue that recognizing it is even more important. Because we often get it wrong. 

When we mistake healthy debate, or what I’ll call healthy opposition, for conflict it causes us to avoid it. And avoiding healthy opposition is an innovation assassin. It kills creativity. It causes communication breakdowns. 

Bottom line — teams that can’t challenge each other without it getting personal are doomed to a future of mediocrity and apathy.

You may be saying, “But life is personal.” Or, “I take my work personally, and when it’s challenged I can’t help but feel attacked.” I’m not saying that work isn’t personal — it is. But I challenge you to redefine conflict for your team, and make sure everyone understands the difference between it, and healthy opposition.

  • Healthy opposition allows for debate, disagreement, and collaboration while maintaining positive regard. Leaders who create a culture of respectful and healthy opposition inspire teams to challenge each other to do better. Positive intent stays intact, and people respect each other’s contributions and opinions even if they don’t agree with them. Sure, sometimes it turns into conflict, but it doesn’t have to.
  • Conflict happens when healthy opposition turns personal. People may see their value system as challenged, or they may simply feel attacked. There’s usually a triggering moment and recognizing it in yourself and others is a great way to stop it in its tracks. You have a much better chance of helping each other get back to feeling good if you can notice when things are getting personal. The problem is that some people are easier to read than others, and you may not know someone is conflicted. Assessment tools can help there, but so can listening, and a good dose of self- and situational awareness.

Imagine an environment where healthy opposition thrives, and conflict gets stopped dead in its tracks. It takes work, but it’s possible. 

Start today by clearly defining the difference between conflict and healthy opposition at your organization. 

Then walk the walk.

Help your people engage in healthy dialogue that may challenge each other or the status quo. Make it safe to do so. At the same time, help them recognize when opposition has turned into conflict so they can name it, and keep it from spiraling.  

I’m here to help.

Clocks on a wall with different time zones

Time Zones

I talk a lot about making sure your communications are written for your audience, and not only for yourself. Of course, we have a goal or an agenda with every communication we send — and when we can communicate in a way that also considers the needs and goals of our audience as well, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

This post is inspired by a client of mine who recently said, “I love the way you communicate meetings in my time zone. It makes it so much easier for me. Thank you.” 

That made me feel great. I had spent only a few more seconds when writing an email to make sure I listed my proposed meeting times in her time zone first. For example, “How about next Thursday at 1 pm PT (4 pm my time) or Friday at 10 am PT (1 pm my time).

It’s a simple thing, but that extra moment crafting the message for her made a difference. And I’m so happy she told me.

If you’re like me and you have clients or coworkers all over the globe, consider making it easier for them to convert times to their local zone if you can. Oh, and put your time zone in your email signature — it helps avoid emails back and forth to ask, “what time zone are you in again?”

Photo by Luis Cortes on Unsplash
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