Leadership

Career Journeys, Changes and Transitions

Making a career transition, or any significant type of career change, is hard work. It’s also fraught with risk and uncertainty — yet the payoff can be literally life-changing. 

I know. I’ve done it 4 times. And that’s why I enjoy helping others along their career journeys. Whether it’s figuring out if it’s best to stay or go, plotting the plan to make a transition from a steady path with a large company to a more volatile (and more exciting) start-up or early-stage venture, or designing a complete change that means starting from scratch, I’ve helped people through it all.

Here are a few things I’ve learned that may help you if you’re feeling stuck, or if you’re thinking about what it would be like to make a big (or small) career transition.

Connect Your Purpose with Your Career Path

I know, a sense of purpose can be elusive. But I argue that it’s critically important. If you do the work to find and clarify it, you’ll be more confident heading down the right path. Purpose is often easier to see once you’ve looked at your passions and the value you bring to others. And remember, your purpose can evolve. Mine sure has, but the common thread for me has always been two things: teaching and communication.

Connecting your purpose to your work will help you discover what you really want, and then you can target the position or path that leverages your strengths and passions.

Think Transition, Not Change

Chances are you’re not throwing all your skills and experiences out the window and starting with absolutely nothing you can carry with you. That’s why I’ve never liked the term “career change.” In my experience, I’ve made several career “transitions” — each one building off my knowledge, skills, and experiences to date (but now more aligned with my purpose and current goals). Inventory your skills and experiences and consider how you’ll apply them to the future career you want.

Get Good at Networking

You can apply to positions all you want — but that means molding yourself to fit a position that’s been predefined. There’s nothing wrong with that if you’re simply looking for your next “job.” But most of the people I help are looking for more than that. They want a new chapter where they can feel more fulfilled — and feel like they’re making a difference. Those opportunities are often created through networking with people who need what you have to offer — even if no job description exists.

To get good at networking, you must define the right avenues for making the connections you need. This means leveraging people you know — and meeting new people — who can help you connect with the right humans who can get you there.

Get Outside Help to Keep You Accountable

Hoping that the next chapter of your career will magically reveal itself is a sure way to ensure it never comes. You have the power to make it happen if you really want it. However, it’s not easy to do and you need to create short- and long-term action plans to keep yourself accountable. 

Figuring out how to make real change happen, or even if making a transition is right for you at the current time, is rarely done well alone. Seek help from a coach, trusted advisors, and other people who have done the work and you’ll be much more likely to stay the course and make it happen.

I’m Here for You

I help leaders transition to more fulfilling next chapters in their careers

Want to learn more about how I can help? Let’s talk.

Check In On Your People

My heart breaks for the people of Ukraine who are living through the unnecessary and cruel effects of war. The invasion, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, political division in our country, and negativity and misinformation fueled by social media have got me feeling frazzled, frustrated, worried, and exhausted. And I know I’m not alone.

These are uncertain and uncomfortable times. As leaders, we must make sure our people know that we understand, and that we care. How do we do that? We must communicate.

  • Check in. Your people need more than check-ins on deadlines or metrics, especially during times of uncertainty. Ask them how they’re doing. Knowing you care about their well-being tells them that they matter. Here are some prompts you can use to start the conversation.

    Before we talk about [insert topic here], I want to ask how you’re doing personally. 
    There’s a lot going on in the world right now. How are you feeling?
    We don’t usually talk much about our personal lives, but I know that I’ve been feeling a bit stressed lately with everything going on at work, at home, and in the world. How about you?

  • Acknowledge, don’t ignore. When world events happen, they impact your people in different ways. It’s important to acknowledge what’s going on, listen, and provide support. Check out this article that shows how some leaders have let their people know they care, and are not alone.

  • Check in with yourself. Leaders are no good for their people if they’re exhausted, overstressed, or burned out. One of the best things you can do for your team is to make sure you’re taking care of you — your body and your mind. You can’t be effective if you’re always running on empty. 

In times of uncertainty, it’s important to take a little extra time to make sure we’re all okay.

Two people in a coaching session having coffee

Top Talent Needs Leadership, Too

Everyone deserves to feel that their work matters and to get feedback, both positive and constructive, so they can grow. But you know what? Some people don’t want to grow or are simply too checked out to care.

Therefore, leaders who are also good coaches can get caught in a trap. They can spend 80 to 90 percent of their available coaching time investing in people who don’t want to be coached. Now, I’m not saying you should give up on people too easily, but if you’re doing the hard work of coaching people who are not responsive to it or who are consistently not improving, I challenge you to flip the equation. 

Instead, dedicate the bulk of your coaching time to your top performers.

It’s easy to think they don’t need your feedback or coaching. That’s wrong. Just because your top performers are good at getting things done (and making you look good as a result) doesn’t mean they don’t need encouragement, praise, or constructive criticism. 

Remember, silence sends a very strong message. Don’t let it convey to your top talent that you don’t care about their achievements, growth, development, or well-being. 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Woman composing emails or text messages on her phone.

Setting Each Other Up for Success

When you craft your next email or text message, ask yourself, “Am I writing this to be read by me, or by the person, the human being, who I am addressing it to?” 

Chances are you’re writing it in a style that works for you, and not necessarily them. 

If you’ve ever been to one of my workshops or training programs, you know that the first rule of any communication is to know your audience. This is true for every piece of communication you send throughout your work day — and your personal communications, too. When we are intentional about the way we communicate with each other and respectful of our differences, there is a much higher chance that the results will be more positive.

For example, if you know that Alex never responds to all your questions in your emails, then don’t send him emails with 15 questions embedded throughout several paragraphs of text. Send an email with a brief introduction, and 1 or 2 questions (bulleted out) that he can scan and reply to quickly. Voila, you’ve just set him up for success. He can move fast, like his job requires, and still give you what you needed because you considered his needs as well.

Here’s another example. Let’s say that your boss, Janelle, has been losing track of your emails and Teams chats because there is too much on her plate this week. Instead of firing off 8 different emails during the day on a variety of topics that don’t need immediate responses, collect your questions or issues and batch them into 1 email that she can respond to later. Or, if responses are not needed by the next day, scheduled time to sit down with her and talk through your items. You’ll likely get all the answers you need with no additional emails in her, or your, inbox.

These are just a few examples. You get the idea. 

Here’s my challenge to you. During your day today, pay special attention to 3 pieces of communication you send to someone else. With each, whether over text, email, Zoom, Teams, or in person, consider this question: 

How can I set this person up for success?

It will make your communications more productive, I promise. The bonus is that you’ll save time and reduce frustration on both sides. 

Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash
Grow Good Leaders

Lead, Follow, and Get Out of the Way

You’ve probably heard the famous quote, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” It’s used a lot in business and has been attributed to several influential individuals including Lee Iacocca, Ted Turner, and even Thomas Paine. 

The quote is an either-or proposition. You either lead, you follow, or you avoid interfering with those who have stepped in line and are playing their respective roles.

But leading well also means knowing how and when to follow — and knowing when to get out of the way

How can you help someone you’ve trained and developed take the lead?

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Lost and Found

Every time I veer from my purpose as a teacher and coach with a passion for helping others be better communicators, I get lost. 

It seems easy to look back and pinpoint exactly where I’ve gone off course in the past. Reflection is powerful, isn’t it? There were times when I was making a decision based on what I thought was the “right” move but that was not necessarily what was true to my purpose, or vision for my future. Sometimes I even made decisions based on what other people wanted me to do. We’ve all done that, I know. The problem was that I couldn’t clearly articulate my purpose to myself, let alone others, until I did the work to define it clearly. Then I was able to stay on course more easily. 

Nobody’s path or story is straightforward. One of the only things we can guarantee in life is that things will change. However, your path might feel quite haphazard at times. Mine did for years.

When you find your purpose, your path has a guide that keeps you on track even if the track changes.

Finding Your Purpose and a Clearere Path Forward

If you feel a lack of purpose, or if it’s been elusive and you can’t quite define it, I encourage you to start by writing a few things down and pondering them for a bit: 

  1. Your passions
  2. What you value
  3. The value you bring to others
  4. What you really want in life, and in your career

Do you see any common themes? Is there a thread that keeps emerging? 

I know the feeling of being lost so well that I can see it coming from 30 miles away. The good thing is that now, I can get back on track without missing a beat (most of the time — I’m still human).

Do the work to find your purpose and claim it. If you need help, I’m here for you.

Conver-Speaking

When I led a brand communication agency, I had to do a lot of pitches. In preparation for each pitch meeting, my team and I would craft a presentation that would tell the prospect a story that we thought would resonate with them. It would include an assessment of their situation, our proposed approach to solving their problem, and samples of previous work and the results they created. Then, I’d rehearse the presentation to death. I was always confident and ready to present it by meeting day.

80 percent of the time, I would not present it as planned — and that was by design

My goal when walking into the room was always to get my audience talking first. If I could do so, the meeting would naturally become a conversation — an opportunity to share experiences, pain points, and potential solutions as real people genuinely interested in collaborating. Would I use the slides we had prepared? In most cases, yes. But I would jump around and bring up examples as the conversation warranted. It all depended on how the conversation went. A few times, not a single slide was shown and we still won the work.

20% of the time, the people in the room needed to see the traditional pitch, and I would give it to them. Still, I would try to treat the presentation as a conversation, getting them involved along the way as much as possible, and trying to make it a two-way dialogue instead of a monologue.

Next time you need to present, think about your audience and what they need to hear from you — and also why you both are there. Then consider how to make it more of a conversation than a speech or presentation. It’s not always possible, but when it is, a two-way dialogue will make it easier for you to build a stronger relationship from the start.

Investing In Others

I received a nice compliment yesterday. A client said, “You really invest yourself in other people. You’re always fully there; truly wanting to know about me and also hearing what I have to say. Thanks for that.”

What a kind thing to say. I’ll admit that I am a guy who really wants to help others unleash the power of their strengths. I see the good in people, almost to a fault. And I know the power of good communication — especially listening.

The truth is that the investment I make in my clients is done with the goal of helping them invest more in themselves. Often the work I do as a coach is about reflecting back what I see (and hear) in my clients. 

But his compliment got me thinking about how little we really invest in each other when it comes to doing the hard work of making others feel seen and heard in the workplace. Even at home, for that matter. My work is about giving people a safe space to express themselves and explore their strengths, blind spots, and challenges so they can improve their own performance as leaders and professionals, as well as their relationships both personally and professionally. Yet there are times that I fail to do so when I’m “off the clock” and spending time with my family. I’m going to change that.

I encourage you to invest in yourself. Always. Let’s also make sure to invest in those around us who matter most by giving them the attention and support they need to reach their potential. Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. We simply need to take the time to make that happen.

Practice Makes Experts

Practice Makes Experts

“Nothing can help the person who does not practice.” I read that in a Forbes article about public speaking tips. It made me stop and think about how easy it is to look at someone you admire and think they are a natural at something. The truth is that they worked very hard to be so awe-inspiring.

While there is debate over how much our innate abilities play a role in our successes, it’s clear that training is necessary to become an expert. And with any kind of training, practice is key to honing one’s craft.

My first full-time job after college was as a high school teacher. I had some practice during my schooling, but not enough to make me a true expert on the subject matter, and not enough to confidently manage classrooms of 28 different personalities 5 times a day. And then, there I was on day one, alone, responsible for over 100 students a day, and running the show. 

I’ll never forget how quickly I noticed that my first period public speaking class really got the short end of the stick. Each day they were my test subjects for the day’s lesson, which always went better the other times I would perform it later that day. So, I started to rehearse my new lessons the night before. That practice helped. 

When I got my first graphic design job many years ago, I didn’t know the software like I really should have for the position I landed. I had to create my own projects and practice every night to quickly get myself up to the level the position required. 

I used to be a very good pianist. I could sight read almost any song, and enjoyed playing at parties where people wanted to sing. After two decades of little to no practice, I got frustrated every time I sat down at the piano. I couldn’t play anywhere near like I used to — and that fact was maddening. Last year, I vowed to change that. By practicing a little every week and learning new things about music that I never had discovered before, I am slowly becoming a musician again. All it’s taking is a little practice.  

And even though I’ve taught public speaking to high school and college students, coached executives through high stakes presentations, and presented more workshops and pitches than I can count, I still practice my presentations over and over — until I know that I’m ready. 

And knowing when I’m ready has taken practice, too.

This post was originally published on January 20, 2020 and updated on February 26, 2021.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Leaders Set the Tone

You Set the Tone

When you are a leader, you set the tone. I don’t care if you are leading a multi-million-dollar company or a meeting with two other people. When you’re in charge, you have immense power to influence those who look to you for guidance, direction, or inspiration.

Use your power well. Take that extra moment today to ensure you are setting the right tone when you communicate — in meetings, in private conversations, and in your written communications.

It only takes some self-awareness and an extra moment. The results are worth it.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
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