What 1 Thing is Most Important for Your Career?

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The end is.

The story is told of the executive who spent decades climbing the corporate ladder only to find that it leaned on the wrong wall.

Of course this shouldn’t be your story.

Still, a few precautions won’t hurt.

What will be important at the end of a career is what should be important at the beginning.

In the end, what’s the plan?

Are you Interested in Winning?

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Of course you are.

As plain as this may sound, a continuous curiosity about what you do should never be allowed to grow cold. In fact, it’s best on the increase. Time magazine’s interview of actor Bradley Cooper (Time 100 – print version) captures the essence of improvement; “I really want to just keep getting better and better and better and better.”

Finding out how things are done in your industry goes without saying, and trade craft should be mastered at every possible level. Next, you improve on this because it is always better to set the pace.

Always

3 Reasons Why Listening is Important for Organisational Growth

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Recently, I heard commendation for the annual results of a financial services company as being an improvement on what was done before.  As good as it sounds; this is not what most investors want to hear. And, defending performance improvements based solely on comparison with the previous period is not entirely correct. It also doesn’t lead to long term market leadership.

  1. The “better than yesterday” metric doesn’t work today.

Improvement is good, but businesses are more likely to be compared with what is better in the general market than an improvement on what was done before. This is due in part to reduced switching costs in most industries with clients being able to change service providers with minimal inconvenience. This is a good reason innovation is so strong.

It simply says “this is the best available – you must have this”. Current players about to be extinct say “this is better than what we did yesterday”. Unless this “better than yesterday” translates to best in class, businesses with the “better than yesterday” strategy are only waiting to be upended.

  1. Listening is where tomorrow’s ideas are.

This is where the real direction for a business or a career is.

You know what you already know, and it has gotten you this far. To get to the next phase, information from the outside is unbelievably critical. Listen to contrary views, listing to supporting views, take note of thoughts that are ahead of yours and be open to thoughts that you would consider below you. There is the insider’s trap you should seek to avoid.

Do not protect a position to the point that there is an unwillingness to consider other options, even where they seem wrong.

  1. It’s Easier to Think like the CEO.

That is, think long term. Think with a deadline. Think with all the factors in the market.

Think about the competition and be honest about your performance. Be aware of the situation of your firm, before the environment does that to you. When you have to respond to investors who have interests in better performing firms in your market, your excuses be better refined. Investors always want more and tend to have a strong case for same. Therefore, listening to the market further gives ideas on how organisational performance may be improved. Bottom line, investors want growth and the market demands same.

This is the major way to drive further investment in your direction.

Career Insights: 5 things You Should not be Quick to Do

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1. Quick to Speak.

Not your mind, not your opinions and no, never your ideas. Not at first, anyway.

Your ideas are what define you. They have to be thoroughly baked so that they make sense and must have anticipated every (or most) objections. Again, people when expressing their opinions may not really want to know what’s on your mind – and might just be content with letting you know theirs.

Relatively few are genuinely interested in the opinions of others, and less so if they’re contrary. Your opinions might not count if you have not obeyed the ‘never your ideas’ rule above. If you say everything that comes to mind, there is the risk of being taken as shallow and unserious – neither of which is welcome for any career worth having. Therefore, you choose to refine your ideas with more thought and time thus creating music to the ears of the customer/or management.

Refined speech get’s easier through practice

2. Quick to Criticise.

This must never be you.

It is also important that you stay clear of highly critical people for a number of reasons. First, they tend to be unfair in their assessments – and you do not want to be associated with unfairness. Secondly, if they have criticised others in front of you, they will criticise you in front of others – and unfairly too.

Third, there is the tendency to be vindictive after a while. See, being critical only gets darker, especially where it is having little or no impact on the supposed victim. Fourth, there is a loss of creativity due to misdirected focus.The problem with the critic in general is that concrete accomplishments are wanting and so they tend to compensate by pulling others down.

Others may do this, but you will not.  You will also avoid those who do.

Of course there are the constructive critics who show us a better way to do things and they should be listened to.

3. Quick to Close for the Day.

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This is a personal favorite.

There is the general need to run the clock down to the magical closing time of 4 or 5pm – make it through the day. Thing is, It’s either the employee doesn’t like the job or is not sufficiently motivated to put in the extra effort (which may be for several reasons). Either way, average effort leads to average results which lead to average companies. And average companies don’t last too long.

I hear of justification – the need to rest – backed by research that says 7 hours of sleep is essential to optimal performance. So I ask; did the researchers who came up with this conclusion sleep 8 hours per day while conducting the research that produced this finding?

But I digress.

Imagine if the leaders of the United States, Russia and China slept for 7 hours a day. They wouldn’t get much done! Moral of the story: The more important your work is, the less time for sleep you actually have. Yes, yes, yes I know of work life balance but as Jack Welch put it; “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences”. So, we need to decide on what’s important and go with that.

And I hope you decide correctly.

4. Quick to Respond/Defend your position

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Business is a team sport.

Forget the curated stories about entrepreneurs making millions from car garages. Things like this only happen at the early stages of a business. The amount of connections needed to consistently succeed on a global scale in some industries can be staggering. Sponsors, suppliers, middlemen, Government officials, researchers, charity networks, peers and even the competition are but a short list of the connections necessary.

In the bestselling book the start of you, authors Reid Hoffman (Founder: LinkedIn) and Ben Casnocha (Co Founder & Chairman: LinkedIn)  advocate the creation of an ‘Interesting Peoples’ Fund – essentially an open tab that covers coffee meetings with colleagues, mentors and experts in other fields etc.

Most vacancies in companies are filled by relationships/word of mouth, and rarely by traditional media. Focus on refining your idea rather than defending your position (if at all – for if the contrary opinion is true, you would change for the better; and if the contrary opinion is false, you would have more validation of the correctness of your idea)

As former CNN talk show host Larry King put it; “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

5. Quick to Volunteer.

You might want to pause before doing this.

Consider if there is even enough time to effectively commit in the first place. This is to avoid being stretched too thin when combined with your current workload. Also, is this likely to build the key relationships necessary to building your career as a professional? Again, is it something you believe in or are you in it for the publicity? Sooner or later, observers know when a volunteer is in it for reasons other than the advancement of society.

And they rarely like such people.

Why You Should Do Good Before You Need To

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Kamala Harris is currently the frontrunner for fortuitously opened Senate seat in California. Of course, whether she wins it is another thing entirely. Still, from her history, you see many activities done for the advancement of society.

Some clearly out of her regular calling.

Whether these were pre planned in anticipation of a political appointment (some day), or the decision to run for senate came as an opportunity, something stands out. Doing good, is good and in her case, she now further established as a force for greater good.

There’s an objective to this preamble.

Let the customer know that she comes first, before competition hits and you need to convince her of her value. You never know who’s trying to get your share of his business and just how close they’ve come.

Work to create the image of a team player, before you need it.

Review your public image and improve the perception of your person. Needless to say, you shouldn’t be difficult to work with, by most counts. Work on the attitude issues you know you have, and on the good attitudes you want to cultivate.

Sport is in sky

Be known as being consistent, supportive and creative, BEFORE you’re recommended for the new role (along with the others). There should be a field of business, or line of work where you’re either the best real close to being the best, or working to become the best.

Be effective, and humane, before you need to.

Discover what keeps your market up at night, understand the competition, and understand how illegal activities affect your business. Understand how your people work, and find out what gets them going and what kills their morale. Understand these before you have to, because in the end, these are the roots of sustainable value.

Public Service Announcement: The Days of Being Ordinary are Over!

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Stop!

This is the future of your firm we’re talking about here.

Please just stop churning out half baked ideas, half thought out concepts and unrefined products. This is the customer’s need we’re trying to meet. The days of being ordinary, basic, bland are really over and one must invest in risk, colour, style, creativity and consistency. Put in the hours, run the demos, listen and learn.

And soon, excellence will be a way of life, second nature, as it should be.

How to Avoid the Number 1 Career Mistake

First, know the mistake itself:

Emotional instability when decisions don’t go your way.

Another promotion list was released and Allen had been skipped one more time. Maybe he hadn’t learnt the lessons, maybe someone high up the chain had it in for him; the result was the same. After what he considered much investment, he had been disappointed one more time. So, he did what most normal people would do. He broke down, depressed.

This is where the real problem is.

  1. Outcomes only reflect your approach and are not the definition of your value as a person.

Do not put your chances of success out of your hands. While there are things to learn from every situation, the advancing employee takes responsibility for every situation. Don’t resign to external opinions however accomplished they might be, because at the end of the day, they are simply opinions. Opinions are subjective statements, and not statements of fact. Where decisions go as expected learn why and look to do better as a matter of personal responsibility. If the decision goes otherwise, pick up the pieces as quickly as you can and focus on getting better.

  1. Emerging opportunities hide themselves from the depressed mind.

There are many ways to succeed and failures in one situation have become successes in another.  In fact, some argue that we learn more from failure. Choose to keep your eyes open and improve your value offering to the market. Sometimes, decisions go otherwise because the problem is with the employee. But as every leader knows, the problem is sometimes with the organisation.

  1. Decide independent of the circumstances. This is where it really gets tough. Every day, there will be reminders of this failure, missed opportunity or mistake, and sometimes the easiest way out is to stop trying. But, something to remember is this; everyone has experienced something similar and many have experienced far worse. While I wish you had had all day to feel bad, life goes on (yes, the world keeps moving) and you have to be on that train. Really. Get back to the program. Interpret the signals from the environment and make sound decisions.

The world still needs you.

Pick yourself up.

The Reason our World Still Needs Dreamers (Persisting Lunatics, actually)

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Every once in a while, societies are upended, and life is significantly redefined. Standards change and the norm no longer works. Choosing to continue in old patterns become inconvenient and impractical. Persisting in same (as few usually do) has seen the end of many an organization. The light bulb replaced the oil and lamp, the automobile replaced the buggy, and the email replaced the post office.

Looking at the beginning of such advancements reveals certain points.

The carriers of these ideas were regarded as lunatics and either because of the passion for the dream or the beauty of the idea, they kept on. And history remembers that they did – them, and not those who labeled them abnormal.

Of course, there are risks to attempting the unusual. But then, is our current environment the best level of existence possible? Wouldn’t it be worth all the investment finding a cure for cancer? What if there was a way to solve the most complex challenges our world faces? Wouldn’t it be worth it risking all we have come to define as comfort?

There’s so much to be done out there, so much good, so many differences to make.

And by the way, if your sanity has not been questioned in a while, then yes, the system has succeeded and you are now certified normal.

Congratulations.

Starting Over

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It’s a new day.

Not necessarily a better one, but new all the same. And with every day is the option, or, the opportunity of choice. Conscious and deliberate choice. We could choose to replay the past, the failures, the missed opportunities, missed goals, unbalanced partnerships and the like.

Or we could simply start over, in the truest sense.

That is, with a fresh pair of eyes, now wiser from the lessons learnt. With a mind ready to face the day, come what may. With the hope that things will turn out alright; that things will turn out just fine.

And if it doesn’t, then we’ll go at it again tomorrow, and the day after, and the next, until it turns out just right. For in the end, this is at the very soul of enduring enterprise. The will to simply stick it out.

Choose to start over, in the truest sense.

What I Learnt From a 22 Year Business Veteran

I recently sat in a strategy session listening to a 22 year business veteran speak on service quality to a much younger age group. With each statement it became even more apparent that he was from another generation and this was not because of the years of experience. It was because he had consistently expressed an uncommon depth of concern for various customers. People like this are critical to every business, and the CEOs know this.

The intention behind almost every start up is to last as long as possible, forever maybe. This ideal forms part of vision and mission statements repeated in some form or the other at every meeting, call or campaign. However, getting employees, suppliers and partners at every level to act accordingly is where the strength of a vision is tested.

The rules of business growth and expansion have changed from one of capacity and scale to also include speed and quality (at the lowest costs possible) and unless firms consistently emphasise these, the vision might not be realised. Firms reaching 100% vision attainment would largely depend on their interaction with the environment.

A renewed aggression for investment on quality in every product and service (and an enlightened concern for every customer) is a good starting point.

Yes, every product and every customer.