Bill Cole on Career Pivots, Working with Ambiguity, and "Collaborative Decisionomics"

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One of the most beneficial practices I’ve used as a professional is talking to (or reading about) and learning from successful people who have a different perspective or background than I do. I met with Bill Cole in Kansas City a couple months ago at the recommendation of my husband, who has worked with Bill for a number of years through his consulting work. After an energizing conversation with Bill about his career pivots, creating structure from ambiguity, and his approach to making decisions, I was excited to finish up the seventh episode of The Savvy Young Professional podcast and not only share it with you but also listen to it to hear Bill’s ideas again. Along with a preview of our conversation below, you can listen here, on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify. And, if you have not already, please leave a review either in your listening app or via the comments below. Thank you!

Bill has had an unconventional career, starting as a teacher and coach, migrating to the utilities industry, and becoming one of the most senior leaders at a large engineering and construction company (with no formal background in engineering, construction, or business) as a result of an opportunity that tapped into his love for teaching others. Bill currently runs his own consulting business along with investing in small businesses. His story showed me the endless possibilities available with respect to your career path when you combine natural talent, sacrifice, and hard work. Over and over, Bill has been excited to learn something new and get out of his comfort zone rather than continue on with an easier, comfortable path. This mindset required him to put in the time and sacrifice to learn all the time and travel quite a bit, as well as risk potentially failing.

One piece of advice I appreciated from Bill was his recommendation to “prepare for the things that are done to you”. Other people and their decisions or actions are out of our control, and the only things we can really control or prepare for is ourselves and our reaction to the situations we find ourselves in.

Bill is also writing a book which will include his approach to decision making that he calls “collaborative decisionomics” . His approach looks at the vectors that are part of the decision process and helps one reason and rationalize making a decision. For example, let’s say you are originally from St. Louis, attend school at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO and receive an amazing job offer to go to New York. It sounds fantastic, but you are hesitating at accepting the offer. Why? While your career, money, and a New York lifestyle may be enticing factors or “vectors” in your decision, returning home to your family in St. Louis may be a more enticing vector that you value more than the job in New York. The point of the exercise, which goes deeper than this example, is to examine our values and motivators, and make logical decisions based on the criteria most important to us and our goals.

I hope you enjoy this episode!

Managing Your Career in the Age of Social Media: Creating a Professional Brand (Part 3)

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

When I was researching information for this series, my initial hypothesis was that the best strategy for young professionals and social media was to make your accounts private and minimize your internet presence. 

I was wrong (and I hate admitting that).

Social media is such a prevalent part of our lives today that people expect to see some sort of online presence and will use the content they see as an additional data point in their hiring decision.   In fact, they want to see what content you are putting out there, especially (but not only) if your career path has any intersection with marketing, branding, social media, digital content...you see where I am going with this. You are your own personal brand ambassador, and what better way to assess your capabilities than to see how you market yourself?

Since this is not my area of expertise, I am going to direct you to the experts in this space.  I’ve read through their recommendations and not only agree with their guidance but am also in the process of implementing their recommendations myself.

The first article is from Alison Doyle, a job search expert for The Balance Careers and one of the industry's most highly-regarded career experts.  Click here to read her take on creating a professional online presence.

Alison’s website, CareerToolBelt.com, has been recognized by Forbes as one of the Top 100 Websites For Your Career and included on the Job Search Bible list of 25 Best Career Websites, Alison has been noted as a leading person to follow on Twitter by Business News Daily, Career Sherpa, FlexJobs, The Guardian, YouTern, and Mashable, and one of the top people to follow on LinkedIn by CareerContessa, JobScan, Lifehack, and The Muse

The second article is from John DiScala, or @JohnnyJet.  Click here to read his five tips on creating a professional online presence.

John has traveled over 100,000 miles a year since starting his newsletter in 1995 and has visited close to 100 countries. He writes about how to maximize your credit card points, find travel deals and cheap flights, and benefit from insightful travel tips. He has hosted a television special on the Travel Channel and was recently named one of Forbes’s Top 10 Travel Influencers for 2017. He now appears every Saturday on Leo Laporte’s The Tech Guy show talking about travel and technology, and travels the world with his wife, Natalie DiScala, and their son Jack. 


Finally, here is a Q&A with tips on how to create your personal story and deploy it consistently and authentically across multiple online platforms.  Marketing expert and entrepreneur Vana Koutsomitis says that “We aren’t paying enough attention to how we market ourselves online” and that “the most common mistake I see is when someone ignores their online presence and hopes their story is told correctly.” 

Vana C. Koutsomitis is a speaker, a writer, and an entrepreneur focused on marketing, business development, and network-building. A former financial professional, she was a runner-up on BBC’s The Apprentice. She founded the financial networking company The CityStreet, flavored wine company VinobyVana, and, most recently, DatePlay, an app that combines online dating with gaming. Koutsomitis holds a BS from Cornell University and an MBA from Oxford University.

Are you already managing your professional “brand” online? If so, what tips and suggestions do you have for doing this effectively and efficiently?


Posted on July 22, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.

Managing Your Career in the Age of Social Media - Refreshing Your LinkedIn Profile (Part 2)

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As I mentioned last week, the internet and social media have transformed the way we communicate with others.  They have also created an additional lens by which other people inform themselves about who we are, and the content we post about ourselves online is of great interest to many recruiters and companies who seek a multi-dimensional view of a candidate.  Along with LinkedIn, 70% of employers are reviewing candidates’ other social media accounts including Facebook and Twitter as well as searching for you via Google, Yahoo, or Bing. This data also noted that 54% of employers found information online that caused them not to hire a candidate. I was shocked when I read that statistic, because our social media presence is in our control.


While you could shut down all of your social media accounts or change your privacy settings to the highest available in order to minimize what others see, companies are not only looking for questionable content on your social media but also how you use different platforms in a positive way.  For example, a professional, up-to-date LinkedIn profile shows that you are adept at using this platform and understand how to present yourself online in a polished manner. Along with your resume, your LinkedIn profile is another way to showcase your accomplishments to prospective recruiters as well as clients and other people in your network.

There are three main “sections” of a personal LinkedIn profile: the basic or “essential” components about you, the “about you” section that describes your career, and then additional/optional components that provides the space for additional statistics and facts about you.


Essential Components

There are a few basic components every LinkedIn profile needs, including:

  • A head shot - preferably a professional, high resolution photo

  • Your title - either your current title at work or a generic title that describes the type of work you are interested in.  For example, if you are in branding, you might label yourself a “Brand Manager”, “Brand Executive” or “Branding and Marketing Analyst” depending on your experience and interests

  • Your location - your geographic location 

  • Your contact information - a current email address

“About You” Section 

The “About” section describes your professional experience, including the option to highlight media and content you have created.

  • Company / Experience Summary - think of the experience summary as your 30-second elevator pitch.  If you had 30 seconds, or three to five sentences, to tell someone about yourself and the value you bring, what would you say? Use this section to highlight your unique talents, your passions, and the value you bring to an organization.

  • Media - one of the advantages of LinkedIn over a traditional resume is the option to upload or link media to your page.  This could include articles you have written or videos you appeared in or produced. Linking or uploading media samples gives others a better idea of your communication style and writing, speaking, or producing skills.

  • Work Experience - this section provides the space to list your work experience in chronological order, including the company and the dates you worked there. If the company has a LinkedIn profile, select their official profile when you list your employer.  For each job you have had, select the employer, dates of employment, and list your job title. Then, include a narrative summary or three to four bullet points that summarize your job scope and key accomplishments. Similar to your resume, it is important to include quantitative accomplishments on your LinkedIn profile so others can understand the impact you made.  For this section, you can start with the content from your resume and update it to fit the format and style of LinkedIn.

  • Education - List all post-secondary education, including undergraduate and graduate degrees, study abroad programs, and other adult or executive education.

  • Certifications & Licenses Section - List all up-to-date formal certifications and licenses, such as Six Sigma, CPA, or MD 

  • Volunteer Experience - In my experience, quality is better than quantity here.  For example, include volunteer experiences that used your professional skills or were more than a one-time, two-hour occurrence; things like a monthly visit to a food pantry or organizing a 5k in your neighborhood rather than visiting a nursing home for two hours three years ago.    


Optional Components

While these sections are optional, if you have noteworthy and timely information to include, it can help set you apart from others.  This includes things like publishing articles or books, securing a patent, and speaking another language conversationally or fluently.  You can also request a recommendation from people in your network. While this does not replace a formal reference, it does provide another data point for readers of your profile. Optional components of your profile include:

  • Accomplishments

  • Publications

  • Patents

  • Sources

  • Projects

  • Honors and Awards

  • Test Scores

  • Languages

  • Organizations

  • Request a Recommendation


Managing Your Career in the Age of Social Media (Part 1)

Photo by  Tim Bennett  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Bennett on Unsplash

I was fortunate to go to college and start my career prior to the onslaught of social media that permeates our world today.  I remember how exciting it was when Miami students could register for a Facebook profile, because in 2008 you had to have a “.edu” email address from supported universities to join Facebook.  The platform retained that exclusivity, and thus retained its cache for me, throughout my college experience. For my four years of college, social media and my internet presence was concentrated within the quasi-protected confines of Facebook.  This was true for most of my peers, as well, though some people were starting to branch out into blogging. The thought of auditing my online presence and social media accounts before recruiting season never occurred to me because there was nothing to find, and recruiters were not looking for me on these platforms.  Instead, my personal brand started and stopped with the interactions I had in person, phone, and via email with potential employers.

Over the past decade, the advent of multiple social media platforms that enable us to share the details of who we are on the internet has transformed our daily lives. From the way we communicate with other people to how we share ideas and information, the internet has created a platform for people to share, comment, and present themselves and their ideas to the world.  With these platforms comes the opportunity to enhance ones’ professional network and growth opportunities by connecting with people online who you never would have the opportunity to connect with in person. But, social media can also work against you - along with Linked In, 70% of employers are reviewing candidates’ other social media accounts including Facebook and Twitter as well as searching for you via Google, Yahoo, or Bing. This data also noted that 54% of employers found information online that caused them not to hire a candidate.  


I was shocked to see how many people lost job opportunities due to their online presence, though I in my experience I think the internet creates a greater level of comfort where people have the freedom and courage to share content that they may not share in real life.  The internet also never forgets, and old content can be unearthed by curious companies and recruiters who want to validate a hiring decision.


What are these companies and recruiters looking for? A few things, including, but not limited to:

  • Alignment between how you’ve described yourself on your resume, your interviews, and your online presence

  • Confirmation of your qualifications for the role

  • Use of/savviness with social media for marketing and social media-related jobs

  • Inappropriate content from you or what others have posted about you, including photos and comments 


How should you respond?

The best approach is to be proactive, being as intentional about your social media presence and online brand as you are about other areas of your life.  If you have some opportunities to improve your online brand, the best place to start is by auditing your online presence to clean up any questionable content and then filtering all new content moving forward.


Audit Guidelines

  • Set your personal social media accounts (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter) to the highest level of privacy available.  This will minimize the number of people who can view, tag, comment, and view your information.

  • Review your network of connections on personal social media accounts to ensure you know and trust the people with whom you are connected.  Remove anyone who has not helped position you positively in the past online as well as people you do not know or do not trust 

  • Review the media you have uploaded or are tagged in and delete anything that may be perceived negatively by a potential employer.  This could include photos, videos, comments, and accounts or interests you are following.

  • Google your name to see what information comes up.  Remove any negative content that you control and request that others do the same, as needed.  

Future Guidelines

  • Review and rationalize who you add as connections to your personal social media accounts.  Do you know each person in real life? Are they trustworthy? Do they portray you positively online?

  • Exercise caution with the content you post on your accounts, including photos, comments, and likes/shares.  Avoid sharing or being tagged in content with polarizing viewpoints, personal details about your life/daily routine, and negative language as well as photos or other media that may be perceived negatively by a potential employer.  

  • Optimize your LinkedIn profile.  While this is not the only source for curious employers searching for information about your, it is a common place for someone to make an initial connection with you.  Take the time to make sure your profile is an accurate representation of your qualifications, skills, and experience. I’ll be posting next week about how to refresh your LinkedIn page to accomplish this.

  • Create (optional) professional social media accounts for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram that showcase your brand, especially if you are working in an industry or within a digital media function that looks for these skills. This will help round out your professional online presence beyond LinkedIn and showcase your ability to engage with a virtual audience professionally. I’ll share more about how to do this in the next few weeks.

Today, your personal brand spans many outlets, including your online presence. While it creates more work to manage each account, being mindful of your online brand may bolster your career opportunities.

Dr. Megan Gerhardt on "Gentelligence, Leadership, and the Truth about Millennials"

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A few years ago, I was preparing for a recruiting trip at my alma mater, Miami University (Ohio), and had the opportunity to connect with Dr. Megan Gerhardt, one of the leadership professors in the business school. After exchanging emails, we met in person and had the first of many conversations about leadership, navigating generational differences in the workforce, and why Millennials have gotten such a bad reputation. She has also provided leadership training to a number of my colleagues through her consultancy, The Gerhardt Group, and I always learn a lot when I talk to her. Today, we dive into a lot, including what it means to be “Gentelligent” - a movement that Megan started, how different generations view leadership, the positive side of Millennials, and what Generation Z has in store for us. You can listen here, on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify. And, if you have not already, please leave a review either in your listening app or via the comments below. Thank you!


Key Takeaways from our Conversation:

On being “Gentelligent”.  With the recent college graduations of the first Gen Z’s, we now have five unique generations in the workforce: Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and Traditionalists.  These five generations bring diversity of perspective and talent to the work environment, but their intentions can often be misinterpreted by others. Dr. Gerhardt founded the concept of “gentelligence” which is helping organizations and people to understand why each generation behaves the way it does and to appreciate the diversity that a multi-generational workforce brings.   

On Millennials.  While Millennials have been at the forefront of negative stories and commentary for years, Dr. Gerhardt noted that Millennials bring a number of positive traits as well, including their tech savviness and ability to deliver a high quality project quickly.  She also shared that while Millennials can come across as entitled to other generations, she has learned through conversations and research with hundreds of students that they view behavior others might perceive as entitled as normal behavior based on the environment they were raised in - both through their families and the macro culture.

On leading people in other generations.  As Millennials comprise 20 percent of leadership roles compared to 18 percent of Baby Boomers today, there are going to be situations where someone in a younger generation is leading someone in an older generation.  Dr. Gerhardt’s leadership advice for Millennials is to follow principles that stand the test of time for all generations: understand the unique value that each person brings to the team, respect them and their experience (particularly Baby Boomers), ask questions, and show humility and vulnerability to others.

On her predictions for Gen Z. As Gen Z enters the workforce, Megan highlighted the opportunity for Millennials to welcome them and create a more positive environment than the one created for Millennials. She also noted that Gen Z represents a shift in what people are looking for in a “career”, with a portion of the generation looking for a conservative, traditional job in response to experiencing the recession as a child whereas others are pursuing the gig economy with multiple jobs, freelance work, and nontraditional careers (e.g. a social media influencer or a gamer). How Gen Z approaches their careers could have a major impact on work and careers in the future.


About Dr. Megan Gerhardt

Dr. Megan Gerhardt is a Professor of Leadership and Development at Miami University (Ohio) as well as the Director of Leadership Development for the Farmer School of Business, Co-Director at the Isaac and Oxley Center for Business Leadership, Founder of the Gerhardt Group, and a Gallup Certified Strengths Leadership Coach. SHe has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Iowa and a PhD in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management from the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business. Along with her teaching, program leadership, and research work at Miami University, she provides leadership and Gentelligence consulting for business across the county through the Gerhardt Group.

Let's Go To Dinner: The Best Business Etiquette Primer

Photo by  Jay Wennington  on  Unsplash

I went to my first “official” business dinner on a recruiting trip my senior year of college. My lack of experience translated to lots of nerves, and I was thankful that I had already accepted the job and was attending as a courtesy rather than as part of the interview process.

As I attended more work dinners, made mistakes, and read up on the in’s and out’s of business etiquette, I learned to relax and enjoy the experience because I was prepared. My many faux pas - from ordering a messy burger that I had to eat with my hands, bringing a presentation to a dinner without page numbers, and sharing an opinion that did not come out the way I intended - along with a good dose of Emily Post - taught me how to be a better dinner guest.

I had the pleasure of hosting a business etiquette dinner for our group of summer interns a few weeks ago, and we had a great time enjoying delicious food and wine as well as talking about the basics of formal dining and the many gray areas; things like, what do you do with your cell phone during dinner? What if you get sick? How do you politely tell the server that your bottle of wine is a bad bottle? And, why are there so many forks?

First things first.

After toasting the interns, I told them first things first when it comes to dinner etiquette: focus on making everyone else comfortable.

What do I mean by making everyone else feel comfortable? When you think about any aspect of the event, from conversation topics to how expensive of a meal you order, your first goal is to make everyone you are with feel comfortable. For example, one question that came up during our dinner was what to do if you are feeling sick. In that situation, it depends, and the answer ties back to the people you are dining with. If you are ill to the point of needing medical care, take care of yourself regardless of who you are dining with that evening. Similarly, if you are sick with something contagious, let your dinner mates know as far in advance as possible that you will not be able to attend, lest you pass along your ailment. Otherwise, if you have a headache or do not feel well, but are not in medical danger, it depends on how well you know your dinner party. Let’s say you are taking some business clients out to dinner. If you tell them you have a headache or heartburn, they will feel terrible the entire evening that you inconvenienced yourself to come out and will focus on finishing as quickly as possible so you can get home - not the intent of your dinner. In this case, you use all the energy you can muster to entertain and engage them. Conversely, if you are with colleagues who you know well, you can certainly share that you are not feeling well and ask them to excuse any behavior that seems out of character.

The place setting.

A good starting point of dinner etiquette is learning the format of a different place settings, including formal, basic, and informal. These explain what all the utensils are used for, why there are so many forks and glasses in a formal place setting, and which bread plate belongs to each person (which is easy to mix up)! For example, I have had numerous instances where someone has accidentally used my water glass or bread plate. Knowing the correct place setting will give you confidence when you walk into a dinner that you are not going to make the same mistake! And, if you happen to forget, you can use your hands to remind you. Take your thumbs and first fingers and make a circle with each hand, extending your middle fingers straight. Your left hand will look like a lower case “b”, which stands for “bread” and your right hand will look like a lower case “d”, which stands for “drink”. Easy!

Your food.

I mentioned earlier that I learned my lesson when I ordered a messy burger and fries at one dinner. Now, I study the menu in advance and pick out one or two things that I want to order that are easy to eat and moderately priced. That way, when I arrive at dinner, I can focus on talking to other people and spend less time studying the menu. This also helps ensure that I do not “out order” the host, either in terms of quantity of food or price of food. When gauging what to order, follow your host’s lead and order the same courses of food as well as spend a similar amount of money on your meal.

Dining faux pas.

As I prepared for the etiquette dinner, I learned of two new dining faux pas: first, never blow on your food to cool it off, instead, wait for it to cool on its own; and second, never salt your food before tasting it unless you want to offend the chef’s seasoning selection.

While not necessarily faux pas, there are other practices to avoid if you want to support the idea of making others feel comfortable. For example, if you are entertaining someone, ask them for recommendations on the kinds of food or restaurants they like before you make a restaurant selection. Years ago, I wanted to impress a couple people at dinner and chose a high-end steakhouse, not thinking about the fact that they were informal, barbeque-style people and would prefer something more casual. Had I taken this into account, we all would have been more comfortable at dinner and enjoyed our time more.

Interested in learning more about preparing for and attending a business dinner? Complete the form below to receive a free, six page PDF with 27 business dinner FAQs.

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Posted on June 24, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.

Perspective may be Your Greatest Leadership Asset - and How I am Broadening Mine

One activity from my MBA program, like many programs, was to guess the age of the woman in the picture below - did we see an old woman or a young lady? The class argued both ways, some of us seeing an ear where others saw an eye, or a chin where others saw a nose. While the picture is an optical illusion with both women represented, the idea was to show us that a group of people can look at the same picture, see two different things, and both be right. The same is true in life.

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As I step back and reflect, it’s amazing to me how much my perspective has changed over the course of my life. While this is expected and logical from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, I’ve also experienced a marked change in how I view certain situations as an adult. The more I experience as an adult, the greater understanding I have toward other people in similar situations and feel like I can empathize with them as well as often offer practical advice .

Much of these experiences center on the professional: losing a job, balancing grad school and full-time work, relocating to new cities for work, transitioning from an individual contributor to a leader, and returning to work from maternity leave. One thing that these experiences showed me was that there are multiple options or answers to consider in most situations; things are not as black and white as I sometimes thought. I found myself trying to balance the differing opinions of people around me and use my experience and perspective to solve problems that used to seem straightforward and, with the onslaught of many valid opinions, were actually quite complex. As I became more interested in the idea of how we develop and expand our perspective, I read this quote in an article by Kevin Eikenberry “The most self-aware leaders recognize that perspective is one of the most valuable things they bring to their role – and the best leaders, whether they would describe it this way or not, all use the power of perspective to be more effective and successful.”

Every year, I step back and set personal and professional goals for myself. This year, I was challenged by a colleague to also identify goals that test my character or behaviors, and I decided one of my goals was to broaden my perspective, specifically to “gain new perspectives by finding opportunities to get out of my comfort zone and see the world through the eyes of people who are different than me.“ With everything I’d read and saw, this was the most important character trait I could work on this year.

The intent of my goal was to find ways to cultivate greater awareness and empathy for people in all walks of life by getting outside my comfort zone and seeing the world through their eyes. While reading books, listening to people more, and asking questions were ways I had already been trying to gain different perspectives, these methods seemed insufficient and felt too “safe” for what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to do something that pushed me outside my comfort zone a bit, knowing that I was not ready for an extreme immersion yet.

The first step (ideally of many) I’ve taken to getting outside my comfort zone has been volunteering in a hands-on role with a local charitable organization. In the past, I’ve enjoyed volunteering but often donated items or money, or did something that did not immerse me with the people who benefited from the work of the organization. Now, I interact with each person who comes in to the food pantry during my shift, and I am able to connect the work I am doing to a real person which has deepened the experience. For me, the geographic location and the unfamiliarity of the overall environment have pushed me outside my comfort zone. At first, I was a bit apprehensive about volunteering; worried I would say the wrong thing to someone or somehow offend them, but over the past six months I’ve realized that people are the same in many fundamental ways: they want to be treated with respect and dignity, they want to connect with another person in a meaningful way, and they are appreciative of the generosity of others.

One thing I have learned through talking to others about this topic is that there is a continuum of experiences available when you think about broadening your perspective and getting outside your comfort zone. It starts with things like reading different articles and books or listening to people with different opinions, then moves to sitting down with people who have different perspectives and asking them questions (similar to Stephen Covey’s concept of seeking to understand rather than be understood) and can manifest itself in actual experiences that immerse you more with people who have different perspectives, such as volunteering or taking a particular job or career path. As I’ve gotten more comfortable, it opens the door to trying other things that will give greater awareness for the perspective of others.

The second thing I have learned is that gaining additional experiences in all walks of life are especially important for aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs. While having a variety of professional experiences is critical to pull from in these roles, it is equally important that people in these roles understand the many different types of people who support their products or services, both employees and consumers. In my experience, the leaders who are regarded as the most connected and authentic are those who can build a relationship with anyone, from what are traditionally called “front line” or “back of the house” employees to vendors to customers. These relationships are often successful because the person meets each person where they are, makes them comfortable, and has an awareness of their perspective that they consider when when making organizational decisions and communicating these decisions. While this awareness may or may not change a decision, it shows respect through a willingness to consider alternative viewpoints and cultivates overall acceptance of the decision. You could have the greatest product idea, the most funding, or a litany of experiences and education that prepare you for a leadership role, but without channeling the power of perspective you put at risk your relationships with people, your credibility, and your success.


Posted on June 17, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.

May Recap: What I Read, Listened to, and Talked About this Month

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Photo by Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash

My reading and listening have been light this month as I’ve had not one but two terrible colds. You may think that being sick is the perfect opportunity to curl up with a good book or podcast, and you’re right - but I enjoyed some light, easy reading and listening during my downtime versus anything too serious or thought-provoking. That said, I still had a good month reading, listening, and talking about interesting content and ideas.

What I Read

The Best Business Strategy is Satisfied Associates

What is more important in a business - a great idea, or talented, engaged people? I remember my entrepreneurship professor asking the class this question years ago, and we resoundingly said a great idea! He pushed back and proved to us through research and examples that talented, engaged people can take an average idea and transform it into something great, while a mediocre group of people can ruin even the best of ideas. While I’ve always remembered this maxim, he never told us how to hire and retain these amazing people. Thankfully, Michelle McClay, Vice President of Deployment and Analytics for The Resource Group, shares her experience and tools for engaging and retaining people in this article.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

As someone interested in branding but without a formal marketing background, I loved this book. It is simple, straightforward, and the authors, Al and Laura Ries, build out the content in a logical sequence for the reader to use in a practical manner. Each of the 22 “laws” are presented in a way that one could use and apply them as they are creating a brand, whether for a small business, startup, or an established company looking to launch or revive a brand. Filled with examples of common consumer products, the authors use data and stories to illustrate and justify each law as well. One caveat: the latest version of the book was published in 2002, so some of the examples, and some of the content regarding the internet, are dated.

What I Listened To

i Will Teach You to be Rich - An Interview with Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferris

I’ve had an interest in personal finance since I was young. Growing up, one of my earliest memories is going into the bank (ATMs didn’t exist yet!) and depositing birthday or Christmas money into my bank account. I loved watching the balance on my bank book grow with every deposit I made, and was fascinated with the idea that smart investing would double your money every seven to eight years - all for doing nothing! While seven years felt like an eternity when I was seven years old, as an adult, I appreciate how quickly money grows when invested and managed well. I’ve read and listened to a few different personal finance personalities over the years, and this was my first time hearing of Ramit Sethi. The son of Indian immigrants, Ramit recounts how he learned negotiation from his father by shopping for cars, often for days on end and a firm grasp on what he wanted from the deal. As a saver rather than a spender, one of the things I appreciated that Ramit talked about was how everyone has different priorities with their money, and that by saving on the things you do not prioritize, you can let yourself dial up your spending on the things you do prioritize. For example., you may love travel and decide to increase your annual spending on travel by five or ten times, funding this by dramatically cutting expenses in other areas of little value to you. This enables you to either travel more or to travel in a different way - nicer hotels, exotic locations, or unique experiences. This advice helped me rationalize the things that are important to me and the things that aren’t, recognizing that they will be different than how other people think about their money. You can listen to the entire conversation here, or read Ramit’s blog here.

What I Talked About

Business Dinner Etiquette

This may be one of the most enjoyable business dinners I’ve experienced during my career. I had the opportunity to host a business etiquette dinner with our summer interns and their managers - about 35 people total - and share information from what to do with your cell phone during dinner to the proper way to eat bread. The most important part of etiquette, which I stressed at the beginning, was for everyone to be comfortable and to have fun. Remember that concept and then act in a way that makes everyone around you comfortable, from the topics you talk about to the amount of alcohol you drink (if any). We also went through specific table manners and I shared some resources with each person to reference in the future. Given the interest in the topic by the group, I’ll share a post with more information on this topic later this month.

Three Lessons from my Mentors

Along with the etiquette dinner, I was honored to be asked to share an executive spotlight to our new interns as well. I mentioned in my Speaking Boldly post that I have been focusing more on telling stories to reinforce ideas during presentations rather than reciting facts and data, and decided to tell three stories that occurred during internships or my first year of full-time employment. The stories focused on the value of giving to others, how to be resourceful/figure things out, and the importance of humility. I covered these stories, and four more, here a few months ago as well.

Sharing my Perspective on Career Growth, Determination, and the Importance of Feedback

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At the suggestion of a few colleagues, I put myself in the “hot seat” and switched my role on the podcast from the interviewer to the interviewee. Michelle McClay, my longtime colleague and friend who joined me for the first episode, was kind enough to act as the host and guided me through questions on how I approached my career planning, tools and habits I have found to be game-changers for performance, and techniques I have used to address low points of challenging situations in my life. Here is a quick summary of our conversation. If you would like to hear more, you can listen to our entire conversation here, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify under “The Savvy Young Professional” podcast.

On turning a negative into a positive. When I found myself without a job during the recession in 2009, I thought my carefully-crafted career was over before my 24th birthday. Fortunately, through my network I was connected with an amazing opportunity to join a startup team within a larger healthcare organization and experienced career growth and learning opportunities during my twenties that I never expected. While my initial goals were modest, I realized that combining goals with hard work and a network of people who will coach and champion you can lead to unique and incredible experiences, learning opportunities, and positive challenges. Looking back now, I am thankful that the door closed on my initial dream and that I was forced to step back and consider what I really wanted to do with my life.

On determination, drive, and discipline. While I have to give a lot of credit to the many people who led, coached, and mentored me along the way for much of the success I have experienced, three things that also contributed and that were always in my control were my determination, drive, and discipline. These three things were at the heart of my attitude day-to-day thanks to the example set by my parents and helped to keep me positive and focused on long-term goals.

On career growth and self-promotion. The popular belief today is that people need to create compelling stories to position themselves for a promotion or to negotiate a raise. In my experience, after one unfortunate salary negotiation incident, I focused less on selling myself and “self-promotion” and more on solving problems for the people who made those decisions. Whether it was my manager, my manager’s manager, another leader who I wanted to learn from, or someone who I admired and wanted to work with more, I volunteered to lead or help solve whatever their biggest problem was. This established me as a “go-to” person for major projects and initiatives. Sometimes, these projects would spin off into their own team or department and I was the first person asked if I would like to continue leading the work in an official capacity. Even when the projects did not result in a new role or a scope increase, leading something that mattered to other people showed them that I could be trusted and that I was someone they wanted to retain. I believe that talented, humble people want to surround themselves with other like-minded people and will find ways to cultivate and retain them in creative ways.

On success. I have been fortunate to achieve a number of my career goals early in life, and credit much of this to other people who have given a lot to me and to my faith. Growing up with a family-owned business, I was exposed to the business world and to a real “work ethic” at a young age through my parents. They have been my guideposts for years and work every day to keep me humble. Throughout my career, there are so many people who have taken the time to connect me with an opportunity, share feedback, champion my work, and advocate for me. Their attitude inspired me to do the same for other people, and I try to spend as much time as possible sharing the knowledge I have acquired over the years, both in person with people and through this website. If everyone only focuses on themselves and their own success, we miss the opportunity to invest in the next generation of leaders, doers, and thinkers.

On receiving feedback,. The most challenging yet rewarding experience I have had receiving feedback was a formal “360 feedback” process I went through a few years ago. As I was transitioning to a new position that was far outside my comfort zone, I asked to go through a 360 process with an outside consultant to give me some perspective. I hoped that I would hear both positive and constructive feedback, but my session only focused on my “issues” as they liked to call them. It took a few months of follow up conversations with the consultant and one experience that brought the feedback to life until I saw how I was being perceived by others. I thought I was acting one way and had good intentions, but others were receiving my actions in a completely different way. Once I realized this, I had a long path forward to change how I acted and to show other people that I could shift and be a different person. Hearing well-intentioned, honest feedback throughout your career is critical to keep improving as a person and as a leader. Often, I’ve found that it can be intimidating for people to share feedback with others, but without it, we will stagnate or regress. I now have a group of people who I trust to give me honest, real-time feedback so I can keep moving forward.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share more about myself on the podcast, and as always, thank you for listening! Please subscribe and share your feedback by leaving a review or a comment, or by sending me an email.

Posted on June 3, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.

April Recap: What I Read, Listened to, and Talked About Last Month

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I’ve written a lot about habits, personal improvement, and professional development; things like reading more, listening to podcasts, engaging mentors, and becoming an inspiring speaker. In light of the interest and feedback I have received on these topics, including hearing from many of you about goals you are making to read more books every month or to hone your public speaking skills, I am starting a monthly series where I recap the things I read, listened to, and talked or presented on every month to inspire new ideas.

What I Read

Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for People Like Your Family by Bob Chapman

Do you treat everyone you work with as if they were someone’s child? Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, asks this question as he shares his journey from assuming the CEO role at Barry-Wehmiller in his twenties after his father passed away. He chronicles his company’s near-financial ruin, a counter-intuitive strategy of acquiring failing American manufacturers, and how Barry-Wehmiller turns around companies using its Total Human Leadership culture. There are a number of counter-cultural stories in the book, one of my favorites being how Barry-Wehmiller handled the 2009 recession. Rather than layoff workers, they created a savings plan that included a temporary but significant reduction in Bob’s salary, a pause on executive bonuses, and a system of taking a few weeks each of unpaid leave to reduce labor expense. Some people pitched in and took more unpaid leave if there were colleagues who they knew needed the money. By doing these things, Barry-Wehmiller avoided letting anyone go from its workforce and strengthen its commitment to its people. If you are looking for a book about culture, people empowerment, and servant leadership, this is a great one.

Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise by Horst Schultze

I first learned of Horst Schulze, founder of luxury hotel brands Ritz Carlton and Capella, from a colleague who heard him speak years ago. After growing up in Germany and learning apprenticing in the luxury hotel industry, he came to America and revolutionized the luxury hotel service industry with the concept of “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”. His book shares his approach for instilling pride, empowerment, and service excellence in people working in service industries. The most pivotal moment? Reaching someone on their first day. As adults, we have less tolerance to change our behavior, save for major life changes. A new job is considered a major life change. Schulze leads a week-long orientation for every new hotel, speaking with all of the employees on the first day, followed by breakouts on the subsequent days, to help them define what excellence will mean for them. This is mirrored for every new hire by the local General Manager. As Schulze says in his book, “Employees respond enthusiastically to motives and objectives. They simply endure orders and directions.” For example, every employee - from housekeeping to the hostess to the concierge - has the latitude to spend up to $2000 at their own discretion to make a customer happy. Reading it made me so excited by his philosophy that I finished the book in one day, went back through to mark it up with my notes, and am now working on ways to apply his ideas. Given my years of travel, I have had the pleasure to staying at a few Ritz Carlton hotels around the world and can attest to the service - there is really nothing else like it. For example, in Naples one of the valets offered me Gatorade after a morning run, asking which flavor I preferred. Every morning thereafter he had a cold bottle of Gatorade for me waiting. Or, after a several year hiatus, I returned to another Ritz Carlton I had stayed at a number of times years ago. The valets remembered who I was, greeted me by name, and were as thoughtful as ever during my stay. Shulze’s approach to embedding excellence into a culture wins every time.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

I was talking to my friend, Elizabeth Piontek, the other day and half-joking, half-serious complaining about the intravenous blood draws we were putting my toddler through for his allergy tests. I asked her to invent a way to test blood through a finger stick. She proceeded to tell me about the Theranos scandal - the company that was formed to create a way to test blood through a simple finger stick. I’d read about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos years ago when the company was in its heyday of deals with Walgreens and Safeway but had forgotten about it until now. Bad Blood documents the work of investigative journalist John Carreyrou as he gathers examples of fraud from former employees, physicians, and others impacted by Theranos. It is a fascinating example of poor leadership that is willing to sacrifice everything at the expense of maintaining a facade of success - even the health and lives of its patients.

Human Contact is Now a Luxury Good

I’ve talked a lot about limiting screen time for productivity purposes and to live in the moment (links here and here). We rarely watch television at home, and I keep my mobile phone and social media use to a minimum given the plethora of other, more interesting things to do. As a personal choice, we have also not allowed our son access to screens or to play with battery-operated toys, preferring that he gains experience with real people and old-fashioned toys and books when he is young. In my opinion, he has the rest of his life to interact with technology, and for now, he can just focus on running around and being a kid. Reading this article opened my eyes to how screens are now automating our relationships with other people or animals, creating low-cost ways to care for the elderly, enjoy the company of a virtual pet, or play with digitized toy blocks on a screen for free rather than purchasing real blocks to stack and knock over. Human (and physical good) interaction is increasingly become an expensive, luxury good because it costs more to provide or produce than digitized goods. Interesting ideas to consider.

What I Listened To

The Dropout

I had a Theranos / Elizabeth Holmes theme this month, doubling up on Bad Blood and The Dropout podcast. The podcast episodes were short and packed with information about the people involved with Theranos from the beginning. From stories about Elizabeth’s childhood to commentary from key Theranos employees, I found myself shaking my head in shock every few minutes as they presented a new detail. The lengths at which the organization attempted to mask its fraud is astonishing, and listening to the story gave me an interesting perspective on how a company and an idea can veer quickly off course. As a side note, I noticed that the podcast followed the storyline of Bad Blood, so if you have a preference of reading the book or listening to the podcast, you could do one and skip the other.

Blackout

I started listening to Blackout, a fictional podcast about a small New England town and its people as they live through a months-long blackout with radio as their only source of technology. Starring Academy Award-winner Rami Malek, the podcast is a bit of a throwback to the old “radio play” genre, and creates a situation across the United States where everyone is operating without technology due to the blackout. If you like suspenseful stories, studies of human nature, and are curious about what life would be like if technology disappeared in an instant, check this out. New episodes are released every Tuesday.

How to Build a World-Class Network in Record Time

One of his most popular podcast episodes, this is a recording of Tim Ferris’ presentation on networking at the South by Southwest conference in Austin. Here, he shares his approach to creating one meaningful human connection at SXSW, highlights ways to engage others in conversation when you are new to a group or conference, provides a method to pitch to someone in a way they will listen, and covers a litany of oft-used networking habits to immediately remove from your repitoire. Many of his tips are tactics that I already use at work, and I found that his recommendations for tweaking these to work at a conference or for networking/pitching to new people helpful.

What I Talked About

Thriving in a Matrix Organization

I had the pleasure of speaking with our National Analyst Team this month about thriving in a matrix organization. I started my career as an Analyst and experienced how complicated it can be to navigate a matrix full of competing priorities and people, especially early in ones career. Some of the most challenging elements of working in a matrix are balancing a can-do attitude and work ethic with unrealistic and competing demands, spending too much time in the details “doing” the work and not having opportunities to lead and present, missing out on a broad set of feedback from the many different perspectives of the people you are working with every day. I shared some of my experience and tips for thriving in a matrix organization, including methods to balance competing priorities and reset expectations, demonstrate the ability to lead and present rather than simply “do” the work, and find trusted mentors for feedback.

Posted on May 13, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.