Thursday, August 28, 2008

Career "Truthiness": Job Security

Is job security a myth? Or a reality?

The quick answer: A myth if you depend upon your employer. A reality if you depend on yourself.

Make “personal career time” a priority

Savvy executives know, that depending on their age, the odds of being fired are high and grow higher every day. Preparing for the inevitable is plain common sense.

Building your network and actively managing your career … at all times and at all stages … is the most important “must-do” throughout your work life. That’s what permits you to seamlessly go on to the next job when your current job ends. And allows you to put any job in its proper perspective.

Do-it-yourself career project for Labor Day

Have a few hours to spare during the upcoming long weekend? That’s all the personal career time you need to:

1. Make sure all your contacts are listed in an easy to use database
2. Flag contacts for a “touch base” during Q4
3. Identify the search firms critical to your function and industry
4. Flag selected recruiters for a “touch base” before year end
5. Bring yourself up-to-date re industry and functional knowledge
6. Resolve to keep eyes and ears open for firms that might find you valuable

Career confidence trumps uncertainty

No matter how well you’ve been performing or how safe your current position feels, market forces out of your control can often dictate whether you’ll have a job or not. Just ask the thousands of former Wall Street key contributors or the automotive, housing or airline executives who have lost their jobs.

Maintaining a steady income and ensuring employment is not the responsibility of any company. It’s yours. In today’s rapidly changing world, it’s up to you to plan and prepare for unforeseen career circumstances and be ready to get into high gear at a moment’s notice.

The final career truth: Job security is the ability to get another job.

Enjoy the holiday!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More Career "Truthiness"

As mentioned before, when it comes to career success … some things never change.

Continuing with some basic career truths:

4. Work/Life Balance … Quality, not quantity, counts

You hear a lot about how important work/life balance is and how difficult it is for busy execs to maintain it.

That depends on how it’s defined. If it’s an equal amount of hours in each of the four important areas of your life, you’re doomed to frustration. But if seen as striving for as much achievement and enjoyment as you can possibly get from work, family, friends and self, then work/life balance is in your grasp.

Dismiss those neat formulas that allocate specific hours for each quadrant of your life and read how to get the most out of each that you can.

5. Being Your Own Boss … Getting work is harder than doing it

At some point, almost every executive contemplates working for himself or herself. The dream of being one’s own boss can be intoxicating … no answering to others, calling all the shots, doing it your way. It’s the ideal way to make a living.

It comes with a hitch.

Many successful leaders think that the keys to entrepreneurship are skill, acumen and competency. But that’s only half of it. Read about how the real key is the ability to first generate the business, and then deliver excellent results.

You may be very good at what you do and temperamentally suited to handling the pressures associated with business ownership, but if you can’t bring in the business … it won’t matter.

6. Executive Network … Stay tuned in

A solid network is a career lifeline, and along with the ability to pyramid contacts, it’s the optimal mechanism for finding senior-level positions.

Unfortunately, too many execs wait to develop or polish them only when their jobs are in jeopardy or actually lost, often resulting in “network failure.”

Networks produce desired career results only when they’ve been established over time and properly managed. Read how skillful executives get the most from their networks.

Next time … the truth about job security.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Career "Truthiness"

As the adage goes, “Some things never change.”

When it comes to managing your career, there are some basic laws of corporate selection that “up the odds” of advancement and success.

Having withstood the test of time, I’ve labeled these laws “Career Truths,” or in Stephen Colbert’s parlance, “Truthinesses.”

1. Take charge of your career

It’s downright foolish how little time many executives spend managing their careers. Not because they don’t think they should, but because … they claim … their schedules don’t permit it.

That’s a mistake.

When jobs go awry or expectations aren’t met, those who haven’t managed their careers are often forced to move into crisis mode. It’s an avoidable scenario.

Read how to handle your career like a 401K. It takes only about one hour/week. Schedule it as a “Meeting with Myself re Career Advancement.”

2. Manage your boss

Seems like a lot of people work for a CBO … Chief Bad Officer. Over the years, I’ve heard hundreds of execs cite their bosses as difficult, disruptive, dumb and just plain nuts.

But … not getting along with your boss can derail your career, not theirs. So it’s up to you to make the relationship a good one if you want to advance.

No options here … grit your teeth, smile and read how to work well with the CBO.

3. Cultivate moles

Top execs all have them.

Companies are rarely meritocracies. Getting ahead has a lot to do with others’ impressions and opinions. Up, down and sideways, your colleagues’ perceptions are often the make or break factor in your success.

Know how you’re viewed by getting ongoing feedback - good and bad. Read about the advantages of moles. Listen to what they say. Then act according to your career’s best interests.

More truthiness next week.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Leadership During Layoffs

Many executives are ill equipped to lead during a layoff.

As headcount is reduced, their jobs get harder. Anxious staffs become more difficult to lead. Business decisions are focused on short-term solutions and can reverse on the next quarterly report. The demands of their Boards and shareholders overrule any long-range visionary plans they may have.

And if their primary concern is holding onto their own jobs, they’re less likely to focus on the leadership skills essential to promoting the company’s best interests – especially during difficult times.

Disengagement and release

After years of emphasizing employee engagement and retention, many leaders now have to do a 180-degree turn to motivate the same workforce that just a year ago was being pumped up and now has been deflated.

That course isn’t taught in B-school.

Now’s the time for that emotional intelligence to kick in and all those leadership courses to pay off.

When profits are down, so are people

Your job is to lead people. Not only during the good times, but through stressful and uncertain periods as well. The very first steps that need to be followed:

1- Recognize your organization’s business and financial challenges
2- Acknowledge your staff’s anxiety
3- Communicate, communicate, communicate

Your company has just taken a hit and needs to improve its numbers. You know it and everybody else knows it, it’s not a secret. Fixing it will require employees eager to help.

But the loss of control employees experience during layoffs raises their anxiety levels and decreases their level of engagement. Increasing that engagement quotient is a tall order and requires skills not all leaders possess.

Untrained executives keep their people in the dark. Now is the time to be transparent with your staff. Keeping people informed, addressing their concerns, validating the company’s support and allaying undue fears is a good beginning. But it’s only a beginning

Lead your people

Leading during layoffs is a big topic and not an easy task. It requires re-recruiting and re-motivating your people. It’s a complex issue that demands much from leaders and one I’ll be exploring further next month.

Meanwhile, if you’re leading layoffs right now … apply steps 1, 2 & 3.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Networking Tips & Taboos

If you’re among the thousands looking for work, you know that a network is a must-have. So is the ability to properly tune it.

While WHO you know is important, HOW they can add value is the key to successful networking. Utilizing your contacts to generate job leads requires thought, effort and skill.

Don’t apply the most non-productive tactic

“Know about any job openings?” is a question that rarely results in a solid job lead.

All too often, I meet job-searching executives who express frustration over the results their networks produce. These are people who have amassed a solid group of really valuable contacts, approached them all and have little to show for it.

They report that their contacts seem genuinely willing to help, but when they inquire about job leads, the response often goes something like, ”Let me have your resume and as soon as I hear of something, I’ll get back to you.”

Though their contacts may have the best of intentions, the odds of them knowing about a suitable job opening are usually slim to none.

Provide the opportunity for “network assistance”

Your contacts want to be supportive, but if they don’t know of any job openings, that’s the end of that conversation. You need to make it easy for them to help you.

Laser-like questions yield the best results.

Before you ever touch base with anyone in your network, do your homework. Determine the companies you’re targeting, identify key executive recruiters and people you want to meet, organizations and associations that you’d like entrĂ©e to, private equity funds, relevant conferences … the list is as long as your needs.

Then critically evaluate your network and determine which contacts might be helpful in each case. Optimal results are obtained when each situation is matched with the contact best positioned to assist you.

For example, asking if they know anyone at company XYZ may yield a "no" reply, but allows you to segue into a broader discussion of similar companies where you could get the name of someone to call.

Pyramid your contacts

From each networking exchange you have, strive to get the names of at least two people or two important pieces of information that can further your efforts.

If you’re not achieving positive results from your network, you need to seriously examine your approach … it’s usually not the fault of your contacts. At the top level, networking requires that you set the tone with thorough planning, carefully thought-out questions and viable next-step actions.
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A well-tuned network is among the greatest assets a job seeker can have. Use it wisely.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Develop Your Executive Presence: Part III

All the world is a stage … if you’re an executive, act like one.

The previous two blogs on executive presence dealt with looking and sounding the part. Acting the part is the most nuanced and for many executives, the most difficult to consistently demonstrate. From the penthouse to the parking garage, from the C-suite to the custodial shop, those with executive presence are easily recognized regardless of where they are or whom they’re with.

Acting the part is a way of life

There’s no such thing as part-time executive presence. Those who have developed the required behaviors display them constantly:

Poise
  • Remain relaxed and composed when under pressure.
Self-confidence
  • Be comfortable in your own skin. Project expertise, assurance and resolve.

Passion

  • Express a level of commitment that conveys a deep belief in what you do.

Honesty

  • Display candor and sincerity.

Openness

  • Appear to not pre-judge others. Permit people to easily and immediately connect with you.

Thoughtfulness

  • Demonstrate a contemplative, non “hip-shooting” style.

Warmth

  • Show an interest in and accessibility to others.

If these don’t describe how you behave with people, you need to build these skills. Executive presence is impossible without them.

A career maker

Successful leaders understand full well that executive presence is in the eye of the beholder. Feedback from clients, constituents, customers and colleagues should be sought and their comments incorporated. Any information, advice or guidance that leads to improving your executive presence is always in your best interests.

It’s critical to point out that people are not born with executive presence. These are acquired behaviors. Just as with other skills, executive presence can be learned. Knowledge, application, dedication and lots of practice are how it's done.

Simply put: If you want executive presence ... be that executive who looks, sounds and acts the part.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Develop Your Executive Presence: Part II

Executive presence is much more than appearance. It has to be displayed whenever you speak.

A couple of months back, I was driving through the village of Chappaqua in Northern Westchester, NY when I noticed a few dozen folks gathered outside a neighborhood luncheonette. Peering a little more closely, I saw a familiar looking white-haired fellow animatedly chatting with this group and immediately recognized him as none other than William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States.

Now, Bill and Hillary Clinton are undoubtedly Chappaqua’s most famous residents and while I pass this luncheonette often, it was the first time I had seen Bill Clinton just casually hanging out. I pulled over, parked my car and joined the group.

Wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and holding onto a leash connected to his chocolate Labrador, he certainly was not dressed like the former head of the free world, but as soon as I heard him speak in this impromptu gathering, I knew I was listening to the ultimate example of the communication skills critical to executive presence.

Sound the part

For me, executive presence is defined as looking, sounding and acting in a manner that inspires confidence, enhances credibility and projects a strong professional image. How you communicate up, down and sideways is critical to career advancement.

As I listened to the former President speak about the then hotly contested Democratic primary, I couldn’t help but reflect on how, in an informal conversation with a group of strangers, he demonstrated executive presence.

Speak to … not “at”


Clinton understood the diversity of the group and related well to his audience. Those gathered around him crossed all economic, social, age and, I guessed, political affiliations. Yet Clinton appeared to “click” with everyone, drawing them in by making eye contact with each person as he spoke. When I asked him a question, he included every person in his reply.

Be clear and compelling

He was, of course, highly knowledgeable on the subject matter. Not all that surprising, he spoke about political and global issues, showing passion and interest to his audience. He was articulate and couched his answers within a framework comprehensible to everyone, weaving interesting stories, speaking in bullet points and then expanding on each in a manner that pulled his listeners in without ever appearing condescending or argumentative.

Go easy on the ears

He also varied the pitch of his voice and was never heard in monotone, demonstrating that authoritative vocal tones are low and calm, never high or tense, and altered his inflection and volume to convey authority, power and confidence.

I enjoyed speaking with Bill Clinton that day … he reinforced my belief that executive presence is more than just looking the part.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Develop Your Executive Presence: Part I

Your performance reviews are solid, you know you’re good at what you do and yet when that latest promotion opportunity arose … you weren’t selected.

To paraphrase the first President Bush, it just might be the “executive presence thing.”

More and more, requests for executive coaching are couched in phrases that imply a need for developing executive presence.

“He’s a little rough around the edges,” “She lacks a convincing tone in her presentations,” “Can’t put him in front of the Board just yet,” “Doesn’t inspire confidence” and a host of similar comments indicate a lack of executive presence.

While the exact definition is open to interpretation, there are certain attributes almost everyone agrees upon. Chief among them is looking, acting and sounding in a manner that inspires confidence, enhances credibility and projects a strong professional image.

Let’s tackle the easiest one first.

Look the part

A well-known publicly traded company in the NY tri-state area recently requested my assistance in “polishing up” their Director of Transportation. He reported directly to the SVP of Operations, excelled at the complexities of his function and was well liked by both his peers and direct reports. However, the Company was having difficulty seeing him move up the ladder.

The reason: In any future assignments being considered, he would need to make presentations to the Board of Directors and represent the company at numerous professional functions. As the VP of HR told me, “for him to go further, he needs a makeover.”

When I met him, I concurred.

While the company adopted a casual dress code, both the top male and female officers were pretty “buttoned up.” But not the Transportation Director. He was unflatteringly dressed in ill-fitting clothes and scuffed shoes, and sporting what was unmistakably a very bad haircut. In no way, did he reflect the executive image this company wanted.

Having started as a driver and risen steadily through the ranks, he gave little credence to the idea that how he looked was material to his position. He was convinced his career trajectory depended solely upon the results he produced. Wrong assumption.

Appearance matters … a lot


Several sessions later, dressed and coiffed more like his colleagues, he acknowledged that his stature in the company appeared to improve, that he had been placed on committees and task forces previously denied him and that discussions about future opportunities had taken place.

While there was still work to be done on acting and sounding the part, overcoming the first hurdle and looking the part was already paying dividends.

That’s the superficial part of executive presence. The next installment will deal with more substantive issues.
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