Do you have ‘career DNA’?

Why do some people walk on in their careers while others stop?

From any given cohort of young professionals, some will have ‘more’ career than others. ‘More’ in this context is simply put in hierarchy levels including corresponding increase of responsibilities and impact. Did you ever wonder what made some walk on where others stopped?

For sure, there are a lot of external factors – and many of them are luck-related. But aside from them, there are internal factors, too. The good news about internal success factors is: you have control over them and you can train them. Therefore, you can influence a lot of your professional life at any stage of your career – if you choose to do so.

Let’s think about some success factors that you can actively manage. You will see them in action in people in higher hierarchical positions.

Attribution of failure

What you believe, becomes your reality. Hence, important moments to look at are moments of failure in your (professional) life. Where do you attribute your failure to?

If you look at successful people around you, they do not go into a self-pity cave mourning about their inadequacy towards their job. They rather attribute a failure to an external factors, … and move on.

So what happens to your self-talk when you experience failure? I heard from a lot of people that they switch from ‘this was a failure’ to ‘I am a failure’. And this is when it gets dangerous. All of a sudden, a situation in the workplace affects your identity and questions who you are and what you can do. If you continue to play with those thoughts, you will not try a similar business situation again. And this is how you probably will decide not to move on in your career.

Proper reflection and learning from failure is for sure a good thing. But overthinking will stop you from moving forward. And there is no beauty nor pride in examine a messy career moment to the bone.

Stress-handling

Moving on in your career will lead to bigger ‘stress’. Stress meaning that there will never be enough time, there will always be too many tasks and there will always be pressure. This is a given.

The question is how you handle yourself in this environment. Look at successful people around you – and precisely look at those who have been for years in management positions – they have found a way to deal with this stress. Sport, hobbies and a social life apart from work are for sure components for handling stress. In addition, there is an inwardly component that you need to deal with.

Look at your self-talk if you want to improve in this area. What are you afraid of? What is the worst thing that could happen in any given stress situation? Find and face your fears. Define answers to those questions. Position yourself inwardly.

If you want to make a long-lasting and high-aiming career, you need to make sure that you can sleep well at night. And this can be trained early on in your career. In this area, coaching, journaling or techniques like NLP can help.

Comparison

Comparing yourself with others costs you energy without payback. Most likely, you will only compare yourself towards people who are better, smarter, more successful etc. than you are. And in this game, you will always loose.

I am certain that successful people seldomly compare themselves with others. They are focussing on their business. And this is how the business grows and success increases. Greed and envy are bad consultants for a happy and healthy career life.

If you are struggling in this area, dedicate an active choice towards your self-talk. Did you ever wonder what comparison, greed and envy brought you so far? Would you like to continue thinking and speaking that way? It is your choice. A tough one. But one that changes the path of your career.

How to start a consulting career in time of crisis

As the the labor market continues to stay put, the next generation of young professionals is entering the workforce looking for their first opportunity to start their careers. Instead of choosing the best offer among many, hundreds of applications are sent without getting the aspired position. In addition, this time cannot be bridged with the next travel experience or gap year abroad as most borders are closed or at least harder to cross. What a fuck!

While this is extremely frustrating, there are still options that can be done in order to increase the attractiveness of one’s profile for the consulting market. Here are some thoughts from the other side of the fence which skill sets are being searched for.

Know your MS Office toolset by heart

While this sounds extremely obvious, most young professionals stated after their first project that they had thought to know the toolsets well … and were surprised of how much more there is to learn. (And while they had rated themselves an 8 of 10, they were probably a 2 of 10.) In general, it is quite dangerous to assume that you already know everything as it leads to a place where you don’t ask questions, you don’t get better and – at worst – your project leads won’t want to work with you anymore. Therefore, make use of your gap months to dive into free online tutorials and train your skillset.

Enhance your profile by relevant tools and certificates in your aspired working area

Agile project delivery is key in the market. Get acquainted with the corresponding learning journeys, certificates and tools. A lot of information is available for free and when you can drop a few highlights in your CV and know the key facts during your interview, you are much more relevant in the workplace.

Or if process optimization seems to be of interest: find out more about methodologies and frameworks that are available at the market and that are regularly used in those type of projects.

Same is true for project management in general. The market is full of relevant material – and as you have studied in university, it is worthwhile to buy a book on project management and learn the basics.

Good presentation and moderation skills will always help you

Independent from the topic, people rather like to listen to a good presentation – just think of your bright professor who couldn’t deliver the message well. Learn how to speak your mind and to present content intriguing. This skill is essential in consulting and you will need it right from the start in your job interview. Find yourself places where you can present and moderate – maybe in university, in your student job or at the family party. Train this skill and your whole career will have a positive impact by this strength.

Stay in contact with your colleagues of your intern positions

Connect with people on business social media, drop them a line every once in a while and stay connected. Maybe you don’t even want the job they have to offer now, but you don’t know when they are changing positions and their help might come in handy. These people are also the ones that might know when their company is hiring again – and then, a good timing is essential. While your CV gets turned down in one week, the next week they might invite you as the company politics has changed. You hit these moments either by chance or by network.

Take care of your mindset and self-talk

If you belong to the people who graduate now, the past 10 years you have heard and learned that the labor market is increasing, that you can choose from any job you want and that even a very expensive university will pay off quickly. Somehow those promises did not come true. And in a way that can feel very unfair. These are moments when it is crucial that you keep track of your mindset and self-talk.

The emotions in those times have the power to bring in such a negative narrative in your life that it influences you for years. It might even get harder to walk into job interviews with positive expectations. Therefore, use these times of uncertainty as a training for your character and decide on purpose how you want to feel about it. The skills you learn through this training will be needed when you want to do a career.

How to be hated by your team easily

Delegation is key to any management role. Wrongly used, it can break trust and kill the fun at work quickly. Find out how delegation can work in your favour.

“I am looking forward to my promotion as I will be a mentor by then and I can delegate all the tasks I hate to the people assigned to me”, my conversation partner announces proudly. My faces freezes as I am thinking of all the young professionals who will get ‘the tasks he hates’. I am wondering how he has been treated in his first professional years that he actually believes that he should fill his leadership role like that.

A colleague comes to my mind who once said about his boss: “Well, now he just delegated the shit he doesn’t like to me and leaves.” In that situation, I knew the task and the boss – and I came to a total different conclusion. It was a normal delegation of a task appropriate in size and timeline towards the grade delegated to. Nonetheless, the personal story of that colleague was that he got ‘the shit’ and in turn, he was convinced that delegating the unwanted tasks down the line is part of the freedom a higher hierarchical position inherits.

But how to delegate appropriately?

For sure, delegation is a key part in business and as people develop in their leadership role, delegation is a very essential part. This is not only true for the one delegating but also for the one receiving work. As a rookie, you need leaders who assign tasks to you in order for you to grown. Let’s have a look at some hypothesis regarding good delegation:

Delegate only task you would do yourself

This topic doesn’t refer to your willingness to do it but rather the necessity of the task. It is a ‘Does it have to be done?’ consideration. Some tasks probably never will be fun, e.g. keeping track of the to do list. But they are serving a certain purpose and you would do it if no one else was there. Assumably, you have done it in the past and everyone in your area of expertise needs to do it sometime.

When delegating these tasks, bring in empathy. Explain why the task is relevant and what it contributes to. You can be honest in saying that this isn’t the coolest task of all times but make sure that you bring in appreciation for your team member.

Delegate with a learning curve in mind

From my experience, young professionals are eager to learn. They want to explore new things, understand the big picture and become experts in their jobs. As someone delegating tasks, you can make use of that eagerness by explaining how the to do is contributing to the learning curve.

Maybe taking meeting minutes is the job at hand. Even in the most boring meeting, there are learnings. Regarding the document, you could teach how good meeting minutes look like and what needs to be included. Regarding the meeting, you could highlight the roles of each attendee, the interaction between the people and how moderation techniques contribute to an aspired outcome.

It requires some creativity of you and walking the extra mile in terms of not only delegating but also creating a learning opportunity. But the results are phenomenal as people will like to work with and for you.

Delegate with a readiness to give feedback

The privilege of delegating tasks comes with the responsibility of giving feedback. Feedback is relevant for a good quality result. In addition, feedback contributes to the learning curve of the person you work with.

If you regularly shy away from giving feedback, it is a good moment to reflect. What is hindering you giving feedback? What assumptions around feedback to you believe? Are they true? Giving feedback is essential and if you don’t take that responsibility, you cause major trouble in your team – which is invisible to you most of the times.

Delegate with a heart that cares

Overall, delegation is working well when you actually care about the people you work with. Noone wants to work with you if they are used for tasks you hate. But if there is a sense of ‘care’, most people will not only work with and for you but even walk the extra mile.

How a ‚well done‘ feedback kills your career

“I only got positive feedback for my slides”, the new joiner smiles at me proudly. He just had the first project weeks with his new manager and the slide deck was the first deliverable he contributed to the project.

As much as I am happy for young professionals to get positive affirmation, I am wondering whether feedback should also include the parts what can be changed!? People contributing in projects without getting feedback that puts them on a learning journey, will stay good but won‘t get better. And as the only-positive-feedback continues, they are assuming that they were lucky this time at best – and, at worst they are learning that they don’t need to develop.

I am wondering if managers are aware of the result of their behavior!?

I understand why someone refrains from giving challeging feedback – it requires thought-through argumentation, love, wisdom, energy and a vision for the person who is being feedbacked. The easy way out is a „well done“ with no further comment. The young professional is happy. The one giving feedback doesn’t have to think. Easy. Yet, there will be no growth.

In consequence, the young professional will only grow to some degree – and that very slowly. So, although a „done well“ sounds pretty to the ear, it keeps you away from growing. And your peers, who get the challenging feedback, will outgrow you soon. They will get the promotion earlier and have the more interesting career with more challenging topics. And that only because they were trained in a harder way and did not get that easy „well done“ too often.

If you want to learn and become really good in a skill, you need to find people who feedback you openly and precise. You need to know what you can enhance and how this can be done. If you only work for people who tell you everything is fine, you are not growing. Maybe you are good enough for your current position, but how do you train for your upcoming levels?

Even worse, you don’t learn how to feedback others yourself. Truth is, giving feedback is harder than receiving feedback. You actually have to think about your opinion. If you have to tell a person that he/she needs to change, you even need to give guidance why the change is necessary and how the change could look like in order to be more successful. Giving feedback puts you at risk to not be liked, too.

Take some time to analyze where you are in all of this. Do you get enough challenging feedback to grow? Do you develop people by giving thought-provoking feedback?

‘Move talk’ – winning the asshole-style

Do you remember the last time you gave a presentation and someone in the room made an inadequate, non-content-related comment? Everyone laughed and you felt overwhelmed. Somehow you got out of concept and your presentation was weakened. Afterwards you were frustrated and you would have loved to say or do anything.

In literature you can find this concept being named ‘high talk’ (content related talk) that was hit by a smalltalk comment. It is done by people in the room who cannot challenge your content but who know how to discredit you as a person or in your role – and if you are not prepared, you lose your technical point to a simple joke. You can answer this type of interference either by a smalltalk comment yourself – or you use ‘move talk’, e.g. walking slowly to the respective colleague and look at her/him without saying anything. Once the silence is there, going back to your professional part.

In times of video calls, communication changes. Due to muted microphones, the classical ‘jokes’ that should intimidate the presenter are vastly eliminated. This is deliberating for all people who are afraid of these comments in the room. I believe, our communication culture gets more inclusive in a way. Even people who are not well trained in public speaking, will be less interrupted when speaking up in video calls.

But when it comes to ‘move talk’, many aspects are still working. This is relevant to know because in classical settings, you could answer ‘small talk’ with small talk or even go to the more intense ‘move talk’. But if the first interference already is in ‘move talk’, the classical communication guidelines and ideas don’t work anymore.

How does ‘move talk’ look like in video calls?

In a smaller group, when all screens are visible, ‘move talk’ can be seen by people ignoring the camera, e.g. demonstratively using the phone. More intense is leaving the desk while still having the camera on. These examples aren’t ‘move talk’ in itself – but when the discussion is requiring attention or a decision by a leader and that person is acting that way, it is a message.

What do you do when hit by ‘move talk’?

It highly depends on who is hitting you in which moment with ‘move talk’. Let’s look at two constellations.

The opponent

There are people who will profit from you failing, e.g. a colleague wanting your topic or position. Unluckily, there can also be people who just want you to fail – not because they want to step in but just because they don’t like you. When these people start using ‘move talk’, they want to disturb, so that you feel insecure and lose your point. In any case, ignore the ‘move talk’. Concentrate on the people, who need hearing you. You will not change the opponent – especially not when talking to them or calling out their behaviour. Walk on, don’t even bother.

The decider

If the person who needs to decide, confronts you with ‘move talk’, it will depend how well you know that person. If you need their concentration and they don’t give it to you, you might wanna ask: “It seems, it is a bad time to address this topic. Should I postpone and find a new date for talking?” Maybe they are having a bad time and a new date will make it better. If you don’t have the freedom to ask for postponement, make your point and end. If you need a decision, you could propose the next steps, e.g. “if I don’t hear otherwise, I will do x, y, z and give you an update afterwards.” This puts you in a position of movement – and the decider would need to get active if she/he really doesn’t like it. From my experience, leaders who are bored and don’t feel entertained enough, will act with ‘move talk’. Although the behaviour is quite annoying, those leaders are easy to play as you have a lot of freedom doing your style. Just don’t expect them to help, support or appreciate you. Just keep moving.

On your own journey of becoming a leader, you can decide how do you want to use those techniques in your communication style. It is good to know them when presenting and being ‘attacked’. Using these methods to discredit others in the first place, should be deeply considered as you are destroying trust in yourself. People will not like working with you, when they are not sure whether you will ‘attack’ them with communication methods.

Wanna keep your job?

Interestingly, there are some people who will always tell you how much they have to do, how stressful their job is and when coming to complaining about colleagues and bosses the day doesn’t have enough hours to contain their words. It seems, their whole life is awful and punished by the few people around them. Often I am wondering, whether they are aware that one part of their misery is the constant echo of their stressful workday in their private lives!?

But aside from crashing the atmosphere at home, most likely their job isn’t that bad after all – at least they haven’t changed positions or applied for a new role. Most likely, a huge part of their complain is letting everyone know how important and unexchangeable they are in their position. Which opens room for a change of perspective: how does their boss and colleagues see that person? Does he/she contribute to the team success? What is the effect of the complain of that person towards the team mates?

Even the brightest mind and the deepest content of a colleague is overruled by a bad attitude. Someone complaining much – regardless the topic – stresses the team more than the actual work will contribute. People will see and learn from that behaviour – managing around colleagues whose attitude is counterproductive. In turn, when it comes to team size reduction – these people won’t have anyone speaking up for their important contribution to the team success despite their story of having so much stress and hence, being so important.

So, if you want to be part of the crew kept on board, think of this: your teammates and leads need you to do your job. They need you to take responsibility for your tasks so that they can trust you and your results. Very often you can decide what ‘your job’ involves. One major part is fixing problems. Often these problems won’t be part of your initial job description. But if you are known for a mindset that thinks of solutions instead of complain, your teammates and leads will love to work with you and will do anything, to keep you in the team.

Why does my boss earn so much money?

“Whether my boss is there or not – it doesn’t make any difference”, I recently heard someone say. It displays the missing transparency of what is a boss’ job. One thing that is quickly mentioned in this discussion, is the high salary that one gets for being in a management position. And most likely, the person mentioning the money, is the one trying to reach a management position, too.

Unluckily, this perception of a boss not doing anything useful to the companies cause, leads to many new managers following that same approach – not realizing of how mistaken they are.

So, if you want to become a successful person in a managing role in your company, think of the following ‘to dos’ and check whether you are willing to do them. For sure, you will find people in your organisation that are in management positions not doing the named points. But you can decide for yourself, what kind of leader you want to become.

Take decisions

One essential part of a management position is the responsibility of taking decision. People will come to you with options, but it will be your responsibility of choosing on how to proceed. You can probably recall several ocasions in which the respective leader did not take a decision – and how harmful the result was.

Taking decisions makes you vulnerable in a way. People will know where you stand and what opinion you have. This is why many leaders refrain from taking a decision. Often this comes in shades of procastination or delegation of the decision to a gremium or lower rank.

But lets be clear: part of the salary of a management role is the responsibility for taking decisions – even the controverse and hard ones.

Give feedback

As long as all your team members are working fine, reaching their goals and have no conflicts, feedback sessions are easy. Giving praise and appreciation is the fun part of feedback. But if destructive behaviour of single people are destroying the atmosphere or weak results are torpedating the company results, it becomes tough.

Addressing destructive behaviour can result in conflict – and conflict needs energy, time and clear guidance. And this is for sure part of the management role and salary. Yet, a lot of managers refrain from walking into this métier. They neither want to spend the time nor their energy in confronting people with feedback. They are rather hoping that the problem somehow goes away.

Unluckily, un-feedbacked bad behaviour will expand and eventually kill the atmosphere; resulting in low cooperation, less delivery quality and in the end high attrition.

What helps is ‘radical candor’ as Kim Scott names it (see her book ‘Radical Candor’). Radical Candor means being totally clear about the content while having the heart of developing the person who gets feedback. No sugar coating. But also no condemnation. Setting clear boundaries and rules for the team and giving freedom for everyone to develop. It’s hard, as it requires a lot of self-reflection of the leader. But it is part of the management role.

Think ahead

Ideally, leaders don’t only focus on the present but have an idea of where they want to be in 5 or 10 years from now. They are not consumed by all problems at hand but have the capacity of thinking several steps ahead. They can anticipate what impact their decision might have.

This ability as well as the time of getting to a well-thought-through decision is part of the their job. As hence, is displayed in their salary.

If you like to have a boss with the named qualities, take action and become that boss yourself.

Air time: how to get more time from your boss

“My boss hardly talks to me.” “I don’t get any air time.” “It’s almost impossible to get an appointment with my boss.” – these complaints can be heard quite often. The consequences are obvious: little interaction leads to little growth in the relationship and, in consequence, the promotion goes to a colleague – that surprisingly got more time of interaction with the boss.

So what can you do in order to get more time with your boss – and especially one-on-one time in which you can proof your abilities and let him/her see of what you are capable of.

Let’s change perspectives for that matter. Why should your boss talk to you?

Think about this question. If you feel it’s his/her f*** job to listen to you – you might be right, but that doesn’t get you what you want. So again: What is it that your boss hears/sees/experiences when she/he is talking to you?

From what I have experienced in and heard of many of those talks, it goes as follows: a lot of complain… then some mediocre chit-chat… and quite often a demand for more responsibility, a new role or even the promotion. The first will be overheard by your boss because there is too much negativity in life anyways. The second is irrelevant for him/her – and by the time you start demanding something, the mind of your boss spins about ending this talk soon. Therefore, let me ask you – and please be honest: What is in this talk for your boss?

Your boss is a human being as well. He/she is working under constant pressure, too. And when you are one of the many interactions that intensifies the daily pressure… it is only human nature when he/she avoids talking to you.

If you could be one of the positive interactions for your boss during that day – she/he will love to talk to you in the future. If he/she can trust, that there will be fun and laughter involved when talking to you: be assured that they are looking forward to talking to you.

But bringing in a positive atmosphere is only a one part. Even more important is: be relevant! Ideally you belong to the solution of your boss’s problem. If you are the go-to-person for problem-solving, your boss will know your capabilities and worth.

Let’s talk about examples: If your boss knows that team building is important but neither have the time nor the creativity to do anything, be the person organizing the team event. Ask her/him what should be on the agenda, bring in ideas and make sure that he/she looks good when opening the event. For sure, be mindful not to become the event planner forever, but use the event to proof your skill set in project management. In addition, use the time bonding with your boss and let him/her feel important.

This type of working with your boss can be done in any change situation in your team or company. Classically, people will resist change – and your boss needs to implement the changed processes and procedures. If you act as a change agent, you can solve some of your boss’s problems without much effort and get the recognition you are thriving for.

Once you are known to your boss, become relevant for a certain topic or skill. Be the one, your boss asks when it is about… tax, regulatory questions, IT functions in your new system – you name it. Either you are already an expert – so leverage on your existing knowledge. Or you are an expert in the making – then find relevant topics around you, get skilled and support your boss.

Most likely, inwardly you sense some unrighteousness: your boss should be the one taking time for you. People development is part of the job description (and salary) of most leading positions in business – therefore, it feels fair if more effort is done on the leadership side. Yet, reality is that most bosses neither take the time nor have the awareness what they could do differently. And that shouldn’t stop you in working with your boss in a way that builds the relationship in a positive way.

Your ugly ego kills your career

That young drama student’s statement moved me: If you go on stage to celebrate yourself, your ugly ego shines through and kills your performance.

We were sitting next to each other at a concert and chatted during the breaks. She was still in university and not a professional, yet, but from what we had seen on stage, I could realize how true her observation was.

The singer’s voice was marvelous. The looks perfectly tuned. Yet, you could feel there was a show ongoing instead of being in love with the singing itself. Although everything was perfect, it did not move the heart – rather the opposite.

With the next song, my mind wandered. Isn’t it the same in business? How much do we dislike colleagues showing off their egos?

And then again … am I showing off at times, too? Isn’t it part of what we do in business? Performing on the stage of numbers, charts and business plans?

There seems to be a fine line between doing a good job and showing off the ego. How can you check yourself on which side of the line you are acting?

One parameter seems to be your intention. Why are you doing what you are doing, e.g. giving feedback, talk about a colleague or praise your own contribution.

When giving feedback, the ideal intention is to let the other person grow and become a better version of himself/herself. Inwardly, you can feel this urge to see the other person prosper. This is why you would even give ‘hard feedback’ – ‘hard’ in the sense that you don’t like giving the feedback, but you know the other person will profit from it. In contrary, when you want to make the other person feel bad – or maybe just feel superior towards the other person – it is a strong indicator that your ego is showing off and that you should refrain from giving feedback.

When you talk about a colleague, question yourself to whom this talk is beneficial. If you speak praise and raise the other person up, it’s a good one. When letting others know, how much better you are … you just might show the ugly side of your ego and you do not even profit from your behaviour.

Business requires that you sometimes tell others what your contribution was in a certain setting. Do it without exaggeration. Be precise. But don’t take all the glory for yourself. If you are that good, others will tell you soon enough without your self-promotion.

Just as the performer on the stage is disliked by the audience for his/her ugly ego, your career will be limited as colleagues and bosses won’t promote you, leave your teams and start avoiding you, if you continue to be a show off.

Successful team leads focus on these topics

It’s a never ending discussion: should you focus on strengths or weaknesses when developing yourself and others?

What is your opinion? How do you develop yourself? And in consequence: how do you develop your team?

Research shows that 20% of your team will disengage from their work, when you as their manager focus solely on their weaknesses. While only 1% disengage when you focus on their strength (see Strengthsfinder 2.0 from Gallup, 2007, p. IV). There is just one thing that is even worse than focussing on weaknesses or strengths: ignoring your people completely. Research shows that 40% of your staff disengages in their work when not being developed at all.

But what are strengths, you can find in yourself? What are the focus areas you could search for in your team?

Here are some examples – pulled together from classical ressources like Johari adjectives, strengthsfinder or MBTI:

  • Straight communication
  • Analytical correctness
  • Love for detail
  • Ambition to win
  • Stick to rules
  • Focus on deadlines
  • Good time management
  • Feeling for team atmosphere
  • Vision for project setup
  • Courage to speak up
  • Persistence in argument

All of these strengths bring in positive and negative situations within a team. Your job as a manager is to find the right spot where each person can shine.

Same is true, if you feel unhappy in your current position. Maybe you cannot work according to your strengths and you need a change. Analyse who you are and what you need – and then find the place where you fit in.

It’s just a small nugget to give you food for thought. Dig deeper through the named sources if you want to develop yourself in this area.