The WSJ periodically reports a case study of a career makeover. Today’s study featured a mid-40s manager, a mid-life career executive named Thomas Lynch. Lynch had helped bring in millions of revenue dollars in his sales support role, yet he was held back from promotions. He had a sense that he needed to be more extroverted, yet he wanted to maintain the strengths he brought to the company. Click here for the full story.
While Mr. Lynch worked with an executive coach, the steps he took are fairly straightforward for any mid-life career change, large or small.
First, he listed his strengths and his values.
Next, he completed a brand image exercise to get a more objective perspective. He asked 20 people to describe him in three words. (A variation might be to ask people to list your top 3 strengths or the top 3 reasons they might refer someone to work with you.) This exercise will be powerful for almost everyone; in his case, he was pleased to find that many people didn’t see him as introverted but as innovative, thorough and even “highly influential.”
Then it was time for action. Assessment steps tend to be easy and even fun. The hard part comes when you have to venture out and take some actions. Mr. Lynch began to take more risks, such as speaking up in meetings even when he wasn’t fully prepared with a planned presentation.
Even more, Lynch called his current boss and reached out to other company executives, asking specifically for assignments that would give him visibility and responsibility. In particular, he called a senior manager who was organizing a conference. Told that they had everything they needed, he said, “Even if there’s a small part, I’d love to do it.” He ended up with a 30-minute presentation to 100 people in Las Vegas.
The program worked. Although others say he’s changed dramatically, Mr. Lynch says he now focuses on finding intrinsic rewards in his work, in keeping with his values. However, opportunities keep coming up; most recently he was asked to lead breakout sessions at a conference. He’s even reaching out to fellow parents on his daughter’s soccer team. Frankly, I’m surprised he hasn’t been snapped up by a recruiter for a competing company; with the visibility from his WSJ appearance, who knows?
Going deeper …
Do you have “street cred” in your current company?
Mr. Lynch had two essential assets. First, he had “street cred.” He’d been with his company awhile, had a solid track record, and fit the culture. Second, his company supported him and he received honest support and guidance from his own managers.
Often my clients are surprised to realize that they’ve got street cred to leverage. If you’re gotten early promotions, awards, above-average raises, plummy assignments, or other goodies, you’re probably a valued player. You’re in good shape to make some career-building moves.
By way of analogy, basketball players who are first-round choices tend to get more playing time and are less likely to be traded. If you’re getting signals that you’re a first round draft pick, you’ve got some leverage – and you probably have enough street sense to use your street cred wisely.
Are you getting honest, helpful support within your company?
At the other extreme, you’ll need to be sensitive to false feedback and, in rare cases, outright sabotage. Sometimes you need a job or even a new career, not career makeover.
When I was a college professor, one of my most outstanding students was a rising star in a large corporation. She asked me for advice about future coursework. Although she had a doctoral degree in organizational psychology, she was told she needed more training in marketing and finance. She took the recommended courses but her bosses never seemed satisfied.
I suggested she consider whether she was getting good advice or whether she was being stalled. To answer this question, she would have to look at the broader environment. Her company was fairly traditional and male-dominated at the time. She was achieving and even exceeding her performance goals. Given this context, she decided to consider moving to a more enlightened company.
Do you need a makeover or a new career?
To take another example, a friend I’ll call “Edward” struggled with his career. He was bored in a large company with a “serve your time” culture; his reviews all read “meets minimum standards.” In another job he clashed with a boss who fired him abruptly on trumped-up charges (he hired a lawyer to clear his record and collect his retirement pay). He was considered arrogant and unmanageable.
Finally Edward landed with an entrepreneurial company that knew how to use him. They sent him on the road as a consultant to their high-end technical clients. The clients loved him. They didn’t think he was arrogant: they wanted a confident consultant. He loved being away from the office and he was never bored.
If Edward had attempted a makeover to be more conformist, he would have probably ended up on six medications for stress and a series of unsatisfactory performance reviews. Some things can’t be changed.
Have you ever had (or wanted) a career makeover? Reply in the comments below. You can also down a free report, 3 Personal Branding Strategies to Advance Your Career.
And if you’d like to discuss your own makeover (or decision to avoid a makeover), click here.