Progressive Insurance has been running a series of very funny ads about how we turn into our parents after buying our first home. The setting is a group therapy session, and each member has one or more Dad-isms to share with the group. I don’t know if my favorite is “Who left the door open, are we trying to air condition the whole neighborhood?” or the woman who holds up a hideous baseball cap and says, “This hat was free. What am I supposed to do, not wear it?” Both are things my father said (multiple times) in the past, and I suspect that both have come out of my mouth as well.
This intro is to give you fair warning: in this post I may sound (a little) like a parent.
New York Times reporter Adam Bryant recently wrapped up almost a decade of columns from the Corner Office, where he interviewed CEOs of all types, skills, and personalities. While most of us won’t have the opportunity to be the CEO, there are lessons to be learned from those who have charted a successful career path. Here are a few gems from Bryant’s reporting, plus one or two I’ve learned from CEOs along the way.
Do your current job well: Successful people focus on doing their current job well. Bryant notes, “That may sound obvious. But many people can seem more concerned about the job they want than the job they’re doing. That doesn’t mean keeping ambition in check….But focus on building a track record of success, and people will keep betting on you.”
Be responsive: I had lunch recently with a retired CEO who told me that as she grew professionally, she took that first trait of doing her current job well and added the habit of responsiveness. She made it a habit to respond to emails from the CEO the same day she received them, usually with a recommendation and a draft response for consideration. People noticed and “kept betting on her.” As a young employee, she also volunteered to manage special projects for the CEO and the executive team. She learned about different parts of the organization and learned new skills along the way.
You represent an organization, not your personal brand: Many of us are called upon to represent our organizations through speeches and at meetings. Another CEO reminded me that it is important to consider the audience you’ll be addressing as well as the organization you represent. If you show up for a speech for business professionals and city officials with uncombed hair, scruffy shoes, and dressed like you slept in your clothes, it reflects on the organization. If you want to wear a t-shirt and jeans, you’d better be as dynamic as Steve Jobs or work for a tech company. Otherwise, you’ll come off looking unprofessional.
Practice makes perfect. If you are giving a speech, it helps to act as if you’ve seen your presentation before. Don’t look at the screen to see the power point, look at the audience. That requires practice. Before every board meeting, the Vice Presidents in the Preservation Division and I practice our presentations and we critique each other’s work. It really pays off.
Be trustworthy. Enough said. (But you can read Bryant’s take on this at the link above.)
Work ethic is important: Finally, Bryant’s favorite story from a decade of interviews came from Bill Green, the CEO of Accenture, the consulting firm. Green told the following anecdote about his approach to hiring:
“I was recruiting at Babson College….I get this résumé…(which) is very light — no clubs, no sports, no nothing. Babson, 3.2. Studied finance. Work experience: Sam’s Diner, references on request. It’s the last one of the day, and I’ve seen all these people come through strutting their stuff and they’ve got their portfolios and semester studying abroad. Here comes this guy. He sits. His name is Sam, and I say: ‘Sam, let me just ask you. What else were you doing while you were here?’ He says: Well, Sam’s Diner. That’s our family business, and I leave on Friday after classes, and I go and work till closing. I work all day Saturday till closing, and then I work Sunday until I close, and then I drive back to Babson.’ I wrote, ‘Hire him,’ on the blue sheet. He had character. He faced a set of challenges. He figured out how to do both.”
Mr. Green elaborated on the quality he had just described.
“It’s work ethic,” he said. “You could see the guy had charted a path for himself to make it work with the situation he had. He didn’t ask for any help. He wasn’t victimized by the thing. He just said, ‘That’s my dad’s business, and I work there.’ Confident. Proud.”
Mr. Green added: “You sacrifice and you’re a victim, or you sacrifice because it’s the right thing to do and you have pride in it. Huge difference. Simple thing. Huge difference.” Bryant ended his column by noting that this story “captures a quality I’ve always admired in some people. They own their job, whatever it is.”
I love that: own your job, whatever it is. I’m pretty sure my dad would agree.
Have a great week.
More to come…