Monthly Archives: July 2012

Say “No” to Good, Say “Yes” to the Best

Here is an article that was recently published on the Personal Branding Blog of which I am a contributor to…

It seems that in our lives there is a constant tug of war going on between finding simplicity and all of the complexity that is thrown at us. From our jobs to the endless amount of information that is thrown at us each day, it can be hard to focus in on what is truly important.

The moment that we think we have everything organized and figured out, a change comes our way and we are forced to have to juggle one more ball with the many others we struggle to keep in the air. This “change” (aka an extra ball to juggle) can come in the form of unexpected and sad life events where you are thrown a load of new responsibility to opportunities to for new career or exciting adventure.

The desire to have a simple and targeted direction is a constant goal of mine. I find myself going through times where I take on new and exciting opportunities and others where I look to “cut the fat” and only focus what is important to me at the time. 

The question naturally arises, which is better; to take on more things, give back more, contribute more, accomplish more (reticent of the whole notion that busy people get stuff done), or to focus on only one thing and be the best at it (and make it your brand)? This is the classic dichotomy between focusing and doing one or a small number of things right (ala Apple) or to cast a wide net and do many things, some successful and some a failure (ala Google).

I have concluded that the answer to this question comes in two pieces. One answer is that while simplicity is a good thing, “it depends.” The other answer is that you “have to do it this way,” (referring to going through complexity to get clarify), or in other words it’s always a process.

To address the first piece, it depends on personality. I am the type that probably could not do just one thing. I would get bored out of my mind. Success takes time, patience and a bunch of steps to get there. If I was doing only one thing, then as I would wait for each step to play out I would feel like I am wasting my time being idle. Whereas with numerous things going on, I can occupy my time with another project or commitment until the other one is ready. At the same time though, doing too many things means that important parts to each project can be overlooked and nothing gets your full attention and passion- which means that everything is less successful than it could be.

The other piece involves process. It is interesting to see how those that truly find their calling or passion go down a path that involves testing out many interests and opportunities, only to focus on what rises to the top (the “top” items either being what garners the best results or what you are most passionate about). It is almost as if you have to experience all the crap and distractions to find what truly inspires you.

In various strategy projects for work, I find myself going through a two-side reverse funnel. I start with a simple understanding in mind then dive into endless research and background (the more complexity the topic has, the dirtier this gets).  At certain points, I think about how there can’t be a right answer since the question is too hard and there are too many details. Yet, when you push through this the answer then becomes obvious and you shift to a more focused and simpler conclusion. What really matter rises to the top and becomes clearer.

I am in the middle of that process right now. Over the last couple of years, I have become focused on a large number of activities, 10 to be exact. Besides my full time job, this includes entrepreneurial ventures, community service activities and other life commitments. Recently I hit that point where I felt there was no answer. I was doing too much and lacked focus. Most of my activities were successful but none singularly reached that top echelon of success that I strive for. I realized that it was time to narrow the funnel down more.  10 were too many.

In focusing and finding this simplicity some of the items were easy to knock off the list, I had less interest in them or the amount of time they took for the results created made getting rid of them obvious. But others were harder to get rid of. I enjoyed doing them and saw a benefit I got out of them (and with many of them I was able to help other people), but they distracted a bit.

Not long ago I had a mentoring discussion with a family friend who has been a successful executive in various tech industries, most recently spending the last 10 years as a VP at Apple. He seemed to encapsulate the right mentality to have in saying that other tech companies would kill for some of the products that Apple left on the cutting room floor over the years. He said that Steve Jobs focused everyone on saying “No” to good to say “Yes” to the best.

While you will need to go through a process and you will deal with a great deal of distractions as you do it, you will reach a place of simplicity where what you really want to do will become apparent. Remember, though, that like any process, this fight between complexity and simplicity will continue to come and go.

I am still in the process of “simplifying” and while I have a few more items to knock off the list, I find my mind clearer to be able to identify what the “best” really is. I have had to say “No” to a couple really good opportunities (which has been a bit against my nature), but I know that this will help me not only better identify the “best” when it comes along, but it will also help me be passionate and ready to put my whole self behind a select number of things once simplicity allows me to focus on them.

Remember that simplicity is a good thing, but it often takes going through a whole lot of complexity to get there. As a rule, remember to “say no to good to say yes to the best.”



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5 Steps to Master Managing People Older Than You

Here is an article that was recently published on the Personal Branding Blog of which I am a contributor to…


It was the first day of my first job right out of college. Despite all the group projects and being president of different clubs, there was nothing that could have prepared me for what sat in front of me. Literally sitting in front of me were 15 customer service reps, all older than me, half of whom had worked at the company longer than I had been alive; and I was supposed to be their boss.

Over the next few months I labored to learn the best way to manage people with more experience and knowledge than I had.  Luckily, learning how to do this was not rocket science, it just involved incorporating a few simple rules that not only created a better working environment but led to consistent results.

Step 1: Understand the different stages of a career.  I still remember the first conversation I had with one of my new salespeople when I got promoted to regional sales manager 3 years ago.  Larry was in his mid 60’s, had grandkids and was pretty set in his ways (and was vocal about it!). In describing his goals for the future he crafted an interesting analogy.  “Here is the mountain,” he said, angling his arm in a sloping motion. “Here is you,” he explained, using his fingers to walk up the front side of the imaginary hill, “and here I am” he continued, jumping his walking fingers down the bottom of the back side of his fictitious mountain. “I will work hard, but I am on my way out. As long as you understand this analogy, things will work between us.” We enjoyed a good laugh in the moment, but I could see his point.  I was at the beginning of our career, looking for ways to get promoted and make an impact.  Larry, on the other hand, was just looking to spend time with his family and get a paycheck so he could travel and finish paying off the house he had bought 20 years before.  Naturally there are degrees in between our extremes, but remember the hill and where you are in relation to the older person you are managing.

Step 2: Never pull the “I’m the boss” card. It is a big mistake for you as a young manager to let authority go to your head.  Instead of looking for ways to enact your power, let your older direct reports know that you are there to help them, not boss them around.  Offer them assistance in fulfilling their job responsibilities better and faster, but always do so with a helpful spirit.  They will often help you more than you could ever help them.

Step 3: Get to know them personally, show them you care.  In a work environment, especially when you are responsible for a group of people, the personal side of things often gets lost in the fold.  It is important to get to know your people, as people not just as workers.  This is even truer for employees older than you. Learn about their families and what they like and dislike.  Odds are their passions will be much different than yours, but if you take interest in them, it will foster loyalty. I observed that most people expect that their manager will tell them they need something every time they interact.  I make a conscious effort to interact with my employees and not ask for anything. At first they will respond, “what do you want?” when you come speak to them individually, but they will be surprised when you don’t have an ulterior motive. This will make them realize you are different than other managers they had before.

Step 4: Adapt your communication. People of different generations communicate differently.  While we are comfortable with emailing someone, receiving a text message response and then calling to confirm things regarding a single issue, older workers often are not.  Make sure that you learn how your employees like to communicate and utilize that medium to converse with them.  Generally face-to-face communication is best (although our generation is used to leveraging technology more); however this is not always possible.

Step 5: Ask their opinion. This step is the most difficult and is constantly overlooked.  Generally, when an older employee has a younger manager they feel threatened (think of Dennis Quaid’s character in the movie In Good Company).  They have a desire to feel valued and that their opinion is important.  During performance discussions, as your employee what they think of your performance as a manager. You will get great feedback.  When it comes to decisions that affect the team, get their input and do what you can to implement ideas shared.  When it is not possible to get input, tell them. Also, any time you need to direct the team to do something, remember to tell them whySaying “because I said so” only works when you are a parent, not when you are a boss.

From my experience, after incorporating these 5 steps, the “age” thing was no longer an issue.  In reality, I encounter more problems with people around my age. An employee around the same age feels like he can get away with doing whatever he wants, so he pushes for us to be “friends” (to break down the responsibility I have as a manager).  The best solution is to meet the issue head-on and let him know what your role as a manager is. Make it clear that you are going to treat him the same as everyone else.

Whether older, younger or the same age, managing people can be a challenge. Perfecting this skill is important, however, because your ultimate success in business is not what you can do, but what you can get others to do.




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Senior Year In The “Real World”

Here is an article that was recently published on the Personal Branding Blogof which I am a contributor to…


For those who remember the good old days when we were still in school…

Freshman year is when you are just getting acclimated. Sophomore year, you start to figure things out and gain some confidence. Junior year is about hitting your stride and performing well, and then senior year is about planning for the next step. In High School this next step is applying for and deciding on the college you are going to and in college it is interviewing for and selecting your job. But what happens during your senior year of the “real world?”

The real world

We have been programmed to think in these 4 year cycles, and so it is natural to get a bit antsy about the job you are in, and the career track you are taking around 3-4 years post graduation.  For many, this is when they take the GRE, GMAT or another standardized test and head off to graduate school.  This may be right for some, but just because this feeling comes over you does not mean it is time to quit your current job to join the Peace Corp or head back to school. Use the onset of this feeling as an opportunity to reflect and evaluate.  Keep in mind, though, that it is ok to determine that your “current path” is still the right one. 

In the process of investigating this trend, I interviewed young professionals who reached senior year of the “real world,” and 4 years after graduating took the opportunity to refine their career paths. They shared some key insights into the types of challenges they faced and what they have done to be successful thus far in their careers.

Insights of seniors of the “real world”

One young professional, whom I will call Steve, worked in professional services and decided to go back to get a masters degree.  The other, whom I will call Wendy, has worked in public relations and advertising, and changed companies around the 3-4 year mark.

Steve noted that his biggest challenges in the corporate world were, “not getting bored or complacent [and] deriving pleasure from the work that [he did].” This is something we all struggle with.  Often times, it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel for some of our tedious day-to-day job responsibilities. Moreover our bosses often do not explain the importance of the role that we have, so it feels like our contribution is lost in the shuffle.

Wendy’s challenges related to the stark differences between school and work.  “Understanding the completely new lessons that were never taught to you in college [and] that personal relationships matter more than an objective evaluation of your work” were both major challenges she encountered. In corporate environments the person with the best “grades” (i.e. highest quality work) does not always get the largest raise or the biggest promotion.

When it came to preparation for the corporate world each had very different responses. When asked if she was taught in school how to be successful at work Wendy replied, “no, definitely not. College taught you facts, studies, the concept of academia, and it encouraged learning for learning sake… but no one ever sits down with you and says, here’s how the working world works.”  Steve, on the other hand, expressed that “the interaction and team work with your peers and professors” was closely related to how work environments function.  While there is some crossover, there is ultimately a large gap between skills taught at school and skills necessary for career success.

The 4-year mark

No matter what career path you choose or how much you think college prepared you for the corporate world, a distinct change happens about 4 years after graduation.

Wendy elaborates, “I know I definitely got antsy at 4 years. I suddenly felt like I needed a big change and overhaul of my career to indicate some sort of progress. We’re so used to seeing an achievement or clear next step every 4 years that when you suddenly realize that you don’t have that kind of ladder anymore, it can seem incredibly frightening. The first 4 years were more like a whirlwind. I had no concept of time or balance. When you’re in school, everyone else is as well. You’re subjected to the same cycles of class/weekends/ studying/partying/midterms/finals. Once you’re out of school, these cycles are lost and I think most people continue searching for that type of relativity with their peers – therefore they seek schooling again or grow antsy to start a new chapter.”

Steve related this cycle to a progression of emotions ranging from, “excitement to being overwhelmed to struggling to enlightenment then empowerment, to complacence to boredom and finally to confusion… then back to excitement” when starting something new.

Please remember that these feelings are totally natural, and do not merit changing your name and moving to the woods or having to run back to the safe haven of a university when you feel them. As Steve appropriately states, “problems you encounter while working (including the feeling of needing to break away and do something new) aren’t as well-defined as they are in your textbook.  Get comfortable with ambiguity!

The other key to working through this cyclical feeling is to find variety in what you do. This variety may come at work (joining a committee or taking on a new project) but often it comes outside of work in the form of a community organization, a hobby or a side business.  Make sure to explore these before deciding on a drastic career change.

Most of all, remember that your career is not a sprint like a class you take for one semester, it’s a marathon made up of many cycles of varying lengths of time (often not in the 4 year increments we are used to). It is also normal to not have your career path and life figured out a couple years after graduation.  It takes time and can be a bumpy road. The key, as Wendy points out is to “be patient and most importantly – be self aware.” Understanding the feeling you get during senior year of the “real world” is the first step in ensuring you make the right choices build the right foundation for a wildly successful and fulfilling career.




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Sometimes A Great Brand Is Not Enough

Here is an article that was recently published on the Personal Branding Blogof which I am a contributor to…

As many of my fellow contributors have written, the personal brand you create is one of the most important determinants of your success both inside and outside of the workplace.

We have talked about how it takes time and many steps to build up a strong reputation (let alone the work that goes into maintaining it). There are many ways to get there, but ultimately it is a laborious (yet rewarding) task no matter what path you take.

Your brand can’t survive without results

All of this great advice aside, your personal brand is almost completely worthless without one thing; Results.

You may be very likable or have some unique skill or story that sets you apart from the rest, but without continual results to back up this “hype,” your brand isn’t all that valuable.

Anyone who has ever had a sales job before can relate to this. And for those that haven’t, sales is all about the business that you close. No matter how great your results were last year, last quarter or last month, it is all about the here and now.

You could be an incredible organizer, a keen communicator and a tenacious influencer, and it can be all for not without results.  Results is really the bridge between theoretical and practical. I have seen many sales people that have great sales skills. Being someone who understands (in theory) all the steps you need to close a sale, how to read your customer, and how to overcome obstacles does not always lead to getting the customer to sign on the dotted line. Getting results is about “walking the walk” (and not just “talking the talk”). In the realm of taking a picture, it is like setting up the perfect angle with the perfect shutter speed and lens, but producing a bad print. It is like creating a great set of ideas for your boss but then failing to present them well. It is about finishing the job and following through.

The key component is “continual”

In the workplace, there is a proliferation of the “what have you done for me lately” attitude. A job well done yesterday is forgotten in the midst of the deadlines and pressures of today.  While this can be hard to swallow at times, it is important for us to realize and adapt to this.

As I mentioned above, the key word in relating to driving results is “continual.” Getting results just once will rarely carry you forever. You need to show consistency.

The reason why continual strong results are so important is because of how fragile your brand is. We have all heard countless examples of people that were at the top of their games who crash and burn because of one mistake or because their ability to produce results dissipated. If you do well when you first get into a job or a role of leadership but the results taper off into terrible outcomes, then your brand will be tarnished. Moreover, as we have seen from the falls of the mighty, this negative mark always remains as a footnote (if not a headline) in the minds and records of others.

No matter how strong or well establish you are or how solid your brand is, I urge you to be mindful of the results you bring in. We are all allowed to have a bad day now and then, but if you let your focus and effort drop, you face a slippery slope. What begins as a little slip-up can cause significant reputation damage, causing you to have to rebuild what was once a strong personal brand all over again.




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