A few months ago I was invited to speak to a large, multinational gathering of ambitious millennial leaders. They were seeking any tidbit of enriching career advice and as the request unpretentiously read, “many are hoping to discover the elusive secret to success.” (Hmm… if I knew that secret I’d be peddling it on a 90’s-style late night infomercial for only $29.99/month and not giving it out for free. Forgive me, I’m a capitalist.)
First, I had to make sure they didn’t make a mistake and email the wrong person, but apparently, I was the intended recipient. I was humbled by the request and still can’t pinpoint the moment I went from slogging around in my own career to being asked for career advice. Anyway I accepted the invite…
One of the few dilemmas of success is that one typically doesn’t reflect on how it transpired. You embrace the moment, and dream of the future. However, in times of failure, retrospection becomes obsessive; and clarifies and defines the choices and events that led you there.
I did some prep, watched a couple TED talks, and the day arrives. The presentation was rolling along nicely when my rhythm was suddenly broken with one unsolicited question; “How is this advice any different from what we can Google?” (which translates to? “Is this a bunch of bullshit?”) Ugh! Just like that, I was called out.
I stopped and realized I wasn’t giving bad advice, but it wasn’t very personal. I was spewing those same clichés and adages that I see on LinkedIn everyday that annoy the hell out of me, and it was far from being meaningful. You know the types of overused phrases I’m referring to; “be humble,” “be authentic,” “pay it forward” and my new favorite, “find your true north.” (what the hell does that even mean?!) The audience was expecting relevant and hopefully, stimulating career advice, not a seminar on leadership traits. So I took a deep breath, re-calibrated, and spoke from my personal experiences; both in failure and success. I sure don’t have all the answers, but below are a few things I’ve learned throughout my own personal journey, and the type of honest career advice that I am proud to give.
1. Who you surround yourself with matters
Regardless if we like to admit it or not, we are directly and indirectly influenced by others; even the most free thinking of us. If you’re naturally a “glass half empty” type of person, should you really be surrounding yourself with other pessimists? Enthusiasm and optimism are contagious, but so is negativity and cynicism. Oh, one more thing about picking those who you surround yourself with; intelligence rubs off, but so does stupidity.
2. Establish and Define your brand
Your personal brand is your professional brand. Don’t be naive and think they are disparate. In today’s world of the digital footprint and social media, the two are indistinguishable. Also, remember… in the absence of creating and cultivating your own brand, someone else will; and perception becomes reality.
3. Timing is everything…literally
Nope, this isn’t about being at the right place at the right time. (That’s called luck and circumstance, and you need some of that too!). Schedule your most important meetings and interactions at 11:00 am every day. The ones where you need to be at your best. This is when most people reach peak cognition (which is the ability to engage in critical thinking) and optimal mental performance. Believe me, it makes a difference. (Obviously, if you get out of bed at 10:30 am, this doesn’t pertain to you)
4. Take Risks
The result of not taking risks in your career is that nothing changes; especially those things we want to see change. Taking a risk on anything is scary. Why are we afraid to take risks? It’s called negativity bias and it’s instinctual. This leads us to focus on the potential pain more than the potential good. Force yourself to envision the achievement, not the failure. It takes courage to take risks, but with great risk comes great reward.
5. Invest in yourself
You have to take accountability for your own career…from education to your wardrobe to your resume. Nobody should care about your career more, or invest more in your career, than you.
6. But you can’t do it alone!
I saved the most important piece for last. Everybody needs a little help. The people in your work life will undoubtedly impact your career (i.e. peers, subordinates, managers,) and if you want it to be a positive impact, you will absolutely need their support. That might be obvious, but how do you get it? What can you offer them?
Never forget what motivates people the most. Once you move past the superficial crap (i.e. money, titles, popularity), the vast majority of us want one thing…we want to feel like we matter. We want to feel what we do is recognized and appreciated. A common trait of authentic, successful leaders throughout their careers is their ability to make others around them feel valued and respected. The correlation between that behavior and their career achievements is no coincidence, and in my opinion, it’s the not-so-secret ingredient to success.
Based in New York, NY, Dave Kipe is the SVP – Global Operations at Scholastic. Previously, he was the Chief Operating Officer at ABCO, a nationally-recognized distributor of HVAC and refrigeration systems and supplies. Mr. Kipe has held executive and management roles with national B2B and B2C brands such as IKON Office Solutions, Gap, Inc. and Walmart. He currently serves as a Board Member with Sunnyside Community Services, and as a Transitioning Military Veteran Mentor with Veterati.