I recently finished reading a powerful book called ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership’ which is a follow up to the number one best selling book ‘Extreme Ownership’ by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. The authors who happen to be highly decorated Navy SEALS share their inspiring and at times scary tales on the battlefield, relating how those experiences blend with real world business and board room leadership challenges.
The book ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership’ struck a cord with me as I’ve struggled over the years with the balancing act which takes place in leadership. This balancing act, or dichotomy, is an ever present daily tug of war often between two extremes which are intrinsically linked yet incredibly challenging to consistently toe the line successfully.
Dichotomy itself is an interesting word rife with conflict. Dichotomy is defined as a contrast between two things that are, or are represented as being, opposed or entirely different. (ie – in leadership there is the push and pull of how friendly you become with your employees – too friendly and you lose their respect and or ability to make tough decisions, whereas not being friendly enough alienates you as a leader and keeps you from knowing your people)
As I’m reading this book one of the dichotomies the authors spoke about which is a consistent challenge for leaders is the contrast between leading and following. There’s a strong misconception in the world of leadership which aligns with the idea that if you’re in a leadership role you must always be leading. Decisions should be made by those in leadership, strategies engineered and dreamed up by those in leadership. This of course is an ego-centric mentality and quite frankly one which is incredibly out of date in todays’ business world. Yet this same idea, leaders must always be leading, permeates every facet of business in most companies we encounter on a daily basis.
My awakening as a result of this book came about as a result of my own shortcomings, and yes ego, as a leader. I too thought, “As a leader it’s up to me to decide the direction we’re taking and therefore the decisions we’re making.” Unfortunately this thought process is incredibly short sided.
The true nature of a good leader, as the book artfully describes, is a person who understands they can be in a leadership role and simultaneously lead while following. Sounds strange at first yet it’s possible, more importantly it’s highly impactful in an organization. The act of a leader willingly following sends a powerful message to the leaders team and company that they are out to do what is best and necessary for the greater good, not just themselves as the leader.
Here’s how following as a leader plays out.
A CEO of XYZ company has a tough decision to make when it comes to the direction of her company and the potential new markets they’re looking to develop. Traditional leadership has dictated the senior most person, often times the CEO, makes the decisions for the company. They may collect information from their subordinates on options or alternatives to consider however the senior most leader is the one to make the decision based on as their position and respective authority demands they be the one to blaze the path forward.
However, a leader who possesses the ability to balance the dichotomy of leading and following can recognize that while they are in a leadership seat it doesn’t mean they always must be leading. Sometimes following can produce more impactful results. It also means these leaders are able to recognize their ego and set it aside for the betterment of the company.
Going back to our CEO of XYZ company, as she’s considering where to take the company into the future she may get advice from an employee in the company which provides a great opportunity for growth and future success. Leaders who are successful in balancing leading and following would then lean on that employee to drive said initiative recognizing what’s important isn’t where the good idea comes from just that it is implemented successfully. Our leader, rather than leading, makes a conscious decision to follow and allows the employee to step up with their idea and help lead the company through it. They empower the other person while giving them an opportunity to shine. The leader, in this case our CEO, allows their employee to receive the credit for the idea while also helping them to get it up and running. Our CEO is now following and doing so because they know this decision is what is best for the business.
Key Take Away:
One of the most challenging things to balance as a leader is knowing when to lead versus when to following. Leaders who lead all the time lose sight of what is best for their company while also struggling with humility to give others the opportunity to shine. When we step aside and follow as a leader we encourage others to deploy their ideas while creating a vacuum for our employees and peers to step up, offer suggestions while increasing their likelihood to take additional ownership in their work. Leaders must recognize their ego drives many of their decisions and actions, one of the best decisions we can make is acknowledge our ego and set it aside to make room for others to take the wheel while we encourage them to do so.
If you struggle with the balancing act which comes with leadership, in particular the area of ‘leading versus following’ I highly suggest picking up the book ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership’ by Willink and Babin. The nuggets of knowledge, insight and real world practical examples these two authors share more than once will open your eyes to new and alternative approaches to successful leadership.
Are you an effective leader?
If you answered ‘Yes’, how did you come to that conclusion? Did you base your answer off your company financial performance, goal achievement track record or your wonderful employee morale? What if Peter Drucker himself had an opportunity to review your leadership work, do you think he would come to the same conclusion?
If by chance you are new to the philosophies and teachings of Peter Drucker I highly suggest taking some time to familiarize yourself with his works. Short and sweet – Drucker is considered the godfather of business leadership and is responsible for much of what we know today on how effective leaders work and operate. His works redefined leadership through the 60s, 70s and 80s and we still refer to his teaching on the daily today.
What makes for an effective leader? Let’s ask Drucker himself. ‘The Effective Executive’, a leadership book for the times and originally published in 1967, provides eye opening insight on exceptional leadership in ways which broke the mold back then and continue to do so today. ‘The Effective Executive’ provides a straight forward, simplistic guide to “getting the right things done” for people in a leadership capacity. What I found amazing about this book is how relevant and simplistic Drucker’s advice is, even for today’s purposes 52 years later in a business world that is far different from when these thoughts were put to paper.
So, what is it then that makes for an effective leader?
All too often I find people enjoy making the topic of leadership how-to’s overly complicated. Maybe they do that to sell more books or to justify their new and insightful leadership methodology. For me, I’ve found the more simplistic something is the better chance I have in understanding it, implementing it and continuing to act on it as a new habit.
Drucker’s approach to leadership success and effectiveness is simplicity at its best. He identifies the following five core competencies successful leaders should have as a part of the fabric that guides them through their daily work:
Humbly, I’d like to offer up a 6th leadership core competency to add to Drucker’s list:
While this list may seem incredibly simple, I can tell you from personal experience it’s anything but that. Often times the most simplistic things in life can be the most difficult to master. Why? Because it takes discipline. Though these concepts may be easy to understand, the difficultly comes in the form of holding oneself accountable to doing it above all other things. That’s the tough part!
“Intelligence, imagination and knowledge are essential resources [for a leader], but only effectiveness converts them into results.” – Peter Drucker
Being disciplined to doing the right thing at the right time is certainly easier said than done. So much so that Drucker identifies that the number one reason for leadership failure is the inability or willingness to change with the demands of and expectations of the new job.
Key Take Away:
The leaders’ who are willing to change and adapt while being disciplined to doing the right things at the right time are the ones that will be the most effective.
Read Drucker’s book ‘The Effective Executive’. Regardless of your job title the insight you’ll gain from his timeless approaches to leadership is worth every minute you spend reading it.
Twice in my career I've been in a slump.
Statistically I'm not sure where that puts me in comparison to others having to do with 'career slumps' however I can openly and honestly admit those two experiences were incredibly challenging and equally as eye opening in my personal and professional development.
What is a career slump?
It can be a lot of things. A career slump can be a period marked with stagnation, little to no growth, periods of failure, challenges with our mindset and passion to succeed. Career slumps are all of these things and perhaps none of them at the same time, it just depends on your situation. A career slump could include mediocrity, boredom for extended periods. Lack luster attitudes and or a general malaise where we 'mail it in' on the daily. These are characteristics of a career slump.
What I've learned from my two career slump experiences was it was near impossible to get out of it until I understood what got me there in the first place.
I'm nervous talking about this. Being vulnerable on a stage like social media isn't necessarily an enjoyable walk in the park yet I've learned that many others share my same struggles so I choose to offer my experiences in the hope that it helps others. Sharing also helps me understand myself better and become more confident with who I am, what I'm capable of and what my 'why' is for doing what I do.
There, right there. That's the answer! Getting out of a career slump isn't some magical experience or event that gets you back on track, its sharing and talking about what you're experiencing, how you're feeling emotionally and being aware of how that's impacting you and your career. Whether we want to admit it or not all of us at one point or another will experience a career slump. No one is perfect and times of strife in this life, more accurately our careers, are inevitable.
The key is to dealing with a career slump is acknowledging it, accepting that it’s real then acting to change it. Similar to the psychiatric process called the ‘five stages of grief’ how we handle dealing with a career slump is a process of admittance, understanding and then action. It's a lot of soul seeking and working through your feelings to try and understand your mindset and what brought you to your present place.
Here's what has worked for me:
1. ADMIT: Recognize and admit things aren't great. Say it out loud.
2. PRESENT STATE: Ask yourself how you feel in this moment. Write it down.
3. EVENTS: Trace back the last 6 months to a year and unwind your experiences, successes, struggles to understand the chain of events which brought you to your career slump
4. DIGEST: Sit on this information for a couple days. How does it make you feel? Do you now know why you're in a slump?
5. SHARE: Go find two people to talk with. Share with them your situation and present feelings on the matter. (I know...this is a lot of talk about feelings and emotions. Sounds awful, right. The quicker you can get beyond that the quicker you'll find yourself on the road to confident successful empowered you)
6. KEEP GOING: Keep sharing your experience with people. The more the better. You'll begin to notice the more you talk about it the better you feel and more accepting you are of the situation.
7. TRANSITION: Now that you know what's going on start out every day with 20 minutes of mindset activities to get you on the road to a positive you (workout, yoga, meditate, do your favorite activity, listen to music, sit in silence, etc.) It’s all about cultivating a positive mindset which drives who you are and your actions for the day in front of you.
8. ACT: commit to yourself that the experiences you had leading up to your career slump don’t define who you are. In fact, they make you better! Now is when we need to make some changes to our career. Implement a new office schedule, get rid of work if you’re overloaded, take on a new project to get yourself out of your comfort zone. Maybe you need to find a new job! Whatever it is, the new you, the new focus must be different than what you were doing the past month.
If we change nothing about our actions and mindset we’ll continue to be who we were during the slump.
This eight step process doesn’t happen immediately but you'll begin to notice a change in your overall outlook and mindset after a couple weeks of this. Keep it up, don’t falter. As positivity and empowerment come back into your life so too will your energy to kick ass and take names in your career.
For many Americans career progression is as important to them as the air they breathe. When we’re at a point in our careers where we’re looking for the next best thing or a new challenge often times it means taking into consideration a management role.
To be successful in management, or leadership for that matter, it requires a completely different set of skills which are typically very different than the skills which were needed to be successful in a staff level role. When we are a staff employee, meaning we don’t have any direct reports, our focus is to ensure we do the best individual job possible. Regardless if we’re a part of a team or not, when we’re a staff employee we really have one main concern – make sure our butts are protected by doing a great job.
Being in a management role is very different. While it’s important the manager does a good job, she is also responsible for a number of direct reports and therefore is responsible for their contributions as well. It can be a lot to shoulder if you aren’t prepared for it. Next week we’ll be talking about this in great detail at an Orange County, CA based medtech event where women will share their stories of leadership and how they got to where they are today. These stories are invaluable to understanding our own situation and potential career changes.
The transition to management can either be a dream come true or a living nightmare. Regardless of which camp you may be in it’s important to consider two things before you make the decision to throw your hat in the ring for the next management opportunity:
What the statistic above from HBR and Gallup tells us is that it’s incredibly tough to make a good decision on who will be successful in a leadership role. While the decision to hire or promote someone into a management role ultimate rests with the company, what happens thereafter is largely attributed to the individual in the role. Let’s make no mistake about it, a move from staff level to management can be an incredibly rewarding opportunity but to be successful in the new venture you need to know beforehand if you’ve got the foundation for what it takes to be successful leading others.
Before you consider a career in management think about how you deal with these five foundational leadership questions:
1.Do You Genuinely Care About Other People?
I’m going to take a hard stance here and simply say if you don’t care about others and aren’t willing to put others before yourself you’ll never be truly successful in leadership. I choose the word ‘never’ because you may see some success early on however in the long run a lack of genuine care for the people will always bring about challenges which are near impossible to overcome. The best leaders out there, regardless of their titles or the size of the company they work for, view leadership as an act of service and truly care about the wellbeing of their employees. “Leaders eat last.” – Simon Sinek
2.How will you handle ‘The Technician Syndrome’?
This is particularly important for people in a technical capacity to consider. The word ‘technician’ refers to a person who is in an individual contributor role focusing on hands-on work. When you make a transition into management you are stepping away from some or most of your daily technical hands on duties. There are some exceptions to this, for example if you work for a start-up or small company and are a ‘working executive’, however most of the time management roles focus their time and energy on their people and a strategy for getting work done. People who have technical backgrounds tend to struggle with this change as often times their original passion which has guided them to this point in their career was focused on being hands-on in their role, creating, building or testing things. (a Mechanical Engineer that designs new products)
3.Are You An Influencer or a Dictator?
What is your natural working style when you are in situations where you are working with others? Do you have a tendency to listen, support and coach or are you the type that would rather just tell people what to do? Successful leaders do more listening than they do talking. They understand the importance of giving their people an opportunity to contribute ideas, take risks, do things their own way, etc. Managers that don’t do this have a hard time motivating their employees as they view their employees as workers who are to be told what to do, when to do and how to do their work.
4.Can You Delegate?
Can you give someone else an opportunity to take on a project or work? Are you able to allow someone else the chance to take the spot light and recognition? Do you trust others to get the job done? These are all important questions which tie into delegation. Successful leaders delegate frequently because they know firsthand that it isn’t wise or feasible for them to do everything. Delegation also has a unique outcome which communicates trust and ownership to your employees whereas not delegating sends the exact opposite signal.
5.Are You Willing to be a Shrink?
It’s not the prettiest part of the job but a consideration nonetheless. A very real part of management is dealing with people problems, like a shrink would, and working constantly in conflict resolution. This aspect of the job often sends people screaming for the hills as dealing with people problems can be challenging and often viewed as a waste of time in the corporate world. Successful leaders view the people interaction part of the job as an opportunity for improving themselves and their employees while further developing a deeper relationship. They look forward to the moments to learn from, listen, coach and guide their employees. They do this because they genuinely care about the welfare of their employees both at work and home.
Key Take Away:
Successful leaders all have one thing in common – they genuinely care about others, especially the people who work for them. As a result, they utilize a servant leader mindset, operating side by side their teams leading through both words AND actions.
Perhaps you’re struggling to get in touch with how you feel about leadership and your own capabilities. If so, find 2-3 people and interview them. Ask them for their opinion and thoughts on how they think you would be as a leader. Would you be successful in their eyes? What blind spots or areas of improvement would you need to make in order to be successful leading others? Once you have an idea for how others perceive you and the areas you potentially are good at and or struggle at you’ll have a better appreciation for how you would show up in the role. From there it’s always good to read a couple leadership books to further understand if this career move is best for you. Try out ‘Go-Giver’ by Bob Burg and John Mann or ‘True North’ by Bill George and Peter Sims.
As we grow in our profession, we naturally pick up things here and there which aid us in operating as a professional. These little nuances of professional life often times can’t be learned in a class room setting or text book, especially when it comes to behavioral tips like how to handle yourself in certain situations, shaking hands and introducing yourself at a networking event, overcoming challenges, etc.
Over the course of my career one of the best sources for information and perspective have come through mentors. I’ve been blessed to have four (4) mentors throughout my adult life, each of them providing a different perspective and approach that I’ve been able to utilize to craft my own personal style of ‘me’. For what it’s worth, I’m grateful beyond words to these four people for instilling in me valuable lessons about life, family, work and relationships.
Through these relationships I’ve learned a vital lesson that I will carry with me throughout my career, which is:
The only person responsible for your career is YOU.
Each one of my mentors have preached this lesson, using their own approach to reinstate the fact that we [you and I] are ultimately in charge of our own careers. No one else. Not our parents, not our teachers and certainly not our bosses. It’s a universal truth I’ve tested now dozens of times and I still get the same outcome – it’s up to us, not them.
When we develop a mindset of self accountability we learn that it is in fact up to us [you] to drive our careers in the direction we want them to head.
When people aren’t responsible for their own careers it shows up sounding like the following excuses: “my boss didn’t do anything for me”, “that’s not my job responsibility”, “I didn’t know I could do that”, “no one told me that was possible”, “that mistake wasn’t my fault” and on and on.
Casting aside the multitude of excuses we can drum up, once we learn it’s our ultimate responsibility to drive our careers it then becomes easier to ask for help while navigating the many facets of a career. Once we ask for help and start getting it we remain in the drivers seat asking questions, following up and initiating conversation. As a result we take responsibility for the outcomes. What comes from this type of mindset and approach is an increasing attitude and desire to improve, learn and grow.
Key Take Away:
Asking for help and guidance is a big step. It means you want to improve yourself, congrats as you’re already ahead of many people around you. When you ask for help from someone, whether that be a mentor, boss, teacher, friend, it’s up to you to drive that interaction. It is your responsibility to drive the communication, follow up and request for direction. Don’t sit back and wait for that person to do the work. They are there strictly as advisors to give feedback and perspective, you must put in the time and effort.
Spend some time in a quiet place thinking about your own career and how you’ve gotten to where you are. Happy with the present circumstances? If you still have more you want to achieve go get yourself a mentor asap. A good place to start is www.micromentor.org. It’s a free service, one I wholeheartedly endorse.
There’s one thing which has a direct impact to the success a business experiences throughout the year – hiring. Do it right, you’ll probably have a good year. Do it wrong, well, let’s just say you’ll quickly find yourself heading down crap creek without a paddle.
Hiring is an art and a science combine. It’s a tricky process, so much so Harvard Business Review cited 80% of employee turnover is due to bad hiring decisions. Failing to hire the right people can also have a big impact to the company’s financials. According to Dice, an online job board, poor hiring decisions for employees earning $100,000 annually lead to an average cost of $250,000. Basically, if the hiring decision you make ends poorly you can expect that mistake to represent 2.5 times the cost of whatever the salary of the person is you are hired. If they’re at an executive level the cost is even higher.
Long and short, your ability to make the right hiring decisions in 2019 will be crucial to the success of your business, your fellow employees, your newly hired employees and your own career.
Approaching the hiring process with a strategic game plan allows us to increase our chances of successful hiring exponentially while overcoming fears and apprehension along the way. Previously I had shared in another article 15 hiring tips to find the best employees. 15 is a lot, who’s got time for that many tips! Therefore, I’ve summarized it to the top 7 most tips you need to take into consideration when hiring. For the full article and descriptions of each of these tips click here.
Looking to hire successfully in 2019 Follow these seven tips:
1. Know & Share Your WHY
2. Know What You Want Before You Interview
3. Know Your Non-Negotiables
4. Hire Character Over Competency
5. Share Your Leadership Philosophy
6. Ensure Your Interview Process & Collaborators Are Tight & Timely
7. Challenge Your Own Mindset
How often do you hear someone say “I’m going to be (or am at present) great at my job”, yet when you begin to peel back the onion we learn the difference between being great professionally in the spoken word is often VERY different than being great in action and execution.
Why is this? For starters, it’s easy to say we want to be great in our career, achieving success along the way. Make lots of money, have the prestigious title, corner office and be free in all sense of the word.
What isn’t so easy or talked about enough is what it actually takes to be successful in a career. It’s also worth noting that success can be very different from one person to the next.
Behind the scenes, successful careers always have three things in common:
1. failure and set backs
2. strong work ethic
The reason why there is a discrepancy between the ‘talk and action’ paradigm to a successful career is it just isn’t easy to be successful. If it was easy to be great in your career, reaching monumental levels, everyone would do it. Yet, the reality is not everyone is interested in putting in that kind of work ethic or commitment, regardless of what their mouths may say.
Of the three commonalities which make up a successful career the one I’ve found to be most influential is #3: SUPPORT. Most people who have reached success in their career will tell you they didn’t do it alone; what is common is to hear these people talk about others who have influenced them, guided them and been a shoulder to cry on during the hard times.
Want to become unstoppable in your career? Get a MENTOR!
No matter where you are in your career having a mentor is highly advisable as it can be the difference between you navigating the waters of a successful career versus drowning in the murky depths of the rat race. Mentors aren’t just strategic career advisers, they’re the professional voice of reason whispering notes of encouragement, big picture perspective and even accountability.
Mentors provide highly valuable insight and support to professionals of all ages, such as:
1. Business savvy
2. External perspective
3. Confidant (listener/ sounding board)
5. Comfort zone demolishers
Key Take Away: Mentors have the ability to guide you through the peaks and valleys of your career while providing you with insight that will help make important career-based decisions.
Action Item: Put together a list of the attributes you would like to get help with in your professional career and the ideal type of person that could help you with it. Check out www.micromentor.org for access to thousands of professionals interested in getting connected with you to help guide you on your professional journey. Micromentor is a non-profit organization that acts like an online dating service paring people who are interested in mentoring with people who need a mentor. I’ve been connected with a mentor now for almost 3 years and it was one of the best decisions I ever made in my professional career.
Have you found yourself saying ‘Yes’ to something at work and as you said it you wished you had said ‘No’?
This sound familiar:
Coworker: “Hey Jezebel, we’re starting a new project team to [insert mindless crap you don’t want to do] and we need an extra person. I know you’re swamped, it’s last minute and a bit outside your work but we could really use the help.”
Jezebel: [yes, this is you] “Oh I don’t know, I’m really busy with a lot of other projects. I’m in over my head already.”
Coworker: “C’mon, we really could use your help. We don’t have any other options and we can’t do it without you. Plus, you’re good at running projects. I’ll buy you lunch too!”
Jezebel: [still you] “Ughhh, okay fine. Just let me know when we’ll start.”
Coworker: “Right now.”
Let’s be honest here – this has happened to all of us at one point or another, and I’ve been Jezebel on more occasions than I’d care to admit. So why do we have such a hard time saying no at work?
Here’s are the nine most common reasons why we say yes at work when no is what we’re screaming from the mountain tops, silently in our heads of course:
Saying yes when you really want to say no is indeed a problem. According to the Harvard Business Review many of us say yes to avoid conflict at the office. When we experience this it leaves us deflated, frustrated and stressed. It can also lead to resentment between coworkers and an unhealthy work environment. Sounds fantastic!
So how do we go about saying no while doing so professionally and politely?
Dr. Travis Bradley, author of the best-selling book ‘Emotional Intelligence 2.0’ and contributor for Forbes Magazine, summarizes the art of saying no beautifully in 5 steps:
When we say no our “ability to communicate ‘no’ really reflects you’re in the drivers seat of your own life. It gives you a sense of empowerment.” – Vanessa Patrick, Prof at University of Houston
In theory this sounds fantastic. It’s a new sense of self. We’re walking tall and not going to take crap from no one. We’re almost begging for an opportunity to show off our new ‘No’ skills. Before you go off dodging and ducking everything that comes your way at the office make sure you keep in mind two things before you consider a ‘No’:
If the answer to either of these questions is yes be sure to purposefully slow your decision making down and get introspective.
Making decisions about your career, involvement in work at the office, supporting your boss or other management and professional opportunities up for considered is no easy task. It’s rarely a black and white decision as moments like this love to play in the gray area. When you’re confronted with a tough decision and you feel like you want to say no quickly think about the two questions above, assess the situation then move forward with your answer. If ‘No’ is still the right choice be sure to follow Dr. Bradberry’s advice to ensure your no lands as best as possible with your audience.
How do you know the decisions you make for your career are the right ones to make?
On February 20th DeviceAlliance and UCI’s Division of Continuing Education will take aim at the in’s and out’s we face throughout our careers in an event called ‘Medical Device Career Navigation’.
While we are all very different as people in our behaviors and our mindsets it’s remarkable how those differences bond us in similarity.
Many of us will experience the same decisions throughout our career. Do we take the money or the training? Prestigious titles versus meaningful work? Take a step back to hopefully take two forward. Be my own boss or work for someone else? Stay the path of employee or seek opportunities in management? Or even leaving a career to begin anew.
The answers to these questions are never easy yet we are all faced them! In this, a powerful opportunity exists - learning from those who have been there before.
On the 20th of February in Irvine, CA the event ‘Medical Device Career Navigation’ will embark on a journey through the entire life cycle of a career from college graduate to retirement, and everything in between. Attendees will hear from experienced professionals who represent three career segments:
As we work our way through each career segment we will hear and learn first hand from professionals who have been there and done it before. We’ll discover the lessons they learned, decisions they made and outcomes they experienced along the way. We’ll learn from their stories and have opportunities to inquire about our own situations to collect feedback and direction.
During this event we will also discuss structured processes for decision making, like ACIP. ACIP, or Alternatives, Consequences, Information and Plans, is a process for collecting information and understanding our options BEFORE we make a decision.
Utilizing processes like ACIP and others which are similar can help improve your decision making process. Combine that with experienced anecdotes from people who have done it themselves and we have a recipe for improving our chances of making the best decisions for ourselves while reducing regret or heartache along the way.
Save the Date: Be sure to join DeviceAlliance and UCI’s Division of Continuing Education on February 20th, 2018 at 5:30PM for an evening of learning and discussion on ‘Medical Device Career Navigation’. Event details and RSVP click HERE.
In honor of Fathers’ Day yesterday I’m sharing a personal story which I’m incredibly proud of, as well as continuously inspired by.
Often I hear people say that by your late 40’s to early 50’s a professional has hit their zenith, their peak, pinnacle, apex, summit - if you will, in their career. Late 40’s? How can that be? At that age you’re only half way to retirement. What’s to become of the next 20 years?
I like to think that statistics like ‘hitting your peak in your late 40s’ is nothing other than just a data point. We only make it relevant if we live up to it.
Imagine this - at the age of 51, could you completely reinventing yourself professionally? Not because you have to but because you want too.
I know someone who did just this and it happens to be my father, Steve Smith.
After a tenured and very successful career in consumer products, “condoms to caskets” our family used to say, my father hit a pivotal point in his career. He had just exited a senior leadership position with a large multi-billion dollar company in 2008 and found himself in a predicament. He was looking for his next career step at the age of 51 and at the same time the economy was starting to come crashing down.
Needless to say it was a tough time back then. The uncertainty in this country was thicker than pea soup. We didn’t know which way was up or if the recent paycheck we received would be our last. As companies were closing down left and right someone I know took a bold stand and decided to open up a company.
Looking back at this point in my life I didn’t appreciate or quite frankly understand that moment in my fathers’ life. How he felt, the challenge of reinventing oneself, the stress of having a family to care for, etc. I just knew he was tough as nails, he’s always been a superhero in my eyes, and would figure it out. Worried, I was not.
And figure it out he did.
In the middle of the largest economic downturn of our lives my father chose to become an entrepreneur starting a business in executive and small business coaching. He vowed never to return to corporate America to work for another man/woman as this time he was working towards his own dreams under his own rules.
At the ripe and spry age of 51 he became an entrepreneur. He hustled; he got out and met with people 3-4 times a day. He shook hands and kissed babies, maybe not so much on the baby side but I’m telling you he worked hard. He outworked even me, someone at the time half his age. His determination and mindset was flawless, at least it was from the outside. What’s just as impressive is that our family, mainly my sister and I, never saw him sweat. He was starting a business from scratch, something he had not done before and was doing it with the poise of a statesman.
It didn’t come easy but sure enough my fathers’ business eventually started to grow. He leveraged relationships, made new ones, offered a niche service and delivered impeccable results. He kept his word and delivered the goods. Nothing in life comes easy or quick for that matter and my fathers’ story is no different.
Fast forward, both my sister and I are entrepreneurs who have started our own businesses from scratch following in our fathers’ footsteps. I must give my father credit because he showed our family that you can be successful and start a business from scratch, it just takes time, effort and the mindset to see it through. As a result I was encouraged to follow my own dream, just like my father did.
I’ve learned a lot from my father and the experience he went through some 10 years ago. I’ve learned that age is just a number. Your mindset is what will carry you through. I’ve also learned the importance of having a support system to help you along the way. That credit goes entirely to my mother who stuck by him and continues to do so today. Lastly, I learned that taking risks in life is important. If we constantly live saying ‘what if’ we run the chance of missing out on a lot of rewarding experiences. If we are going to make a bold step in life the best way to go about that is by giving all of ourselves to it. That’s a choice, one we can exercise freely.
Today my father, Steve Smith, runs a successful executive and small business coaching company. I see firsthand what he does for his clients and am continually amazed at what he’s doing to inspire, impact and develop other people not just professionally but also personally. As if that wasn’t enough he’s having fun doing it as he lives the American dream.
Honored. Humbled. Appreciated. Dad.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.