Friday, 29 August 2008

Seek to understand

In an interview some time ago while answering questions on leadership, an interviewee summed up his approach as, "seeking to understand before trying to be understood". This phrase made instant sense to me and it was clear how this individual had utilised it as part of his own career and leadership success.

I have come across this phrase a number of times since and in a variety of forms. Quite a few people claim authorship, others attribute it to well known books about the habits of successful people and some point to its roots in religious texts (if he is reading, Ben might be able to clarify for us here!).

Rather than its origins, its relevance in a career context is all in its meaning and practical application. Seeking to understand forces an individual to test their ambitions externally rather than basing them purely on internal assumptions.

Seeking to understand is also useful for the role it can play in identifying opportunities for career development and personal success. If you can understand their priorities and what an individual or a business needs, you are creating a broader context for your skills and experiences to be seen as relevant.

While it can never be the only component of a successful career plan or leadership career, seeking to understand is a simple and effective means of keeping your activity meaningful to you and those around you. The successful career of the interviewee who introduced me to the subject is a excellent example of that.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Interviewing is easy

Anyone telling you that interviewing is easy is probably not being entirely truthful about their experiences. But what makes interviewing difficult?

The interviewer holds all the aces for a start. He or she can ask almost anything they like and the burden of proof is on the interviewee to answer convincingly. I always seemed to be asked at least one question per interview that I wasn't expecting. A friend of mine was asked recently, "Why have you spent 8 years with your current company?". I am still trying to understand the logic behind that question as I write so would hate to think of my response during interview!

So how can interviewing be made easier? In my view, interviewing gets a lot easier when you know why you want to be there and how you are qualified for the job. When this is true, your answers no longer need to be precisely prepared because the subject matter is distinctly home turf. Answering questions that you have already given a great deal of thought to no longer feels awkward and the way you respond to the interviewer benefits as a result.

Successful interviewees are very comfortable being questioned. They have taken the time to understand what is important to them, what they are good at and what they would like to have more of in their careers. The foundations for interview success can sound simple but as interviewing proves to us time and again, simple questions don't always have easy answers.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Challenging and qualifying to lead

Challenging to lead is something any would-be leader has to commit themselves to. The decision to challenge for leadership roles can also be taken alone. Whatever your age, experience and industry, you could begin your challenge by promising yourself a leadership role and applying for jobs today. Qualifying to lead differs from challenging because it can not be done alone and without it a leadership challenge has very little hope of success.

Qualifying for a leadership position requires you to take into account something greater than ambition alone. For example, qualifying to lead in a manufacturing business might rely on specialist knowledge of the market or consumer opportunity. Although, it could just as easily be influenced through a relationship with the owners of the business and an understanding of the priorities as they see them.

The fact remains that there are many more challengers for leadership positions than qualifiers. It is also true that clear success indicators exist in most cases and knowledge of them can turn a leadership challenger into a qualifier.

Both challenging and qualifying are essential to the success of any would-be leader but, if challenging for leadership is your decision to enter the race, qualification is what will decide the result.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Back in the saddle

Whether you are returning to work after a break, restarting your job search or blogging again after neglecting your responsibilities in that area, the late summer period is a good time to reflect. A lot can be learned when you return from a break and how getting back to work makes you feel. You might be itching to get started or the prospect of returning might leave you cold. What matters most is not which of these extremes you feel or if you are somewhere more in the middle. The real opportunity after a break lies in questioning your reactions and how they contribute to your understanding of your values, talents and goals.

To use my example, I felt some trepidation after a longer than expected break from blogging in particular. I wasn't sure what my return would feel like and that made me nervous. Would I feel differently about my profession and this subject matter after a break? Would there be new opportunities to fuel the debate? After a busy week back in the saddle, writing this post especially has put these doubts to rest and my work feels just as good a fit as before.

One further event to report from my break. During a conversation on the subject of career planning I was asked if I thought the subject was 'wooly' (another way of saying it has little real value). It's a fair question because my previous experiences with career planning services have been mixed to say the least. My answer at the time was that I think there is genuine value to be had by defining a career direction through personal success. The challenge I added to this was that if a better way exists to manage a career, I would be keen to learn about it.

Thinking about this exchange after a little more time, it occurred to me that the search for a better way to manage your career was where the discussion on this blog began. As ever, conversations, direct challenges and questions like this are the best way to keep the subject moving and the prospect of more in the future makes it feel even better to be back!

Monday, 4 August 2008

Career leadership and Personal success

With a clearer idea of personal success any individual can exercise a greater degree of leadership over their career. Decision making and direction gain new, helpful reference points and situations become easier to recognise for the opportunities they present.

Examining what is important to us, what we are good at and what keeps us going (our values, talents and goals) helps us to understand our relationship with work. As they begin to take shape, our results also make it harder for external factors to separate us from the sources of our satisfaction. This remains true even during stressful career events like redundancy and unemployment.

For example, if delivering great customer service is important to you [and if you are good at it and you want to do more of it in the future] an event like redundancy does little to change this. Whatever the difficulties an event like this causes, your ability to deliver great service [and your desire to deliver more in the future] are not in any way diminished by it.

Of course, individual careers and the changes they must go through are more complicated than the above example but pursuing personal success can create leadership opportunities and does enable informed choice even in tough career situations.

[Thanks to everyone who has read and contributed to this blog over the last few months. There will be a short holiday break but posts should resume towards the end of next week. Enjoy your hols and all the best! Paul]

Friday, 1 August 2008

Career leadership: a question

As discussed in a previous post, career leadership is essentially taking responsibility for the direction of your career. In response to the Leadership post, I received the question, "If I am not leading my career, who is?"

A full answer to this question would vary from individual to individual but anyone asking it would benefit from looking at their work-related future for a moment and asking, "Where is my career going and how well has it progressed so far in that direction?"

If the answers don't come easy, think back to the last time you made a career decision. What influenced your choices at the time? Who else played a role in the decision making process? Were promises made regarding your future? How would you measure your progress since that decision was made?

If your answers prove that you know where your career is going, that you are happy with your career direction and your progress along it, there is a good chance you are already leading your career.

However, that does not make less conclusive answers a bad sign. By gathering this evidence you have taken important steps towards understanding and leading your career and towards creating new opportunities for personal success.

Enjoy the weekend ahead!