How long has it been – really – since you’ve given thought to the arc…
John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker LLC
So many books about careers have to do with choosing the “right one”. In a break from that pattern, “The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers” is more about making the most of the career you have. Making the right decisions can mean the different between a career that’s great, and one that’s extraordinary.
Authors, James A. Citrin and Richard A. Smith, are acknowledged leaders in the search firm, Spencer Stuart. The book is distilled from interviews and surveys of extraordinary executives conducted across industry boundaries. While the examples they cite are more often from large corporations, the patterns they write about are just as appropriate for the BV professional in a smaller practice.
Each of the 5 “patterns” is addressed in a separate chapter. Citrin and Smith use the careers of often well-known executives to illustrate their points.
The first pattern is about understanding the “value of you”. People with extraordinary careers have grasped how it is that value is created in the organization where they’re employed. They manage their careers according to this value chain. The authors reinforce the obvious point that “value” goes well beyond mere compensation. They make an interesting distinction between the
”potential promotion” and the “experiential promotion”. The former happens when you’re given an opportunity to do a job you’ve never done before. The latter more often involves a change of employer who is investing in you in the belief that because you have done something successfully before, you are likely to be able to do it again. Knowing the difference, and taking the best advantage of each, is important to a strong career path.
The authors also discuss the three phases of your career value: the Promise Phase, where employers hire you for your perceived, or potential, value; the Momentum Phase where you convert your potential value to experiential value as you master functional skills, develop a track record and take on broader responsibilities; and the Harvest Phase where you begin to reap the seeds you have sewn in earlier years.
Their second pattern is practicing “benevolent leadership”. This pattern, they say, is rooted in this vital element: Extraordinary success is achieved by making those around you successful. Benevolent leaders are those whose primary agenda is team success. Benevolent leadership can increase the likelihood that you will be promoted by helping you avoid the limiting consequences of becoming “indispensable” in your current role.
Ironically, one of their recommendations is to “Lead, Follow and Get Out of the Way”. Being a “leader” is what most professionals aspire to. Being a “follower” can be a bigger challenge. According to the authors, “the best leaders know what they don’t know and have the self-confidence to truly listen to and empower the very best players”. And, “getting out of the way” (delegation) is critical to career progression. They stress, however, that delegation is not the same as abdication. Effective delegation requires observation to ensure things are on track, holding people accountable for results, and taking corrective action when commitments are not met.
The third pattern discerned in the careers of top executives is overcoming the “permission paradox”. The authors address the big Catch-22: You can’t get the job without the experience, and you can’t get the experience without the job. This phenomenon applies not only to getting started, but to climbing the ladder afterwards. One answer, they suggest, is to note that big problems often mean big opportunities. In other words, when you’re looking for an opportunity to “show your stuff” look in the distressed parts of the organization. A given situation may require you to “masquerade” as the leader in the sense that doing the things you would do if you had the specific authority allows others to assume you have the permission.
The fourth pattern the authors reported from their review of extraordinary executive careers is the effective use of “the 20/80 principle of performance”. Most people know of the observation that in many situations it’s the first 20 percent of the effort that contributes 80 percent of the benefit. The lesson is: The quality of your impact often matters much more than the quantity of your activities. The same principle applies to your career, the authors assert. As a result of their study, they estimated that “nearly 80 percent of effort and resources are spent achieving the predefined objectives set by a boss. But what really allows the extraordinary executives to separate themselves from the pack is where they focus the remaining 20 percent that can be used at their discretion.”
Being effective with this principle requires understanding what really creates value in your practice. Knowing this, you can focus on those things that will create differentiated impact. Citrin and Smith are clear that breakthrough thinking must also play a role in enabling you to deliver unexpected impact.
The fifth pattern revolves around “finding the right fit”. The authors extend “right fit” to include strengths, passions and people. The extraordinary career, in other words, means that you:
- Play to your strengths
- Set your passions free
- Fit in naturally and comfortably with your work culture
A key part of this effort happens as you evaluate career opportunities. Three things always come into play: job satisfaction, lifestyle and compensation. Job satisfaction has to do with the quality of the job itself, the quality of your co-workers, the organizational culture, professional development opportunities and intellectual stimulation. Lifestyle has to do with raw hours required, along with the level of autonomy you enjoy and things like commute time, travel, weekend work and amount of vacation time. Compensation is your paycheck, your employee benefits and any bonus.
One out of three is common. Two out of three is challenging but not insurmountable. Three out of three is extremely difficult. It’s still a good exercise, they suggest, to put major career decisions through the sieve of the three factors. As always, trade-offs are to be expected.
Not content to focus only on the employee, Citrin and Smith have included a chapter that reviews the patterns they perceive in extraordinary organizations. They add prescriptions in the form of imperatives for organizations striving to be extraordinary. They also offer a prescription for career transition in a special section they title The Spencer Stuart Job Survival Guide. This section operates as a how-to manual.
Even after all their advice, they admit, “true success and satisfaction are goals that need to be defined by each of us in a way that is consistent with our own aspirations and values.”
“5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers” is published by Crown Business, and is available from most on-line booksellers.