How Advice From Leaders Early In My Career Almost Derailed Me

There is no shortage of articles that share stories of all the amazing things that former bosses taught the writer.  Maybe your former boss taught you to be resilient, bold, careful, approachable or accurate.  Maybe they were successful leaders, or maybe they were only mediocre.  Either way, we tend to try to look for the silver lining when remembering those people that mentored us.  The flip side is looking at bad bosses and the impact they have.  Again, no shortage of articles on this topic.  My take today will have a little different spin.  I’d like to think back to good bosses that did impart some not-so-valuable nuggets along the way.

I spent the first years of my career working for some amazing companies that truly had brilliant leaders.  I do credit them for almost all of my good business habits.  However, there were a few times that they gave me advice that could have helped derail my career, had I listened.  Here are five things the Traditionalist and Boomer leaders taught me early in my career that I was smart enough to ignore.

  • Work as many hours as possible-  I can’t tell you how many times in my twenties that someone older told me to always arrive before the boss and leave after the boss.  I’m not sure why, but I listened.  At first.  Then, I realized that not only did this make me quite tired, it didn’t equate to better performance or results.  Not one leader ever mentioned that they noticed I was doing this.  So, early in my career, I decided to focus more energy on creating great work product instead of putting in time before/ after the boss’ hours.
  • OT is a badge of honor– Related to the concept of working early in the morning and late at night is the idea that by putting in a lot of OT, you’re doing well.  Let me be clear, OT is NOT a badge of honor.  Like before, I fell into this time tracking trap too.  My first couple years, I was logging 500- 600 hours of OT a year.  Now, as a salaried employee I was not getting pay for this, it was just an exercise to see if I worked more than 40 hours per week.  Again, once I realized that this did not yield better results, I stopped.  I began to adopt the theory that I would work as hard as I could to produce a great result, in whatever time frame that took.  Often, it’s not requiring OT.  Sometimes it does.  I think this approach has been a much healthier one for me and certainly led to me being more engaged at work and at home.
  • Drink if the leader or client drinks- Maybe this was a 90’s thing, but looking back, I can’t believe this advice.  Early in my career, I had several leaders who told me this.  They said that even if I didn’t drink the alcohol, to order it to be polite to the host or client.  Now, I have the stance that as an adult, you do what makes you comfortable.  Believe me, if a client wants a drink, that’s fine.  It doesn’t mean I have to order one just to look cool.  Same with a boss.  On the flip side, if I want to order one, I will.  It really depends on the setting, the situation, the people involved and my own mood.  The point is not to let colleague or boss peer pressure you into ordering alcohol.
  • Always wear professional clothing-  When I first received this advice, it was quite specific.  Those were the days when business suits reigned and specifically, a skirt suit for women.  I found that wearing suits usually made me feel stuffy and quite unnatural.  I know some people love them, and that’s great.  However, I’ve managed to have a successful career with my altered approach.  I recommend dressing for the occasion.  At times I addressed or worked with people in manufacturing settings, I would dress more casually.  If the situation was a group of highly professional business people, a nice dress and blazer tends to do the trick.  Either way, the point is that I am not smart or full of ideas because I wear a suit.  As long as clothes are clean and pressed, go with what makes you most comfortable. For me, this even means wearing jeans and dressing them up or down.
  • Don’t get too close with anyone at work–  The idea that HR is an island and we are “nobody’s friend” stuck with me for years.  This likely meant I missed out on some really great relationships in my lifetime.  But, I’m not bitter.  I have learned in the past few years that being myself (professional when needed, fun when it makes sense) is the best approach.  I don’t mind clients getting to know me personally.  Many know my kids and what my family likes to do in our free time.  In return, I like to know about them too.  I care about their families, their dreams, their challenges, their health.  They are friends and business partners.  It’s a much more human, caring way to work, and I love it!

As you can see, I’ve tried to adopt my own approach to my work style.  Had I followed all the advice given to me, I definitely would not be where I am today.  So what about you?  Have you worked with some great leaders who gave any bad advice?  What have you hung on to and what have you cast aside?  Tell me in the comments.

Career Path- What Is Your Next Step?

fork-in-the-road-2-pathsAre you happy with your career?  Are you working or have you been laid off?

I’m hear from more and more people as they examine their career future.  I’ve heard from those that wonder if they should stay in their current position or current company.  I hear from those who have been part of a recent layoff and are now deciding whether to stick with their career choice or try something new.  I also hear from people who were ready to retire but are rethinking that decision and wondering how to proceed.  And of course, there are recent college graduates who are finding it difficult to find work in the major they chose.  They too are examining career options for the future.

What is the right approach to identify the next step in your career path? The best way to see where you’re going is to look back where you’ve been.  I know I personally run at 100 m.p.h. most of the time and it is rare that I slow down and appreciate where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

Think back to when you first chose your career.  How did you decide what you wanted to do with your life?  Many people chose something they could be passionate about.  Even though it’s just a job, a means to an end, it’s was much more meaningful if you chose a career you were excited about.  As you look to the future, you should examine the steps you walked and what you learned so that you can use that knowledge to guide you to a new career.

  • Roles- What were the first roles you had in your career? Whether you were an intern, an apprentice, a generalist, a support staff, etc. the lessons learned during the early days of your career were very valuable.  It taught you how to interact with others.  It taught you about managing up.  About learning what the expectations were and how to exceed them.  It taught you about getting along with colleagues and how to fit in to the culture.  You were most likely a “do’er” during this time.  Absorbing everything new like a sponge.  As you explore career options, try to capture the enthusiasm of your youth when learning about the new career.  Be willing to be a “do’er” again.  Ask as many questions as you can.
  • Key influencers- Who were the people you looked up to when you first chose your career path? Were they instructors?  Neighbors?  Maybe a family member.  Bottom line is you found people you respected and decided you wanted to emulate them.  What steps did they take to pursue that particular career?  What special skills or education were needed to get the job?  Look around.  Who can help and influence you in your new career?  Use social media to meet professionals in your new field or industry.  Reach out.  Be open.  Learn from the “experts”.
  • Take aways- So what does this mean to you now? Is there a career you’ve always dreamed of having?  What are the steps you will need to take to embark on that career?  Is it an achievable goal?  Will you need more education?  A certification?  Will you need experience?

Deciding to journey down a new career path is a daunting decision; however, it can be even more rewarding than can be imagined. Have you ever taken a major turn in your career path?  What steps did you take that helped you select that career and get acclimated?  Share with us in the comments.

Smoking Is Good For You? Finding Information You Trust

What happens when someone you trust, maybe a manager, maybe a colleague, gives you inaccurate advice?  How do you know?  How is that trusting bond formed?  And, does it make a difference if that person unknowingly tells you inaccurate information?

I’m wondering if we get so comfortable accepting information from “trusted” sources that we sometimes forget to think for ourselves, to do our own research, and come up with our own conclusions.  If nothing else today, spend some time challenging yourself to think about some of the advice you’ve been given and then, think for yourself.

For a good example of how a trusted group of professionals could have given bad advice back in the day, check out the video clip.  It only takes a minute…

Holding Up The Mirror

I had an interesting conversation a couple weeks ago when I called in to the HR Happy Hour radio show.  The guest was Matthew Stillman, consultant and author of the Stillman Says blog.  His blog is the way he records his account of an experiment he started in April 2009 in Union Square in New York City.  He showed up with two chairs, one table and a sign that read”Creative Approaches to What You Have Been Thinking About” and a smaller one that read “Pay What You Like or Take What You Need”.  People wander by and sit down.  They talk with him about every topic imaginable.   The stories on the blog are fascinating and Matt’s creative recommendations and approaches are quite inspiring.

That said, I was a little skeptical.  After all, I am from Missouri, the “Show Me” state.

This particular night, Mr. Stillman was taking questions from callers on a wide array of topics.  He’d already dispensed advice regarding tattoo placement so I felt confident that if I called in with a parenting question, he would be able to use his creative solutions to point me in a new direction.  Fortunately for me, he did not disappoint.  The one thing I found to be almost disarming was his approach to my question about my daughter’s recent behavior.  He directed the focus of the questioning and conversation squarely back on me.

On ME.

At first, not worried about how she felt, what she heard, what she said.  But, on me.  Why I was reacting the way I was.  What did I think about that?  It was one of those “ah ha!” moments. Matt gave me some creative ideas and a couple books to read to help me approach my situation in a new way.  I’ve since purchased one of the books and am trying some new techniques with my daughter.  I can tell you that we’ve already noticed a change in her behavior with regard to being grateful for what she has.  This is no small feat since she is seven years old and quite self-absorbed at that age.

The bigger lesson I learned was that when someone comes to me for advice or to help think through a creative approach to a problem, I am far more likely now to focus the approach on that person.  On their behavior.  On their feelings about the situation.

It’s really interesting to have someone new hold the mirror up to you so that you can really see how to approach things in your home life or work life differently.  I encourage you to give the HR Happy Hour episode a listen.  Please click through to hear Matt Stillman’s approach.  It just may help you hold the mirror up too!

Does HR Discriminate Against the Disabled?

I don’t share many videos, but this one is definitely worth watching.  It’s proof that discrimination against the disabled exists and that there are HR and recruiting professionals that help perpetuate it.

I originally saw this posted on FaceBook by The Conference Board.  I was floored that instead of the HR professionals intervening and explaining that it is illegal and immoral to discriminate, they took a whole different approach.  Three different pros!  Unbelievable.  The Conference Board then asked the question, “Do you think these were just a few bad apples, or might many HR people and recruiters privately offer similar advice to companies?”

I am always an optimist and my gut tells me they are a few bad apples.  I’ve always had the opportunity to work with professionals who embrace employees with many different kinds of mental and physical disabilities.  In fact, the HR and recruiting professionals I’ve worked with and that I know are the kind of people who would be appalled at the video.  What do you think?  Are they bad apples, or do you think many HR and recruiting pros would offer similar advice?  Share in the comments.