Life’s lessons can come from any number of sources, and this week I learned three valuable lessons from my kids that I have successfully applied to my job search.
First, “Do what you have to do first, then do what you want to do.” To be fair, this is a lesson that I teach often, but need to apply to myself more frequently. Over the weekend I installed several software upgrades as well as some new software. Back to back. Without rebooting after each install. I didn't want to wait. As you likely guessed, I blue-screened. It stopped my job search (and updates to this blog) dead in my tracks and had me scared half to death that I had lost my most recent client work efforts. Because I didn't take the time to load the new software properly, it took me over two extra days to re-do it the right way. Sometimes I learn from positive results, and sometimes with an ice pack on my forehead from banging it against the proverbial wall.
My second lesson hit me this morning as I was driving our kids to high school. They were reviewing and testing each other for a history exam and were discussing the merits and differences between Plato and Aristotle (actually a very interesting topic). I was struck by their differences on politics, specifically, on who should rule -- the upper class (patricians) or middle class (plebeians). Plato reasoned that only the educated elite should lead, while Aristotle felt that the middle class should govern because they can lead and follow, both from experience.
As leaders in IT, others look to us to, well, lead. But that is not all. Think of the traits of the best leaders in your own experience. For me, I looked up to and mimicked leaders who had worked in the trenches and who knew what it means to actually do the work the project plan called for. I also watched for those who could work effectively across the organization. And, most important for me, I looked for those who could teach me the lessons that their mentors taught them.
During my job search I have spent time reviewing the resumes of other leaders, and I see that pattern of leader/partner/follower again and again. This tenet of leadership applies in the commercial world just as readily as it does in the military. Similarly, I very frequently see position specs that call for individuals with proven successes as leaders, who team well with their peers, and who can follow strategic directives from the CEO once decisions have been made.
From this morning’s second lesson, then, I have learned that to succeed in my job search I need to be able to demonstrate that I can lead in my prospective employer’s organization, that I can play well with others and partner effectively with their team, and that I can follow my leaders. There are appropriate times for each, and a truly successful leader uses all of these to accomplish the strategic goals with which he or she is tasked.
My third lesson comes from an inside, family joke. Remember the old Claymation Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? (longest running Christmas special & back story). Last year my wife and kids gave me a T-shirt for Christmas with a picture of Rudolph and Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist. The T-shirt says, “Why don’t I fit in?!” It is one of my favorite shirts, and in fact I have it on as I type this entry today :-P
That phrase represents the third lesson I learned from my kids this week in my job search. Just as I have refined my search by industry, geography and organization, I also need to find a place where I fit in, where my personality and style meshes well with the corporate environment. Interviews aren’t just opportunities for prospective employers to size up my skills and experience. They are an opportunity for me to get a feel for their organization and corporate culture, as well.
In my interviews with the marketing software and services firm, their president and I agreed that my ability to do the job was not why we were meeting; we were meeting to see if we wanted to do the job together. My future employer needs to have the confidence that my prior successes represent skills that can be directly and successfully applied to their situation and their environment. I need to be equally confident that I can successfully perform for and work with my new boss, with my peers, and with my team to meet and even exceed our strategic goals.
I am applying all of these lessons as I move forward with my job search. Over the past week and a half several opportunities seem to be progressing:
* First, by applying my third lesson of the week (see above), I have decided not to pursue the satellite and systems integration defense contracting firm I noted in prior weeks. For several reasons I felt this would have been a misfit (pun intended).
* On the other hand, my consulting efforts for the Midwest defense firm are going well. This analysis and BPR (business process re-engineering) effort to redesign their inventory control processes is a prelude to the enterprise-wide improvements that are likely needed to their manufacturing, scheduling, and warehousing processes, as well as their accounting system. I will present my findings early next week, and our next steps will hinge on their decision to implement my recommendations. The opportunity to lead the transformation of this firm as it gains recognition, captures market share and grows is very exciting. While smaller than my targeted organization, their need for my business management skills (e.g., BPR, strategy, and client and vendor management) and my technology experience is an excellent win-win opportunity. I'll be able to deepen my business skills while leveraging my technical strengths as the company grows.
* My interviews with a leading global strategic consulting firm have progressed. I met with one of the decision makers, a partner with their advisory and strategic services practice, and we are scheduling my next interviews with other partners. I enjoyed partnering with this firm on several global projects in the past, and I like how their corporate culture encourages continuous learning and personal growth. Further, their international scope and industry-spanning practices present opportunities for future career flexibility.
* Similarly, my interviews with one of Homeland Security’s top contractors have continued, and we are discussing a possible meeting at their home office. Interestingly, this is an example of strategically focusing on and applying to a firm that you're highly interested in without applying to any specific position. Here, after learning more about their needs and demonstrating how my skills can be directly beneficial, our meetings are now identifying existing and new executive-level positions where I can make an impact. This firm would require my family to relocate to the East coast, but this opportunity has an exciting mix of IT leadership, business strategy, business development and client relations in a large and still growing firm.
* While the COO position for another IT defense contracting firm has already been filled, our conversations have continued. We're discussing other opportunities for me to work for them, including an immediate contract here in Chicago. Looking ahead, they are also considering my suggestion that we create a new Chicago-based Central Region office.
* The marketing software and services firm still has me as one of its top three candidates as it continues its evaluations.
It appears that the above opportunities are moving toward decision points. An ideal situation for me would be to have multiple simultaneous job offers. However, like any good business development plan, I’m continuing to keep my pipeline full with other opportunities in various stages of progress. As I remind my wife, since the lead times for landing executive positions tend towards months rather than weeks, and nothing is done until it’s signed, I need to keep attacking new opportunities just as hard as I did in the beginning.
[BTW, since someone asked, yes, my wife and I did get a chance to celebrate our delayed anniversary. While we still plan on getting away together for a long weekend once I land a new job, I gave my wife her favorite perfume over a great lunch date.]
Thanks again for all of your comments and ideas!