There are two types of thought leaders in the world of business — “some are big ‘T’ Thought Leaders, the names we all recognize. Others are little ‘t’ thought leaders who reach their own niche market and do it all the time.”
That explanation comes from the researchers at RainToday.com, a global sales and training firm.
“A Thought Leader has passion plus market relevance and reach. For a business to thrive, it must have something authentic and valuable to offer, and without something spun from the passion you hold for your expertise… you can’t continue to teach others and sustain your business as a whole without developing an ongoing relationship with your market. One without the other just doesn’t work.” That is the central belief of a 195-plus page workbook they published to help executives understand thought leadership.
The respected thought leader executives — those with a great passion for how and what they do and who are constantly and effectively engaging the market — are a valuable commodity in the search of executive leadership talent. So, substitute the word business in the RainToday.com explanation with “my career.”
In this noisy world filled with many effective executives who produce great results each year, just doing a good job is not enough to differentiate yourself in the market. Becoming a thought leader is a highly effective way to help you stand out to future employers. However, if your career goal is not to progressively advance with more responsibility with a higher level of compensation to support your family and build a foundation for your eventual retirement, then you can stop reading. This will probably be a waste of your time. But those of you who have passion for what you do and who want to excel in terms of performance and through career and financial advancement, stick around.
I love what I do. I would not swap this job for anything else, and I have had some interesting gigs — from working as a crime writer and investigative reporter for a major Texas newspaper, serving as the first director of Hermann Hospital’s acclaimed Life Flight emergency helicopter transport program, to building a major not-for-profit healthcare system composed of more than 40 rural and community hospitals, and creating two search firms, this one cannot be beat. I have recruited in seven different countries on four continents. In one trip, I flew around the world in 28 days in search of nurses and physical and occupational therapists, with stops in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth Australia; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Amsterdam. Today, I am lucky to meet some of the most interesting people, many with interesting stories.
When friends and colleagues hear my story for the first time, they seem genuinely amazed. I get a lot of “what was it like” questions. I try to use my experiences to build a connection with them through explanations. These stories have helped me grow my firm.
While I do love what I do, there is a downside. I also meet talented executives who are interesting but you would not know it from how they present themselves, how they communicate. I have to try and drag it out of them in interviews. We work hard to grab some morsel of information that will help differentiate them from other candidates. Some have achieved great successes, personally and professionally, but it is as if they do not feel that information is relevant or interesting. The idea of weaving previous success or perhaps a wonderful defining personal moment into their narrative is not even close to being on their radar. They may make their boards happy through good performance but they are so not self aware.
It is frustrating and, in some cases, it saddens me; that I can sense there is something special but the candidate just cannot see the value and so they keep it buried. These people “are their own best partner, and worst enemy,” as the RainToday research on thought leadership explains.
That is probably why some executives who are in career transition shut me out when I explain that they need to elevate their professional standing within their field by writing, posting, speaking and networking more aggressively. To become a thought leader. For some, the reaction to this piece of advice is swift and negative, sometimes colorful. It is as if such activity is beneath the dignity of someone who runs a business.
I strongly disagree with that response.
The concept of thought leadership is one that interests me, and I want to share more on this excellent career management tool in future posts.
I invite you to join the conversation with your own thoughts.
© 2017 John Gregory Self
Dan was uneasy. Really uneasy.
About his work, about his family about his professional security.
He had just bought a new house after 5 years as a vice president with a local company. They had settled in nicely and everyone — his wife and kids — quickly made friends in the neighborhood. Speaking of the kids, Tina and Ricky seemed very happy in their new schools.
The new house was a big step up and to make the down payment, they had depleted most of their savings. Things seemed to be going well at work when they made the purchase so the risk seemed worth it. His last three performance reviews were very good and he received a raise and last year qualified for a nice bonus.
But then, things began to change.
The company hired a new senior executive and Dan’s team was realigned under his supervision.
What made this transition more unnerving was that he was excluded from the interview process. He had been traveling on business, however, that this significant change was a complete surprise sounded some alarm bells in Dan’s gut.
“Oh, I am sure everything will work out fine,” his boss said. We are bringing him in to shake things up but I am sure you will survive.”
Wow, the phrase “…but I am sure you will survive” was not only not reassuring, but Dan could not shake the overwhelming feeling of dread that flooded over him on his way home.
His company was in a small city. There were not that many jobs that paid as well as Dan’s position, so losing this job would probably mean a relocation.
Barely three months later, on a Friday afternoon, Dan was brought in to his new boss’s office. The Vice President of HR was there. Dan knew it was over.
He was terminated because “we want to go in a different direction.” Nothing was said, no other explanation. When he pushed for more information as to the “why”, he was told, again, “we are going in a different direction. I have another meeting. Margaret will explain your package and then security will escort you to your office and then escort you to your car. We will need to review these documents and sign them by next week.”
Dan sat there stunned. For someone who had done a good job, he suddenly felt as if he had done something wrong, almost like a criminal.
In a moment, this wonderful company that he had seen as part of his family life was not there. The great collaborative relationships he had with the team, the team he helped hire and develop, were no more. It was a sudden and painful divorce.
As he drove home, he began to cry. The sense of shock, the feeling of sadness and the dread of having to find another job and uproot his family. Sadness and guilt engulfed him.
Dan was a lucky guy. His wife, though shocked by the news, knew immediately that she had to help her husband plot a strategy. She quickly began to reach out to friends and former colleagues for their advice.
Over the next several days, as Dan absorbed the loss and began the grieving process, Jennifer took the helm. She knew Dan was so angry and humiliated that he might not do a great job protecting his rights. Here are the highlights of her — their — transition plan.
First, she scheduled an appointment with their attorney who had some employment law experience and was friends with the VP of HR at Dan’s former employer. They decided that before Dan signed the company’s transition offer, they would let their attorney attempt to negotiate. They lived in an employ-at-will state so Jennifer and the attorney agreed that he should be conciliatory in trying to gain some concessions to the bare-bones severance agreement. He knew, from previous experience, the company had offered others who left the company better deals. Here is what they asked for:
Jennifer’s plan was to encourage Dan to get away for a long-planned fishing trip with some friends. His network of advisors had told her that when someone loses their job there is a grieving period, much like the one associated with a death. For Dan not to experience that process would be a big mistake, her friends advised. So Jennifer laid down the law and Dan reluctantly agreed to 10 days at a family fishing cabin with a couple of close friends.
Phase II of her strategy would begin when he returned and nothing on her list had anything to do with cleaning the garage or any other projects at the house. When he returned, Dan had a new job: finding a full-time job.
While Dan was away fishing his lawyer orchestrated some important concessions including outplacement, payment of a bonus that would equate to six months pay and six months severance. “Dan’s new former boss was not too pleased but the heck with him if he can’t take a joke,” the lawyer told Jennifer. “ I knew what they had done for others who were pushed out and I just made them live up to that standard.”
While Dan was away, Jennifer cleaned up the spare bedroom which had been used for storage since the move. She had a telephone with voice mail line installed — the cell coverage in their neighborhood could be inconsistent — and a good telephone. She also converted their old DSL service to a high speed cable modem to facilitate his on-line research.
She found a good ed desk, a great chair, some wonderful lamps and a nice side chair. It looked like a real office, she thought. An area rug added a warm touch.
Why all the trouble?
She read that creating a true office at home was important for job seekers in order to establish and sustain a discipline for regular office hours and telephone networking.
She made a mental note: no vacuuming, or kids running through the house. “We will have to make some changes for a while” she thought, but this will be worth it. We will make it an adventure and we will overcome!
Her next call was the hardest one of all: She called a realtor to list their house for sale.
Next time, we will focus on Dan’s daily schedule as he begins the search for the next chapter in his professional life.
© 2017 John Gregory Self
My friends in real estate say that homebuyers do not always tell the truth when it comes to the type of house they really want to buy.
“The more I show them, the closer we get to the truth — what they really want,” said a successful Realtor with a ton of experience working with both first-time and very experienced buyers. “It is interesting to watch their initial pushback and dissatisfaction with the houses the tour and how, as they see more options, what they said they want morphs into a new vision.”
In the world of a job search, candidates should be on the alert for employers who do not know what they are looking for. It is not that they deliberately withhold information or distort, but they are sometimes conflicted with what they are really seeking in terms of competences and personality profile. They may go through several different types of candidates before they have that moment of truth and lock in on what they really want and need.
Sometimes the employer’s indecision is based on lack of buy-in by their senior team who come to the decision table with conflicting points of view and turf defense issues. Other times the employer’s seeming lack of transparency is driven by the fact that the organization will not come to terms with its challenges and weaknesses; they simply cannot bring themselves to tell candidates about how things really work.
This does not mean the employers are unworthy. Far from it. It means that employing companies are composed of human beings and one of life’s immutable truths — human nature drives behaviors. No one, and that includes corporations, enjoys discussing their failings and weaknesses, even when we are talking about truth.
More than 15 years ago, as I was leading a mission-critical search for a Chief Information Officer for a large public health system. The CFO became upset with information in the revised Position Prospectus, our comprehensive job description and offering statement. This document pointed out some of the significant challenges and real obstacles to success within the organization. “You can’t say that in the document,” she asserted. “Why,” I asked, “Is it not true?” “Yes, it is true,” she replied but we do not want the candidates to know about that! It might scare them off!”
My response was direct, “Don’t you think that this is the least embarrassing time for a candidate to find out?”
I had done a lot of work for this health system so I felt fairly secure in challenging the client. But that is not always the case when it comes to recruiters — internal or executive search firms – and that means more of the burden to understand this element of the corporate culture falls on the candidate’s shoulders. They have to ask more questions on a subject that few ever raise: The corporate culture.
You start by asking the recruiter but it is often doubtful you will get any truly helpful information, candidate say. Many recruiters tend to be risk-adverse and they do not want upset the powers that be by being too honest since the current search is all about securing the next search.
Not asking these questions because the candidate fears the risk of upsetting the prospective employer is not a particularly great idea. That thinking reflects the candidate side of the human nature equation — not wanting to offend a potential boss. But the truth is that unless the government is about to throw you into debtor’s prison, taking a job because you are desperate to earn a paycheck before thoroughly exploring these important issues is a big mistake. It could well lead to a short employment tenure, further compromising your career brand and multiple your personal finances.
Here some questions I suggest that candidate ask:
Start with the recruiter:
Some of these questions should also be asked of the employer.
For the employer:
© 2017 John Gregory Self