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5 Reasons Why You Need A Career Development Plan Now

Photo by David Niblack

Do you have a career development plan? I am not talking about the bottom section of your last performance review. You’ve written a few vague goals outlining what you would like to achieve over the next year. We both know that those objectives hardly get remembered until it’s review time once again. Your company will not be invested in your career development if you don’t drive the process yourself. Here are five reasons why you need to craft your own career development plan and stick with it:

1. A career development plan will keep you from getting stuck in a rut

The days of being promoted at work solely based on tenure are long gone. If you have grown comfortable performing only the tasks you were trained to do when you were hired, then you might as well make up your mind to be overworked and underpaid for the rest of your life. What’s worse is that the system is rigged so that you will eventually be made redundant, and someone with higher entry-level skills will be paid less to do your job even faster. Without a clear career plan, you will be taking the slow and painful route to failure.

Don’t believe me? Look around you. Try to find one or two people in your organization who have done the same thing for years and generally accepted as being on the “going nowhere” track. You may find it difficult to immediately identify someone, but look closely. He might be the ever-faithful driver/building superintendent/superman who has never quite learned how to curb his temper. It seems unfair that he has been overlooked by management, and never given the opportunity to develop. He is loyal, but also more bitter and morose than ever. You may also recognize your candidate in the perky but unproductive receptionist. She smiles as she buffs her nails and talks on the phone all day. She may not seem worried now, but will her two boyfriends take care of her bills forever?

There are all types of people who get stuck in a rut at work. The one thing they all have in common is that they’ve taken their professional development for granted. Don’t be one of those people.

2. A career development plan will help you take responsibility for your weaknesses

Whether or not you’d like to admit it, everyone around you knows exactly how well or how poorly you’re doing at work. All the little foibles you have quietly and conveniently minimized in your own mind, are well-known by your colleagues. Maybe you’re slightly late for work, two or more times per week. You’ve gotten into the habit of abusing your lunch hour, asking a friend to cover for you. Maybe you occasionally nod off at your desk or in meetings. Perhaps you’re a manager who knows less about your work than your staff. Thankfully, your subordinate buddies help you compile month-end reports because you actually don’t have a clue.

Sure you get away with it now, but you’re not fooling anyone. No matter how sweet and well-liked you are, not addressing those little quirks now will mean career suicide later on. You could cross the wrong person, and they might throw you under the bus in retaliation. The management might change. The company could start cracking down on inefficiency. Without notice, you could be exposed for the slacker you are. You’re probably getting defensive, and thinking: there are things I can improve on, but I’m a not a slacker. Why play this hazardous cat and mouse game with yourself? If you are not consistently getting better and better at what you do, sooner or later, you will lose.

3. A career development plan will help define your future career path

Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. I say that the unplanned career is not worth having. According to the book “The Go-Giver” which I just read this week, there are three universal reasons why we work: Survive, save, serve. Survival and saving have to do with meeting your basic needs and having some time and money left over to enjoy life. Service has to do with making a meaningful contribution to the world around you. Most people get stuck on the first two stages, but never figure out a way to reach a place of purpose in their work.

When you don’t develop the habit of establishing and achieving clear goals, you also miss out on the opportunity to steer your career along the path of significance. Would you like to wake up one day and realize that you plodded through your days in a job you hated, instead of making a difference? Of course you don’t. Crafting a career development plan will give you the opportunity to gradually assess not only the tasks you do well, but also identify the things that bring joy and meaning to your work.

4. A career development plan will help you to take charge of your own advancement

Carving out the time, and drumming up the discipline it takes to craft a career development plan for yourself will force you to be accountable. Instead of blaming external forces for every negative turn that occurs at work, you will begin to take responsibility for your own actions and reactions.

Creating a career development plan will put the power back into your own hands. Instead of excusing yourself for being late because of traffic, you will be able to recognize that you have stayed up too late flipping through channels on TV, and neglected to pick out your clothes or organize your kids for the day ahead. Instead of being passed over for a promotion because you didn’t have the requisite skills, you get the computer training you need by taking afternoon classes, to position yourself for the promotion you want.

5. A career development plan will give you the confidence you need to succeed.

A career development plan will give you ownership over all aspects of your career. You will begin to know your strengths and weaknesses inside out. You will decide on meaningful targets and set a realistic plans to meet them. You will know what you want to accomplish, and how far you’ve already come. You will find yourself going to work each day with a sense of purpose. New motivation for your work will seem to grow out of nowhere.

When performance review time rolls around, you will no longer have to struggle to list your strengths or outline your achievements. You will be able to confidently prepare for assessment and promotion meetings. You will be able to update your résumé with ease, and not choke up at the thought of going on a job interview. Creating and maintaining a career development plan will place you firmly on your path to success.

 

In upcoming posts, I will give you the tools you need to take charge of your own professional advancement by creating your  personal career development plan.

Please feel free to share your thoughts, experiences and feedback with me in the comments section below:

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11 Tips for Brand New Senior Managers

You’ve finally gotten the promotion you’ve dreamed of. You’re finally in charge. Being the new corporate head, division chief or general manager will be harder than you could have imagined. Here are ten tips to help you negotiate this unknown territory and remain grounded, while achieving the results you can be proud of.

1. Check Your Ego at the Door

You’ve gotten to where you are because you’re a superstar. You are brilliant. You worked harder than your colleagues and got promoted faster, too. Maybe you had passable technical skills, but excellent networking and people skills and brown-nosed your way to the top. None of that will help you now. It’s not about you any more. It’s no longer just your career. Your performance will now be dependent on the results you achieve through your team.

2. Listen

Companies usually appoint new leaders out of need. Perhaps the old CEO retired, or the previous division head was fired. Now it’s on you to achieve those unrealistic results. Even if you have been with the company for years, you must go in with a clear mind and survey the territory with fresh eyes. You may be tempted to believe you already have all the answers. Resist that temptation. Pretend you know nothing, and listen. Listen to your managers and direct reports. Listen to your line staff. Listen to your suppliers. Listen to your customers. Listen. Create forums where people will be frank with you. Take it all in, and fill a brand new slate.

3. Craft A Vision

After taking the helm, you will be expected to chart the course for the organization. You need to decide where you want to go, and the strategies you will use to get there. Your people need something to believe in, but you have to believe it first. Craft an inspirational and aspirational vision that will serve as your company’s proverbial ‘pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night’.

4. Create Buy-In

Regardless of how much talent and previous success, industry expertise and respect you’ve gained before taking up your new job, the troops will not automatically become loyal followers of you or your vision. You will have to earn it. You will have to win them over little by little and day by day by being consistent, passionate and respectful. Tell them the “why” behind the vision, and they will hear their own concerns reflected. Start with your leaders first, then communicate and over-communicate the vision company wide to make sure that the message does not become distorted.

5. Be Knowledgeable

To be successful, you will need to have a thorough understanding of all direct and indirect financial drivers: revenue streams, the cash and inventory cycle, direct costs and administrative expenses and operating and customer service key performance indicators (KPIs). You need to gain a thorough knowledge of these indicators to set the right goals and targets for your department heads. Creating a culture of reporting will be key. Your team should know what their KPIs are and how they are doing compared to target on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis, and so should you.

6. Be Independent

It’s lonely at the top. Certain members of your team will try to ingratiate themselves to become favorites or be granted special privileges. Resist it at all costs. Have zero tolerance for this type of suck up behavior. Do not compromise your independence. Failing to do so will have you paying favors indefinitely. It will also create and over-politicized culture, and will earn you the mistrust of the less-favored and potentially more principled and hard-working team members.

7. Nurture Your People

You won’t be a leader if no one is following you. While fostering cronies and gofers is not acceptable, you still need to nurture your team. It is important to develop a mentoring relationship with each of your key players so that you can help them be their best. Theodore Roosevelt once penned the wise words: “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

8. Foster Accountability

Being a nurturing leader does not mean you will stand for substandard performance. Your aim should be to continually get better results as they perfect their skills. You should have zero tolerance policy for excuses and finger-pointing. When someone comes to you with a problem, require that they also come armed with a suggested solution. When one of your direct reports makes a mistake, he or she should quickly accept responsibility, suggest a possible way out, and move on.

9. Celebrate Wins, Even Small Ones

While driving hard for improvement, innovation and accountability, it is important to take note of the successes. Failing to notice even small improvements will leave your team feeling unappreciated and will lead to frustration and burn out. Find ways to systematically celebrate wins and ensure that you apply it consistently. Your team will thank you for it.

10. Focus on Continuous Communication

Constant effective communication will be key to ensuring quality and consistent growth. Listening should be something the entire organization internalizes. Everyone’s voice is important. Create open and honest lines of communication at all levels of the organization. Make communication systemic by setting up weekly pow-wows and department meetings, regular staff polls and annual leaders’ retreats.

11. Never Stop Learning

No matter how much you know already, as a new leader, it will never be enough. Read as much as you can and keep reading. Seek out other business leaders who can mentor you and challenge you to become a better leader. Keep an open mind in all situations. Be humble. You are the boss, but develop the mindset that every single person in your organization has something they can teach you.

 

Are there any other important tips you would share to new business leaders? Feel free to share your experiences, and feedback in the comments section below. Good luck on your leadership journey!

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7 Ways to Get A Job With No Experience

It’s the age-old dilemma for job-seekers. You can’t get a job because you don’t have experience, and you can’t get experience if you don’t have a job. This is not an impossible situation, if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and apply some effort. Here are seven tips to get you on your way to landing a great job, even if you don’t have experience.

1. To Get a Job: Change Your Mindset

It’s not just you. Worldwide, unemployment rates in many countries are at an all-time high. It is not only young people who don’t have jobs. Many older, well-educated workers with years of experience have found themselves jobless in today’s market. Both young and old, experienced and inexperienced, educated and uneducated will be competing for the same openings. Attitude will make all the difference. You must be prepared to exercise  perseverance and creativity to get the experience you need to land the job you want.

2. To Get a Job: Know What You’re Looking For

Are you applying for jobs willy-nilly? If you do not yet have an ideal position in mind, bring some focus to your job search. There’s an old adage that says “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”. Start by figuring out the kind of company you want to work for and the type of job you would like to do. Make a list of ten companies and then add two potential positions you could do at each company. Be realistic; if you have no experience, then aim for entry-level positions. You may need to place some calls to the organizations to find out what positions exist, and check their websites for vacancies.

3. To Get a Job: Know What They’re Looking For

Once you have your list of twenty potential positions at ten possible companies, narrow these down into a few key positions and investigate their job descriptions. For example, Google “sales clerk duties” and “customer service representative job description” to familiarize yourself with what’s required in the positions you are after. Read the requirements thoroughly and picture yourself doing these jobs. Figure out the duties that will be easy for you, and the ones that will be challenging. Rate your own level of skill, training and readiness for each aspect of the job.

4. To Get a Job: Identify Your Strengths

One of the most important traits hiring managers look for is confidence. They are impressed when you are comfortable talking about yourself, your strengths, and your your skills. You will need to exude confidence in your abilities, and be clear on what you’re bringing to the table. Over the next few days, begin to catalog your strengths and talents. Are you a good listener? Are you organized? Are you good at generating enthusiasm among others? Are you neat? Are you patient? What are you good at? What makes you an outstanding person? The things that you do well in your day-to-day life will be the building blocks that make you an attractive candidate for any employer. Identify these skills. Celebrate them. Hone them.

5. To Get a Job: Make Your Resume A Reflection of You

Now that you know what job you want, and the traits that differentiate you, it is time to match your skills to the employer’s requirements. Your résumé should be more than a boring chronological list of your summer jobs and grades at school. Craft your our résumé “sell” you based on “fit” and not necessarily experience. Can you see yourself doing well in the job? Yes? Then tell the employer why. Make sure your résumé includes all the great things you have to offer. Make sure it is not a stark reminder of the experience you lack. Create a functional resume with a headline and list of skills. Make sure that the skills you list will directly benefit the potential employer in the specific job you are seeking.

6. To Get a Job: Don’t Just Stay at Home

Volunteer. Giving your time to an organization that interests you can present many positive advantages. Working for a good cause can help you gain valuable discipline, experience and skills. Volunteering will build your reputation as you demonstrate commitment, willingness to learn and a great work ethic. Working for your local church or charity also presents great networking opportunities. You may even rub shoulders with people who can hire you, and you will develop relationships with people who can mentor you, and give written recommendations of your character and attitude. Be sure to add any new skills you learn or responsibilities you undertake to your résumé.

7. To Get a Job: Do an Unpaid Internship

Once you’ve written a sparkling resume and land an interview, you will already be able to speak knowledgeably about the company and the job from the research you have done. However, you may still have difficulty actually landing the job.  You may need to go the extra mile and show initiative by expressing willingness to do an unpaid internship. You can even consider including this in your application letter. Most hiring managers will look very favorably on this act of tenacity and give your application a second look. It will show that you are serious about getting the job, that you value experience over just being paid, and it will give the employer an opportunity for a “free trial run”. Everyone likes getting something for nothing.

 

Good luck in your job search! Please feel free to leave comments, questions and suggestions below. All feedback is welcome.

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7 Reasons Why You’re Not Getting Hired


As the General Manager of a growing company, I am always on the lookout for good people. Hiring application emails go not only to HR, but get delivered directly to my inbox, as well. I am regularly appalled at the low quality of application submissions and the ill-preparedness of candidates during interviews. If you’ve ever been turned down for a job, or have found yourself unemployed for a lengthy period, here are some possible reasons why.

1. Your Cover Letter is Sloppy

“Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern” letters are a waste of time. Make a quick phone call and find out the name of the hiring manager, so that you can make a good first impression by addressing him or her by name in your letter. Photocopied form letters with the company name written in prove that you haven’t invested enough time in the hiring process to make you deserving of a job. Spelling errors, bad grammar, poor punctuation and failing to sign a letter of application are all immediate turnoffs. Be fastidious in presenting your letter. Always spellcheck the document, and have a trusted friend review it. If you make a mistake, correct and reprint, do not correct it by hand. Write a short paragraph explaining to the prospective employer why you are an ideal candidate and deserve to be interviewed. Cover letters usually only get a quick scan, so keep them short and to the point.

2. Your Resume is Boring

Your resume should be like your own personal billboard. It is your first shot at selling yourself to a prospective employer. It should say “I’m the one, hire me!” Most applicants prepare CVs that simply list their work and educational history, without stopping to consider how many similar pieces of paper will be coming across the hiring manager’s desk. You must stand out. Have you documented what makes you unique? Do you have any special skills? What experience did you gain in your last job that makes you ideally suited for the position being applied for? What were your outstanding accomplishments in your last job? If I don’t see these things on a candidate’s CV, then I assume there is nothing outstanding about the candidate being considered.

3. You Have Gaps in Your Employment History

One of the biggest turnoffs when I look at a résumé are significant gaps in employment history. This is something that I have come across more and more. I find it alarming that young people after completing studies wait too long to find the perfect job. Many more experienced job candidates also let too much time pass as they wait for a “suitable position” after being let go. Don’t do it. Stop being so picky! You’re much more likely to find a job when you are in one. Being unemployed for a year or more is a dangerous red flag for a potential employer. It says that you are lazy, inflexible and exacting. Take the best job you can get while actively seeking something better. Staying at home watching TV will do nothing to make you more employable.

4. You Sound Disinterested on the Phone

One of my go-to hiring techniques is the 5-minute phone interview. Whether I am hiring someone straight out of high school or a well-paid senior executive, I won’t feel comfortable about hiring someone who can’t impress me on the telephone. If you have provided a mobile phone contact, you should always be sure to answer your own phone and answer it in a friendly, confident and professional manner. Be decisive in your responses. If you can’t take the call just then, politely offer to take a number and return the call at a convenient time. Be upbeat and enthusiastic. The hiring manager can’t see you; your voice is the only thing he or she has to go on. Sounding disinterested or distracted during the first phone call is a great way be crossed off the interview list.

5. You are Unclear about Your Own Strengths

Every prospective hire who is to be successful must be clear on what makes him or her an ideal candidate for the job. Your outstanding qualities should be a mix of academic or intellectual qualities, character or personality strengths and skills gained through on-the-job experience.  Before going in for an interview, ask yourself what qualities it will take to do well in the position, and how you can confidently demonstrate your ability to do a good job. You should be able to readily give examples of your stellar traits through short, interesting anecdotes. There must also be consistency between what you have described on your résumé and what you will speak comfortably about on an interview. Interviewers can quickly detect when a résumé has been “padded”.

6. You Fail to Make a Connection at Interviews

If you have been selected for an interview, then most likely the hiring committee feels reasonably comfortable with your qualifications. You will now have to prove that your experience is relevant and useful, and that you will be a good fit. Do your homework so that you know what the job entails. Review the job opening ad carefully. Research the position online or speak with the hiring manager about the position that has been advertised. Find out more about the company, and its culture and try to experience its products and services. The interview is your chance to connect with the goals of the organization and show that you have the skills required to do well in the position to be filled. Listen; too often, candidates to not listen carefully to the questions being posed and deliver rambling, irrelevant responses. Connect; look directly at your interviewer, place your body comfortably towards them and maintain a relaxed but confident posture. Try to mirror the tone and language being used by the interviewer, and ask clarifying questions if necessary. Most importantly be bright and alert; you will generally not get hired if you are not liked.

7. You Don’t Follow Up

Many candidates mistakenly see themselves at the center of the interviewer’s universe. They forget that quite often as many as ten or more candidates are selected for interview for a single position. Even if you were not the top choice in the interviews, following up can give you an edge. Send an email thanking the hiring manager for the interview, or offer contact information for your references. A quick phone call to follow-up a week or two afterward can help shift the decision in your favor. Even if you are not hired for the position, you will now have made a connection with the manager, and will likely be considered for future openings. One final way to make a lasting impression is to send a letter thanking the company for considering you even after another candidate has been chosen.

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5 Reasons Why Moving to Yahoo Was the Right Choice for Marissa Mayer

On July 16, 2012, Yahoo announced that Marissa Mayer would take the helm as its new CEO. The news of Marissa’s appointment shook the tech world, raising both eyebrows and hopes.

After finishing high school in the Midwestern town of Wausau, Wisconsin, Marissa headed to Stanford University where she specialized in Artificial Intelligence, and obtained both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. In 1999, Marissa joined Google as its first female software engineer and quickly began her climb through its ranks. By 2001, she had already been promoted to Product Manager, and was promoted again less than two years later to Director of Consumer Web Services. By late 2005, Marissa was appointed VP, Search Products and User Experience, giving her full responsibility for the search engine division. Seven years later and expecting her first child with husband, Zachary Bogue, Marissa has left Google to take on the challenge of bringing Yahoo back to life.

Here are five reasons why the decision she made was the right one:

1. Marissa Mayer Has Built A Stellar Reputation

Having recently celebrated her 13-year anniversary at Google, Marissa Mayer is a talented and accomplished engineer who knows the Internet inside out. With her keen eye for design, she has been credited with championing the search engine’s iconic minimalist layout and was instrumental in developing Google maps as well as Gmail. She is passionate about creating outstanding user experiences and is known for both her laser sharp focus and commitment to innovation. In 2008, at age 33, Marissa became the youngest woman to be listed among Fortune magazine’s America’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, and has made the list every year since.

2. Marissa Mayer Had Been Overlooked

In recent years, the pace of Marissa’s advancement at Google has slowed. In late 2010, her responsibilities shifted from heading up search services to VP, Local, Maps and Location Services. While dubbed a promotion, and technically giving her more direct reports, the move signaled that she was being overlooked for more significant roles in the upper echelons of leadership. Since last year’s re-appointment of co-founder, Larry Page, as CEO, she has been further shunned, and was excluded from his newly formed “L-Team” of advisers. Mayer’s past role as the Company’s articulate and enthusiastic primary public face has also been visibly diminished. Rumors, although vehemently denied, had continued to surface intermittently suggesting the possibility of Mayer’s departure.

3. Marissa Mayer Was Hungry for A New Challenge

At age 37, Marissa may well have been longing for the opportunity to claim a bigger stage, giving her the increased sense of satisfaction and personal accomplishment winners crave. Mayer was recently appointed to as a director of Wal-Mart, snagging her first Board seat at a public company. Approached by Yahoo in June, Marissa faced a tough choice: stay with the sure thing or jump at the more interesting chance to become head honcho in a more challenging role. And what a challenge it will be. After being one of the first out of the starting block in 1994, Yahoo quickly leapt to Internet supremacy, before being pummeled by Google. In 2008, Yahoo turned down Microsoft’s purchase offer of $47.5 billion. Since then, it has been adrift, in wake of social upstarts Facebook and Twitter.

4. Marissa Mayer Believes She Has the Chops to Get the Job Done

Marissa isn’t just another engineer who has spent her entire career at a single company. She has been a groundbreaking talent, leading Google in some of its most significant wins, and quietly honing all the skills it takes to be a high-caliber CEO. She knows that her technical knowledge and innovative vision are key strengths required for successful leadership in the fast pace Internet arena.

  • She will need to attract and retain high quality engineering talent. Check. Marissa has finely honed organizational skills, as she is used to leading large teams of talented engineers. She has a proven commitment to strategic leadership and is good at mentoring talent, as evidenced by the programs she developed at Google to shape product managers into skilled executive leaders.
  • She will need to bring a renewed spirit of innovation and create great products. Check. Product is what Marissa is good at, and probably the main reason she was chosen to take the helm at Yahoo. Former boss, Larry Page dubbed her a “tireless champion of our users”. Marissa will no doubt make technology and user experience Yahoo’s new top priorities.

 

5. Marissa Mayer Had Nothing to Lose and Everything to Gain

Mayer was quoted as saying “I wanted to work at Google because I felt utterly unprepared”. Management pundits have observed that once female leaders have broken through the glass ceiling, they are often more likely to take up positions which have a higher built-in risk of failure than their male counterparts. Perhaps we are just thrill-seekers! As one of Google’s first employees, Marissa is already a very wealthy woman with a recently estimated net worth of $300 million. While Yahoo has been flailing for years, it is still a giant with over 12,000 employees and an estimated 700 million users. Even if Marissa, like her recent predecessors, fails to revive the company, it won’t be too much of a black mark on her career. On the other hand, if she succeeds, she will scaled a “glass cliff”.

 

Can Marissa Mayer Turn Around Yahoo?

To bring Yahoo back to its former glory, Marissa will have to get back to basics. She will need to craft a clear and compelling vision, and work to restore a sense of purpose and direction. Yahoo doesn’t know what wants to be anymore; it has lost its relevance, still serving as a portal to content, but creating very little user engagement. She will need to answer the all important question: “why does Yahoo exist?”, and inspire her beleaguered troops with the confidence to become a force of innovation once again. She will be in for a long and hard journey; it will take at least three to five years to see good efforts bear fruit. If she is successful in making Yahoo a champion again, she will have a clear shot at what she possibly craves most: to be Queen of Silicon Valley.

 

Please leave me your comments on whether you think Marissa Mayer will be successful.

 

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14 Leadership Principles from Steve Jobs

© Richard Davies

 

Like hundreds of thousands of Apple fans, I am fascinated by the incendiary brilliance of Steve Jobs and by the revolutionary products he created. I have no fewer than four Steve Jobs biographies in my library. I’ve read the unpleasant stories, and there are many: from Steve’s lack of basic hygiene in his youth, and his initial denial of paternity of his first daughter to the suggestion that he continually duped his long time partner, Steve Wozniak, the real brains behind Apple in its early days, but his luster remains. I am an admitted Steve Jobs junkie. Through his companies, Jobs transformed at least seven industries including animated movies, personal computing and music. I was delighted to find that Jobs has been featured in the April 2012 edition of the Harvard Business Review magazine. Six months after his death, his official biographer, Walter Isaacson, has skillfully distilled what is essentially an executive summary of Steve Jobs’ leadership style, in a brilliant 6,000 plus word article titled ‘The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs”.

Isaacson identifies fourteen leadership lessons, surmising that Jobs “belongs in the pantheon of America’s great innovators, along with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Walt Disney.” Fortune Magazine has also recently named Steve Jobs the greatest entrepreneur of our time. If Isaacson is right, then history is well on its way to remembering Steve Jobs less for his bad behavior and extreme emotionalism and more as an innovator who applied his personality, efforts and energy into transforming technology and business.

Here is a summary of the fourteen leadership principles:

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #1 – Focus

Steve Jobs was famous for his laser-like focus. This natural personality trait was further honed by his study of Zen philosophy; “deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do”. Shortly before his death, Larry Page, Google’s co-founder visited Jobs to ask for advice. Jobs told him to figure out the top five products Google should focus on and “get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down”. Page followed his advice, announcing to Google employees in January 2012 that they would “focus on just a few priorities, and make them “beautiful,” the way Jobs would have done.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #2 – Simplicity

Steve Jobs focused on annihilating complexity when creating products. He lived and breathed the Leonardo da Vinci tenet that appeared in Apple’s first marketing brochure: “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Ten years ago, the portable music player industry was ripe for a shake up, and Jobs’ quest for simplification led to the revolutionary iPod followed by the iPhone. When setting their sights on what to do next, today’s emerging business leaders need only find products that are more complicated than they need to be.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #3 – Elegance

Steve Jobs strove to deliver the elegant ideal. “People are busy”, he would say “they have other things to do than think about how to integrate their computers and devices.” And so, he took responsibility for the entire user experience, owning what he called “the whole widget”. Hardware, software and peripheral devices had to be seamlessly integrated. The leadership lesson here is to create products and service which reflect a passion for delivering delightful user experiences from start to finish.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #4 – Innovation

Steve Jobs knew that success was not just coming up with new ideas first, but being able to eclipse previous success through innovation. When he realized that original iMac left their users powerless to download, rip and swap music the way PC users could, he famously said “I felt like a dope. I thought we had missed it”. Instead of just playing catch up, he innovated. The result was an integrated system that transformed the music industry through the iPod, iTunes and the iTunes music store. And then, sensing the threat posed by mobile phone makers adding music players, and at the risk of hurting iPod sales, he created the iPhone. “If we don’t cannibalize ourselves, someone else will”.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #5 – Authenticity

During the early days of Apple, Steve Jobs motivated his team to create “insanely great” products. During his ten-year absence, with John Sculley at the helm, the focus shifted to profit maximization, and product design suffered. Steve Jobs theorized that is was one of the reasons companies decline. “My passion has been to build an enduring company where people… make great products… the products, not the profits, were the motivation. It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything”. Today’s leaders and entrepreneurs will do well to stay true to the purpose of their businesses and remain authentic.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #6 – Vision

Henry Ford once famously said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!” Steve Jobs believed in being passionately committed to delivering products customers would love, but not in asking them what they want. He relied on his own vision. Jobs felt that finely honed intuitive powers could tap into desires not jut fully formed. Sometimes the only focus group leaders need is themselves: We made the iPod for ourselves,” he said, “and when you’re doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out.”

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #7 – Certitude

Steve Jobs was known for demanding the impossible, his certitude the only guarantee of success. His infuriatingly effective ‘Reality Distortion Field’ led those he worked with to perform extraordinary feats. From having his partner produce a new game in four days, after saying it would take months, to having an engineer who explained it was impossible to shave 10 seconds off boot time deliver a 28-second time savings just a few weeks later. Jobs would stare at you blankly and say with unwavering conviction while demanding the impossible “Get your mind around it. You can do it”.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #8 – Discernment

Steve Jobs’ early mentor instilled in him the importance of discernment. Mike Markkula knew that people form opinions on companies and products based on presentation and packaging. This became one of Job’s guiding principles. He obsessed over the design of the boxes that held the iPod and iPhone, and insisted on adding a handle when the candy-colored new iMacs were created, adding “unnecessary” expense in order to make the product friendlier.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #9 – Tenacity

Steve Jobs was known to go back to the drawing board even in the advanced stages of product development. If it felt wrong, he had no qualms asking his designers, development teams and engineers to work nights and weekends to get things just right. He did it with Toy Story, even after Disney had insisted on darker, more mature re-writes; he stopped production to make it the family friendly success it eventually became. The iPhone was revamped even after the design was first approved. He never compromised on consistency of beauty and quality, using the lesson he learned doing carpentry with his father  “a great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.”

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #10 – Selectivity

Steve Jobs insisted on having only the best talent on his teams.  Jobs refused to indulge in what he referred to as a “Bozo explosion”: the creation of passively polite environments where mediocrity is allowed to flourish. Although his selectivity often manifested as stormy petulance, he reasoned “when you have really good people, you don’t have to baby them. By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things”. And did he ever.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #11 – Collaboration

Despite working in a high-tech field, Steve Jobs relied heavily on the synergy that often takes place in face-to-face collaboration. He was known to take long walks during intense negotiations. The Apple headquarters was designed to encourage chance meetings and maximize person-to-person encounters. He wanted people to engage, interact and brainstorm informally because he believed that sparked a kind of magic. His advice to leaders on the subject of collaboration very well might have been: “forget the PowerPoint presentations and get people interacting”.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #12 – Detail

In the midst of all his far-reaching plans, Steve Jobs also knew that God is in the details. Even while creating grand concepts for the future of his company, he applied his passion to the small things as well; he was known to fret over the shape and color of screws in the iMac. To leaders, the realization of overarching business strategies might very well depend on never losing sight of the importance of even the tiniest details.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #13 – Imagination

Steve Jobs was fascinated with concept of standing at the intersection of humanities and sciences. Like Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein before him, he used imagination to bridge the gap between arts and technology. Leaders who can bring right-brain imagination to left-brained fields of science, and engineering will be critical to the business success in the 21st century.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #14 – Non-Conformity

Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1960’s, Steve Jobs was a product of both the hippie anti-war counterculture and the geek-filled, high-tech world of Silicon Valley. His behavior, passions and business reflected the contradictions and confluence of these divergent elements. The pithy maxim, ‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish”, reflects the way he lived his life, and the way he positioned Apple, starting it out in his parents’ garage to become the world’s most valuable company at the time of his death. Jobs helped compose the text for Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign. The words speak for themselves: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels… We see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

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5 Reasons Why You Should Want A Tough Boss

Whenever I encounter someone struggling under the weight of new professional demands, I share the story of my very first job.

I was 18 years old and straight out of A-Levels. After re-sitting Chemistry, I took a job for a few months at a boutique before starting University in the fall. My attitude going in was that working in a retail clothing store would be dead easy.

Charmaine was my boss. Every day, she would grill me on the exact way to write up receipts, make sure all the hangers faced the same direction, and how to fold the clothes so that they formed precisely uniform stacks. The racks were to be dusted twice per day, and all the windows had to be double and triple checked when leaving in the afternoon. Smiles were to be bright, greetings always perky, and customers always to be treated like royalty.

Charmaine was tirelessly exacting about everything. Customers should never walk in and find you seated, or with your back turned. Suggestions must always be made for accenting and completing every outfit. Colors were to always be described using yummy names. Every day for my first week, I went home and cried my eyes out. My soon to be off to University self-esteem was taking a beating. I wanted to quit. I hated her. Who makes such a fuss about working in a silly clothing store? But I toughed it out and stayed.

Charmaine taught me what it means to take pride in my work and to be excellent. The experience of working at ‘A Thousand Flowers’ boutique for a few months shaped my work ethic for life. Charmaine is still one of the people I hold most dear today.

My first tough boss, Charmaine, and me in 2008, 15 years after we first worked together.

 

 

People fantasize about their dream bosses, they dream of working for the kind of slacker who lets you get away with murder, go for lunch as long as you want, come in late, and who would never dream of insisting that you actually work hard to perform your duties properly. What you should really be wishing for is a boss who is smart, great at their job and demanding.

In short, you want a tough boss who is better at your job than you, and will notice every single mistake you make and call you out on it. The best bosses I have had are the ones that insisted on the highest standards from me and forced me to see and live up to my true potential. I read a great article yesterday which reminded me of this. The original article has an irreverent style and some strong language, so here’s a cleaned up summarized version of the 5 reasons why you should want a tough boss:

#5. Tough Bosses Don’t Hide Information Due to Insecurity

Many people rise to the top not because they are the smartest or best, but because they are intent on acquiring an unfair advantage. They covet information, and hide details. On the other hand, people who are really smart don’t rely on  controlling information. They’re confident in their abilities, so they are comfortable giving their employees the tools to shine. Smart bosses don’t waste time manufacturing games to make others fail; they spend their hours doing their job well. It might be hard to work for someone possibly smarter than you, but it is better than having to work for someone who maintains power through deceit.

#4. Tough Bosses Don’t Create Fall Guys

Bosses who are hypersensitive about their failings always create distance between their decisions and the project to be accomplished, so that there are more people to blame if something goes wrong. They create fall guys. A truly competent boss got where he or she is by doing the job better than anyone else. That boss won’t want anything substandard under his or her watch. They take the excellent performance of their teams personally. They will want to review projects before they are due, and that will be irritating. You should be grateful for this. If it is wrong, they will tell you in no uncertain terms to get it right, instead of having you fall on your sword to make them look good when it all falls apart.

#3. You Know Where You Stand With Tough Bosses

Many treacherous and incompetent bosses are super nice. Having everyone like them is a trick they used to become the boss in the first place. Nice means nothing. Even when things get really bad, they still act nice! None of the act is true and most people never see the knife in the nice guy’s hand.  Smiles and silence come easier than honesty. Distance grows more from things left unsaid, than things said in anger. Unspoken words and phrases build walls of hurt and insecurity. Those same walls can obscure the wrecking ball that’s coming toward your head. Yelling is not all bad. Raised voices and reprimands don’t have to be the same thing as abuse. It is always better to know exactly where you stand. “Nice” people are just not good at that.

#2. Tough Bosses Can Keep the Company Alive

Sure, a nice boss who doesn’t expect too much sounds great, but how good is he at keeping the company and your job afloat? The skills that rise a half-talent nice guy to power and keep him there are not necessarily the same skills that can keep a business successful. Clients and the public expect real competence and results. Sometimes all the hidden information, charming smiles, slick compliments and tricks cannot compensate for mediocrity. A truly talented boss can help keep the company alive, and keep your bread and butter coming.

#1. Tough Bosses Make You Smarter, So You Can Eventually Become the Boss

Bosses set tones. Even those who aren’t leading still set an example. If you work for a boss who rose to power and maintains it through deceit and guile, you will learn to play your cards close to your chest instinctively. You will learn to be distrustful, but you still won’t be any good at your job. A talented boss will teach you how to actually be good at your job, and not just how to appear successful. Even if you don’t think they care about teaching you, just the exposure to a competent boss will make you a better employee. It will give you a real skill set that you can take with you into the future, and give you the ability to become the boss one day. Your talent and intelligence will then create better employees and better future bosses.

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Today I’m Inspired by: Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg in Vogue

Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer at one of the most ubiquitous companies on the planet. Taking home over US$30 million in 2011, Sheryl is the highest paid person at Facebook. Second in command to founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg developed the plan that took the social networking giant from 70 million users and almost no revenue to a user base of 850 million users and annual revenues of $3.7 billion in less than four years.

There aren’t that many role models for women in business. The self-made legends like Oprah and Martha Stewart stand out precisely because there are so few to name. Sheryl Sandberg first caught my interest when I came across an article on her, aptly titled ‘A Woman’s Place’, in The New Yorker last summer. I remember being tickled by her encounters with the not-so-subtle nuances of male domination in Silicon Valley and specifically at Google, where Sandberg once held a Vice President position, before joining Facebook. I could relate.

Poised to be an extremely wealthy woman with an expected windfall of US$1.6 billion when the Facebook IPO goes through, Sheryl Sandberg has not been an overnight success. She was at the top of her class all through high school, before heading to Harvard for an undergraduate degree in Economics. While there, she won the respect of economics professor Lawrence Summers. Summers would become her mentor, employing her as his research assistant when he joined the World Bank. She worked on health projects in India dealing with leprosy, AIDS, and blindness, before going on to attain an MBA from the prestigious Harvard Business School. She then joined Summers once again as his chief of staff, when he became the Deputy Treasury Secretary in the Clinton Administration.

Sheryl Sandberg now occupies the #5 spot on the Forbes World’s Most Powerful Women’s list, while balancing life as a wife and mother of two young children. It is clear that she is not only exceptionally intelligent and highly educated, but has worked hard and attracted at least one powerful mentor. However, these are not the only factors she credits for her success. In a recent TED talk, Sheryl addresses the reasons for the dearth of women in leadership positions saying, “women systematically underestimate their own abilities”. She offers three key pieces of advice for women striving to make it to the top of their professions:

1. Sit at the table – constantly reach for the opportunities out there.
2. Make sure your partner is a real partner – choose a mate who will be in there with you 50/50.
3. Don’t leave before you leave – don’t be so busy planning for when you have a family that you take your foot off the gas pedal long before you actually start.

When accomplished people talk about success, it’s a good idea to listen. I hope you will take the time to watch Sheryl Sandberg’s 15-minute talk which will inspire both men and women.

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10 Little Things I’ve Learned as a Female Executive

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years, and continue to learn every day.

1. Work Hard

There really is no substitute for hard work. The law of sowing and reaping and Newton’s third law hold true in nature, and are equally applicable to everyday life. Don’t expect to ever get more than you put in. Don’t expect to ever be paid more than you deserve. And if it happens, don’t expect it to last long. Compete only with yourself; strive every day to be better than you were the day before.

2. If You Don’t Ask, the Answer is Always “No”

One of the main reasons some women succeed at landing the tough assignments and earning salaries comparable to those of their male counterparts is because they’ve learned to speak up. Life is not fair and neither is the work place. Take an active role in making sure you convert your diligence into rewards — this will not happen automatically. Ask how you’re performing, ask for more responsibility, let others know when you’re being treated unfairly and toot your own horn.

3. Don’t Scratch with the Chickens

Choosing the wrong people to keep company with at work can really drag you down. Gossips are great at identifying who did what wrong, but don’t put any energy into making things right. Similarly, complainers cast blame, but take no personal responsibility. Both consistently expect the worse and both tend to consistently get the worse. When you’ve suffered a set-back, take it in your stride and move on. It is a mistake to whine or bitterly complaining to whoever will listen. Hone your skills and keep your eyes peeled for the next available opportunity. Prepare to soar with the eagles instead.

4. Flaunt Your Skills, Not Your Sexuality

Make the office a strictly “no-flirting” zone. Being inconsistent on this point may land you in compromising situations that may be difficult for you to recover from. On the other hand, celebrate the fact that you’re a woman. There is no need to forgo lipstick or try to “be one of the boys” to be taken seriously. Maintain a balance; people will find it easier to listen to what you’re saying if they aren’t being blinded by your fluorescent blue eyeshadow.

5. Lighten Up

Take the time to get to know those around you. Don’t be afraid to share a laugh or have fun at work. Embrace the concept of LBWA – leading by walking around. When people like and connect with you as an individual, they will be much more likely to support you when you really need it.

6. You Can’t Fix Everything

Being a perfectionist is an incredible waste of time and energy. Get your priorities straight, and make a habit of always working on your most important tasks first. Make a list every day. If you start your day tackling the easy stuff and then reacting to every email that pops into your in-box, you will find yourself both inefficient and over-stressed. Always put first things first, and learn to delegate or drop the things that aren’t worth your immediate time and energy.

7. Trust Your Passion

The more you enjoy what you do, the greater the likelihood of being successful and enjoying that success. Figure out what you enjoy and find ways to do more of the things you love in your job. It won’t necessarily happen overnight, but create a plan and work with it.

8. Make Time For You 

Make time to enjoy your life, and be happy and healthy. Cultivate interests outside of work – stimulate all your senses, eat well and move your body. Most of all, spend quality time with your friends and family.

9. It’s Okay to Cry

Frustrations will come, and so will the tears. When you break down emotionally on the job, it leaves people wondering if you can handle the task you’ve been entrusted with. Crying in front of bosses and coworkers will make you to lose credibility fast. Be tough on the job and save the tears for the drive home.

10. Never Stop Learning

My boss shared this gem with me just recently in a rare one-on-one moment. I embrace learning by reading voraciously on subjects that interest me. What he was talking about was learning the art of extracting ideas and solutions from everyone around. Asking others “what would you do?” is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of real strength. It could make the difference between success and failure, particularly in really challenging times.