Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Happens In Tornado Alley

I live in Tornado Alley. This is where I was born and with the exception of a few years in the Southeast and later in the Northern Rockies, it is where I have lived most of my life. And a number of those years were spent living in central Oklahoma, the bulls-eye of Tornado Alley. I was there on May 3, 1999 when The Big One finally hit and devastated the south side of Oklahoma City, namely the suburb of Moore, Oklahoma. When one grows up living with tornadoes, one doesn’t get too excited about them (or at least this “one” never had before then.) But when you see first hand the damage done by a monster tornado, it takes your breath away. It is truly unbelievable.

Last week a tornado hit Granbury, TX and killed six people. On Sunday tornadoes hit Edmond and the outskirts of Shawnee, Oklahoma. Several people lost their lives. It’s that time of year and it’s what happens in Tornado Alley. But then yesterday, a massive, killer tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma. Almost the same path as the May 3rd '99 tornado and another one, not as bad, that came through Moore in 2003. I remember watching the one in ’99 on television as it was on the ground for over an hour before hitting the OKC metro area. Everyone knew it was coming. Yesterday’s tornado gave less than 15 minutes warning. And that was best case. For many the warning was much less or none at all until they heard the sirens, if they heard the sirens. The death toll is already higher than it was in ’99 and will likely go even higher. Many of the dead are children who were trapped in the Plaza Towers Elementary School. And among the dead are teachers who gave their lives trying to protect their students.

A large portion of Moore, Oklahoma no longer exists or has been reduced to twisted piles of rubble. People who were alive yesterday are dead today. But, what you are witnessing and will continue to witness in the days ahead will be the best of Tornado Alley, its people. They just don’t come any better. They will turn to God and reach out to one another. Those who have, will give. And those who have lost everything will work to rebuild. I must confess that my faith is weak and I tend to question God in the wake of natural disasters. Some are like me, but most folks in this part of the world will thank God that they are still alive and note that it could have been worse. They will talk about God’s will and quote scripture: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.

It’s that time of year and it’s what happens in Tornado Alley. I can live with it. I may even be used to it. But, I'll never understand it. Maybe I'm not supposed to.

Giving thanks to God for the relatively low number of deaths from the tornado. Truly a miraculous outcome. For those who lost love ones, a tragedy of course. But given the circumstances, to lose only 24 people(the latest count)is amazing. Some might ask the question: How can you thank God for mitigating the impact of a disaster He created? If you believe that we live in a fallen, broken world; that is the answer. We live in a fallen, broken world. God intervenes as he sees fit and will "have mercy upon whom He will have mercy" (Rom 9:15). On the other hand, if you believe that God is directly responsible for natural disasters, then you are still left with the fact that He will "have mercy upon whom He will have mercy". Or you can believe whatever you choose to believe. Ultimately, we find ourselves humbled, down on our knees whispering "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." (Job 42:3)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Career Makers, Career Breakers...Part 3

Another week and more Makers and Breakers.

Career Maker #5: Take calculated risks and succeed.
Those candidates who step outside of their comfort zone and take on new challenges can really accelerate their careers. Conversely maintaining the status quo, even if you are maintaining it well; may be viewed as a negative by many prospective employers. Certainly, we have clients who appreciate the candidate who has had a steady, patient career track; sticking with the same company and staying in the same position for years at a time. But there comes a point, where employers look at steady/patient and see limited potential/not career motivated. So if you do have a burning desire to advance your career, don’t get stuck. Look for new challenges and be willing to take on reasonable risks where there is a realistic opportunity to succeed.

Career Breaker #5: Taking too many risks, too often and failing.
This is the other side of the coin and as a headhunter I see this outcome way too often. The classic scenario is the young rising star, smart, hard-working and seems to have the golden touch. This star quickly reaches the upper limit with his current employer. It could be for a variety of reasons, some legit and some political. Regardless, the star becomes frustrated. The star just can’t drive 55. Along comes the big opportunity, the big title, the big money…come on down, the price is right. The star jumps in with both feet. Perhaps it’s mission impossible or maybe he just isn’t ready for prime time; for what ever reasons, he fails. But stars know how to rebound and they find another high risk, high reward gig; then another and another. One day they look up and they are staring down the barrel at 50 with a resume than looks like Swiss cheese. You don’t want to be that candidate.

Career Maker #6: Be Nice
Contrary to what many people say and think, Nice Guys (and Gals), seldom finish last. What we do often see is that those who finish first are the object of resentment, jealousy and scorn, thus sometimes are labeled as something other than nice. Being nice doesn’t mean that you have to be a soft touch, people-pleasing pushover. That is not a good strategy for career advancement. But, my experience is that most successful people are genuinely pretty nice people. They build strong relationships with people throughout their company, industry and community. They are well-thought of and respected. It is rare that a “not so nice” person succeeds over the long run. As always there are exceptions, but odds are that if you are a genuinely nice person, you will do much better in your career (and in life for that matter).

Career Breaker #6: Be an Asshole
As noted above, there are exceptions to the “nice” rule. There are truly some awful characters out there who seem to revel in being assholes. And they have figured out how to survive and thrive in their particular organization. But, do not model your career on these exceptions. If you are an “asshole” it will usually catch up with you. Most organizations do not want that person. Even if you’ve managed to rack up an impressive list of accomplishments, you will have limited opportunities and there will come a time when the only job you can land will be working for assholes who are as bad or worse than you are.

"A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person." - Dave Barry

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Career Makers, Career Breakers...Part 2

“For just one night let’s not be co-workers. Let’s be co-people.” – Ron Burgundy (from the movie Anchorman.)

Continuing the theme of Career Maker and Breakers, we start this week with:

Career Maker #3: Be a mentor and a talent developer.
The most common denominator I see in top performing, successful executives is a track record of developing people. Sure there are exceptions. Sometimes the Me-Me-Me self-absorbed executive rises to the top, using others as stepping stones and making no investment in anyone other than themselves. I could name names, but I won’t. You know who they are and they know who they are. But far and away, the best way to move through your career is by making other people better. Superstar Lone Rangers rarely succeed over the long run. You make your career better by helping other make theirs better.

Career Breaker #3: Crossing the line and getting “too involved” with co-workers.
Here’s the rule, when it comes to relationships with co-workers, don’t do anything you would not want published in the company newsletter, on facebook or in a petition for divorce. Again there are exceptions and we all know of “happily ever after” stories that resulted from “office romances”. Some may argue that if two people are single, it should not even be an issue. Some might even say that if people are unhappily married and they find their “soul-mate” at work; good for them. All I’m saying is that if you want to put your career on thin ice, sliding sideways…get involved with a co-worker. Thankfully, I avoided such slides during my career, but I must admit that I did feel my tires spinning a few times. The reality is that we’ve all seen more than a few up and coming stars derailed by office affairs. Why go there?

Career Maker #4: Do more than expected?
And the best way to do more than expected? Manage expectations. Another way of saying it is “Under-Commit and Over-Deliver.” The most successful managers and executives do a masterful job of setting expectations. It’s a balancing act of not setting the bar too low nor setting it too high. Smart executives avoid situations where they are trying to meet unrealistic expectations. In some cases, they will leave the organization rather than fail. Top performers meet or exceed their goals and objectives. They work hard and they work smart, no question. But, they also position themselves where there is a realistic opportunity to succeed.

Career Breaker #4: Do less than expected?
The corollary to CM4 is obvious. Want to derail your career? Fail to meet expectations. Sometimes it’s unavoidable and if you’re the person in charge you will likely end up paying the price. But, more often than not, I see people fail because they sign up for a mission that was doomed from the start. This goes back to last weeks CB2, “Not being strategic about your career”. Bosses, owners and investors should demand results that are difficult to achieve. Top performers should embrace the challenge. But don’t sign up for mission impossible. This is real life, not the movies. It may be cool to say “Go Big or Go Home”. But more often than not, those who try to go too big; end up going home.

Next week we’ll continue with more Makers and Breakers.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Career Makers, Career Breakers

Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know…should I stay or should I go?
-The Clash

One of the questions I am often asked is: “So is this a good career move?” And my usual answer is: “Well, that depends.” So what things do make or break a career? Over the next few weeks, I’ll give you my thoughts from the perspective of a headhunter as well as from a guy who made some maker and breaker moves during his own career in the transportation industry.

Career Maker #1: Enjoy the ride.
Several weeks ago my blog entry addressed the fact that work life is hard and it’s not always fun and games. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be miserable. If your job is making you miserable, do something about it. Check yourself, fix the situation or change jobs. Life is too short to be miserable in your work. And if you are truly unhappy, your career will be short and your life will not be very long either.

Career Breaker #1: Not being who you are.
It’s hard to “enjoy the ride” in your career if you have to put on a mask every day. Ultimately, you are who you are. And if who you are is a bad fit for the job or the company or maybe just your boss; it ain’t gonna work. If it’s a temporary bad fit, i.e. your boss is just passing through on his way up to the next rung on the ladder; you may be able to suck it up and survive. But if it’s a long-term bad fit situation, get out. If it means changing careers, do it…if you can. If it means changing companies, do it…if you can. I realize that some folks are trapped and for various reasons, they have to do what they have to do and be who they have to be in order to keep working. It’s cruel and unusual punishment, but that’s just the way it is sometimes.

Career Maker #2: Work for the right people, not jerks.
You may be in the right job with the right company, but if you are working for a jerk (or jerks); your career is at risk. There’s no way to win with jerks. If the jerk likes you and takes you under their wing, you will likely go down with the “jerk ship”. Jerks are eventually found out and punished. You don’t want to be on that team. Don’t stick around for the train wreck. If the jerk doesn’t like you and is out to get you and is in a position of power; run Forrest run. You are burning career daylight and just wasting time. Go elsewhere as soon as possible…do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Career Breaker #2: Not being strategic about your career.
This is a biggie and volumes have been written about career strategies. But, let’s just consider one critical strategic element: your choice of industry or functional specialty. Technology, innovations, competition, regulations, demographics and geo-political events are among the many things which can make or break your career. As an example, one of the few things I did right in my career was to get out of the unionized LTL market after de-regulation in the early 1980’s. I was still early in my career and while it was tough to walk away from above average pay and benefits (yes, even the managers were paid above market back then), I did not see a long-term upside in sticking around. I ended up in the non-union truckload segment which turned out to offer many more opportunities for advancement (some of which I squandered, but that’s another story for later in this series.)

No one has a crystal ball and you can never be sure, but when all signs point to negative trends you really need to think about where you are working, your position and what’s going on with your customers. There are some really smart (and lucky) folks who go against the tide and are successful contrarians. But, for the most part, if your industry or your company or your customers are fading away, you need to seriously evaluate your options.

We’ll continue next time with more Makers and Breakers.