The Problem with Career Complacency

In the past three weeks, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend.

I have been contacted by a number of people who have been let go by their companies.

Sadly, the global pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the economy and the job market.

But, it’s even worse than that.

The scary part is that the people who were let go are the best of the best. They are veterans, they have degrees from top universities, and they have decades of leadership experience. They are the last people I would expect to be looking for work right now.

It is a powerful reminder that none of our jobs are safe.

Unfortunately, I understand this situation all too well.

In 2014, I found myself out of a job through no fault of my own. I was the vice president of a major corporation and had more than 15 years of dedicated service. One morning, I came into work like every other day and by that afternoon, I was out of work.

No warning. No heads up. Nothing.

I was left shocked and confused. I couldn’t understand how a company I had worked so hard for could just toss me aside like that. Especially, with all my knowledge, education, experience, and a history of getting things done.

But that’s the thing I learned. None of us are safe!

That experience taught me some powerful lessons.

And, if you’re lucky enough to still be employed during this crisis, you need to pay attention. You need to understand that your company doesn’t care about you or your career.

Your company doesn’t care about you or your career. Click To Tweet

I’m sorry if this is a shock to you but you alone are responsible for managing your career.

So, here are four simple rules to manage your career in this crisis:

The first rule is this – don’t be complacent.

Don’t assume that your years of hard work and dedication will mean anything when they start making a spreadsheet of “heads” to be eliminated. You are not that special to them. You are a number on a spreadsheet.

The second rule is – don’t let your connections go stale.

Don’t be that person who only calls people when they need something. Stay in regular communication with your network. And, if you have a small network, you need to grow it…starting today.

Understand this – your next job will come from someone you know or someone who they know. You’re not getting a job by posting a resume on a job board.

Your next job will come from someone you know or someone who they know. Click To Tweet

The third rule is – build your personal brand.

When I was let go, I was a nobody outside my company. No one knew who I was or what I stood for.  Don’t be like I was. You should have a personal website and you should be writing regularly about what you know and showcasing your skills. Just keeping your LinkedIn profile up to date isn’t good enough anymore.

The fourth rule is – build multiple streams of income.

When I was let go, my salary was my only source of income. All my eggs were in that basket. Don’t do this. Use side hustles to develop other sources of income that you can turn to if things go belly up.

Who knows? One of your side hustles may be your next career.

One of the people who helped me through my career transition was John O’Connor.

He helped me step up my game in terms of networking and personal branding. I recently had him on my podcast and we talked about how to manage your career during a crisis.

Everyone needs to listen to this episode.

This global pandemic should be a wakeup call for you and your career. Don’t wait until you are out of work before you take action.

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P.S. I’m asked all the time if I provide signed copies of my book? The answer is yes. Click here and press the large orange button for signed copies.

Using Failure to Fuel Sucess

You’ve probably noticed the same thing as me.

There is success all around us and, as a society, we love to celebrate success. Think about social media. It’s really just a collection of everyone’s highlight reel sent out into cyberspace hoping to get a little positive affirmation.

We also love a good rags-to-riches success story.

Like J. K. Rowling for example.

She went from living on welfare to becoming the world’s first billionaire author.

We love stories like this because it helps us imagine that one day, if we get lucky, maybe we might become the next rags-to-riches story.

But, what about failure?

We don’t like to think or talk about our failures.

We purposely hide our outtakes and our blooper reel from the world.

We purposely hide our outtakes and our blooper reel from the world. Click To Tweet

We fear failure. It’s embarrassing and discouraging when we fail. We feel like a loser in a world where everyone else is winning.

The problem is that failure gets a bad rap. It’s actually more important than success.

Let me explain.

Consider this. Between 2004 and 2006, at the height of auto-maker Toyota’s success, it recalled more vehicles than ever before. They learned the hard way that success leads to complacency.

We need failure.

We need it to learn, grow, and to provide the fuel to propel us towards our goals.

We need failure to learn, grow, and to provide the fuel to propel us towards our goals. Click To Tweet

Even the great J. K. Rowling was rejected by 12 different publishing houses before Bloomsbury finally accepted her stories.

Think of this quote that is often attributed to Winston Churchill (although he never actually said it):

“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” 

Failure is not the problem.

Our response to failure is. It’s the courage to continue that counts.

I recently had Colonel George Milton on my podcast and we spoke specifically about failure. He took a life of failure and built an amazing career in leadership.

He is a highly decorated combat Army veteran who barely graduated from high school. The story of his early struggles and how it provided fuel for his success is powerful.

He never let failure stop him and he was eventually inducted into the United States Army Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame.

Listen in to this episode and learn how to harness the power of failure.

P.S. If you haven’t followed me on Instagram yet, you should. You’ll get a little more “behind the scenes” view of what it’s like to lead a manufacturing business.

5 Ways Skill Stacking Can Boost your Career

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In five years, I went from being an associate design engineer in a cubicle to a general manager with a corner office leading a $50 million manufacturing business. I attribute some of this career growth to grit and persistence but the most important contributor was skill stacking.

Skill stacking is the notion that you can combine several normal skills to create a combination of abilities to become extraordinarily valuable. Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, actually coined the phrase “talent stack” to describe this concept.

Adams says, “The idea of a talent stack is that you can combine ordinary skills until you have enough of the right kind to be extraordinary. You don’t have to be the best in the world at any one thing. All you need to succeed is to be good at a number of skills that fit well together.”

“A combination of mediocre skills can make you surprisingly valuable.” – Scott Adams

In his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Adams describes how he combined an ordinary talent for drawing and writing, a decent sense of humor, a strong work ethic, a high risk tolerance and years of experience working in the corporate world to become a world-renowned syndicated cartoonist. His particular skill stack made him unique in the cartoon industry allowing him to publish a highly successful comic strip lampooning life in the business world.

“The goal of a talent stack is to stack different skills to create a sweet spot. A sweet point that dramatically raises your value in a competitive field.” – Celestine Chua

In my case, I stacked a different set of skills to land my first general management job. As a former Naval Officer on nuclear submarines, I already had years of leadership training and experience. I was also a decent engineer having helped design and launch a breakthrough product for the company.

While working as an engineer, I completed my MBA which gave me a good general knowledge of business, especially marketing and accounting. I also became an expert in quality by getting my Six Sigma Black Belt certification and volunteering to assist the company in preparing for a nuclear quality assurance audit. My work in quality was recognized and I was promoted to quality manager.

As a quality manager, I gained experience working with every department in the company. I worked with marketing, sales, production, purchasing, engineering and accounting. I even visited customers. This gave me a good overall understanding of the interworking of the company and helped me build relationships across the organization.

I stacked the skills of leadership, engineering, quality, a basic business knowledge, good relationships, a strong work ethic and a willingness to volunteer for tough assignments to become extraordinarily valuable. When a general management opportunity opened up to lead a manufacturing plant that made technical products used in nuclear power plants, I was a natural choice and I was given the assignment.

“Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success” – Scott Adams

Skill stacking is a simple but powerful way for you to become extraordinarily valuable to your company. It can help you get recognition and land your dream job. Here are some ways skill stacking can boost your career:

You differentiate yourself from your peers. I have always believed the more skills you gain the more valuable you become to the organization. Stacking skills allows you to stand out from the pack. It also makes it difficult for others to compete with you. Opportunities will open up for the person who can add the most value to an organization.

You learn how to learn. Learning and mastering new skills makes acquiring future skills even easier. The more you work at acquiring skills, the more you identify the easiest and best ways you learn. You also develop a curious mind and an intrinsic love of learning. In effect, this “hard-wires” your brain for learning and mastery.

“In a fast-moving, competitive world, being able to learn new skills is one of the keys to success. It’s not enough to be smart — you need to always be getting smarter.” – Heidi Grant Halvorson

 You develop self-confidence. When I first started studying nuclear quality assurance standards, for example, I was intimidated. The standards seemed incomprehensible. But the more I read and understood, the more confident I became. In less than six months, I was the expert on the topic. Confidence comes from understanding and mastering new concepts and skills.

Your combined skill set is greater than the sum of the parts. If you chose the right skills to stack, the sum will be much greater than the parts. In the example of Scott Adams, his experience in the corporate world was the extra skill that really made Dilbert special. In my case, it was an understanding of nuclear quality assurance that gave me my first break. Look for a combination of skills that makes you unique.

You see things others don’t. When you stack skills and abilities, you see the world differently. You gain a broader understanding of more subjects than your peers and you will be sought out to add value to critical projects. For example, my business, engineering and quality skills were often sought out to evaluate potential merger and acquisition targets. This gave me exposure to senior management and strategic projects at a very young age. Even today as a CEO, I rely on my past engineering and quality experience almost every day.

Combining ordinary skills to become extraordinarily valuable in the workplace is something everyone can do. This is why skill stacking is so important to understand. It’s the one thing you can do to truly propel your career and land your dream job. Mastering new skills will put you on a path of life-long learning and give you more confidence. It will help you differentiate yourself from your peers and give you a unique insight into your organization.

If you want to learn more about skill and talent stacking, consider reading Scott Adams bestseller, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. This is a great book to read if you are interested in skill stacking, thinking about career planning or just a fan of Scott Adams and the Dilbert comic.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.