Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Who gave that great advice anyway? - Career Development

What does it say when years later someone gives your own leadership and career advice back to you and it sounds fresh, new and right on?

I’ve known Liam for many years and we have become trusted business colleagues. We each know that we can depend on statements and commitments made by the other. So when we were talking this afternoon about my career reboot activities, he reminded me that:

- Early in your career it is all about “what you know”
- Mid career it is about “what you can do”
- And, later in your career it is about “who you know”

The “who you know” refers to the creditable business relationships you have built over a career. It is the fact that people know your calls are important and that you don’t waste their time. Access is a valuable resource built with time, respect, results and trust. Liam provided a great reminder, but then reminded me that I told him these words when he was making a significant career transition a few years back. It gets a little scary when you hear your own career development advice and it sounds good.

What do you think of this sequence of value added contributions and have you coached colleagues in a similar manner?


Anonymous said...

These are good high-level generalizations of what people can focus on throughout their career. I would argue however that an professional in their field is capable of managing and actively doing all three at once from the start.

For example if you assume that early on "what you know" is most important, then how is it that you are going to prove yourself to anyone else without the effort involved in showing "what you can do" with that knowledge? At the same time, how can you show what you can do without making the necessary effort to network and build the "who you know" facet of your career?

My point is that any one of these taken individually is worth very little. It is only in concert that a true professional emerges, trusted by their colleagues and successfull in their endeavours.


Karl Waggoner said...

This post illustrates the adage, "Make your words sweet, as you may have to eat them later."

Anonymous said...

Leadership requires acting in the present by engaging stakeholder, involving the non-participants, creating a safe, trusting, and respectful environment. Leadership has the vision in sight, the mission in proactive mode, and followers that are willing to change themselves for a better empowered future. What empowerment is to be gained!!

Deming preached much of this and used truthful facts to continuously improve processes and products.

James T. Parsons said...

Although I appreciate the wisdom in the Linkedin comment, John, I actually think I also agree with your original point and think it is a good one. I don't think your point was necessarily that the others don't matter, but the priority is based upon "who you know" and "who knows you". Part of their knowledge is that you are capable. Success won't be found by only knowing people, since that allows you to get to the plate, but you still have to swing and advance the game. However, often the limitation in life is not the knowledge or the applicability of it, but the opportunity to show what you can do. With so much noise now in our community with email, blackberries, cells, networking cites, etc., the test is getting through and being heard. Who knows you well provides that window.

I lastly think your comment about using those contacts wisely is key. It is not only who you know, but definitely how you use that knowledge. If you burn the contact, or appear to waste its time, you will lose the ability to be heard. However, if you always are the person giving them 'win-win' opportunities, I think they will always be open to you.

Good work on this blog - I will start looking at it periodically.

Anonymous said...

Very aptly put John.

Early career breaks are based on how much you know as the opportunities to demonstrate of what you can do is not available. And application of what you learn in school is a different dimension altogeather.

Mid career moves are based on your performance in your earlier jobs so 'what you can do' track records are very closely examined.

I slightly differ on the senior level jobs. Who you know may hold good if you are moving in the same industry segment. However if you move across segments then what value you have created would be more significant. This would depend on your vision and the culture and environment you are able to create.

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice and believe the value sequence is right. Funny how you really do not reflect on it till a career transition happens. One thing to keep in mind is that your accomplishments will provide some level of credibility when the people in your network introduce you to their network...so, it all ties together.

Good luck with your transition!

Anonymous said...

Sage advice John.

However some people will read this and think they should be in the later "who you know" stage when they still really need to be working on the "what you can do" phase.

Quite frankly I see far too many on LinkedIn & elsewhere who really haven't taken the world by storm yet and are looking for someone to hand them the opportunity. It just doesn't work that way.

Building the resource base that you mention of mutual respect, results and trust necessary for effective, supportive and beneficial relationships can and will come if people "make their bones" where they are right now. If the processes, products or services are broken or marginal in the company that they are in, then they are going to have to make an impact in order to be noticed so that they can actually collaborate and connecting with what I will call "bigger players" in their company, industry or marketplace.

I don't see a lack of ambition amongst folks, but I do see a lack of courage to confront the issues in the company, and take a stand to creatively / innovatively challenge the status quo and crush the problem.

Anonymous said...


I've truly enjoyed reading your posts on the Clarkson board/blog. It is great to see some very interesting topics discussed on the CU Linkedin page! Although still very young in my career (4 years out of university), I feel that it is extremely important to hone all three career aspects so that I am ready to take advantage of career opportunities as they present themselves to me. With this in mind I hope you don't mind my request to become connections here on Linkedin in an effort to grow the "who you know" aspect of my career.

Kind Regards,

Anonymous said...

You are so right. I think sometimes we tend to pontificate without having tried and tested our own advice. When we get it back years later, AFTER we have been through the fire, it sounds different. I think sometimes we are surprised to find out that we were really as smart as we thought we were.

Anonymous said...

As I'm approaching 50, I'm also coming to the conclusion of my current assignment (almost on the exact date) and I'm in the process of looking for another challenging opportunity. Yesterday my boss met with another program to tell them about me (to "sell me"). Although it didn't result in a job offer, the feedback that I got through my boss was gratifying - some of the people in the room had heard of me and made some very nice complements about my capabilities and performance. The thing is, that I have never met them or even talked to them on the phone, but they had heard about me through mutual contacts. This is what is meant by "who you know" (and who knows you)...is about REPUTATION (and it can be good or bad). The important thing for younger people is to make sure that every task given is performed efficiently ("what you do"). The quality of your work (reports, charts, etc) will be noticed over time...oh, and consistency is also important.

John Bishop said...

Thank you for all the insights on the 3 phased career value concpet. I believe a number of great reminders were that the 3 phases are not exclusive of each otehr. In fact, they are more inclusive as time moves on. What you know grows and is added to what you can do. Both of them grow as it is added to who you know. Who you know is enhanced by your reputation of what you know and what you can accomplish.

It is a growing and expanding cycle..

You you all for contributing.


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