Three numbers that should change the way you think about your career.

PurposeThe first number should wake us up:

Only 11.1% of managers feel ‘highly committed’ to their work or organizations, according to a 2004 engagement survey covering 50,000 employees in 59 companies.

Our careers, taken as a series of promotions and pay-raises, storybook fashion, seldom result in happiness or anything close to it.

The truer version of happiness, or of fulfillment, comes from challenging our mind toward a series of meaningful, highly personal, goals. A paycheck doesn’t do it, nor do impressive titles. The starting point is understanding what drives us. 75 members of Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Advisory Council, mostly made up of senior executives, were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop. Their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness.

Here is the second number that wakes me up:

Less than 20% of business leaders can express their individual sense of purpose, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review.

Why is this important? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a pioneer of the scientific study of happiness, writes that when we focus our attention on a consciously chosen goal, a purpose, the experience can be immensely enjoyable, and effective.

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Purpose is the synthesis of your passions, your talents, your character, and your values. People who have it know why they do what they do. They make conscious career decisions. They define success and write the script that gets them there. Purpose stems from who we are, and comes in all shapes and sizes.

If you are one of the 88.9% of managers who are not “highly committed,” try drilling down into your purpose.

Here’s the third shocking number: $150 billion. U.S. companies spend upward of $150 billion every year on development and training. Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of it. Ask yourself: Did it get me closer to where I truly want to be?

Back to the drawing board

If you were investing in your own development, your spending would probably be a lot different. You would assess successes, failures, strengths and passions. You would take time for deep personal reflection. The work would refresh you, reconnect you to that sense of purpose. You would take the path that takes you there. This is why a group of us created a career ‘redesign’ workshop for executives we call SpringBoard.

Having a purpose doesn’t guarantee success. But most highly effective leaders have purpose.

For thirty years, Michael Bekins has lived and worked in Asia, Europe, and the US in global and regional roles, making almost a dozen cross-border moves. His conversations with thousands of executives have shaped his perspectives on life and work. He is Managing Partner of CapitaPartners, an executive coaching and consulting firm specializing in Global Mindset and Purpose-driven Careers. Connect on LinkedIn. Follow Michael on @michaelbekins.

Considering a global job? Mindset matters

earthGlobal roles are complex, unpredictable, and loaded with ambiguity. What do effective global executives do to master their environment and deliver results? Being hard-charging and smart come with the territory. What else helps? What’s the mindset in Global Mindset?

Let’s start with listening and reflection. Successful global executives know when to step back and cultivate their curiosity. They explore the world through experience, reading, and asking lots and lots of questions. Powered by curiosity, they listen to others, seek feedback, and reflect on their experience.

Leaders who are curious also tend to appreciate ambiguity. Rather than judge others or themselves, they face uncertainty with optimism and openness.

Take cultural curiosity. By engaging with people from other countries and suspending their own judgments, they learn about their own implicit cultural assumptions. Successful global leaders are culturally self-aware and understand how their behaviors land on others. With this, they can adapt their style to fit the situation and the needs of their colleagues. This is a core quality of global mindset and takes practice. Putting others at ease increases credibility. It helps with team building. (For relevant posts check out Ten Things Charismatic Leaders Do and Ten reasons why Asia is good for your career in my recent LinkedIn blogs.)

I once asked the Regional Head of Southeast Asia for a major multinational if she was willing to become better at adapting her style to meet the needs of others. “Yes,” she said, “I can learn to do it, but I’m not sure I want to.”

“Wanting to” comes from deep inside. You have to really want to do it. It can sap your energy.

This gets to another core quality. Physical and mental energy. Tenacity. Engaging with others across functions, boundaries, time zones, and cultures takes enormous resilience. The late night conference calls are only part of the story. But you can’t influence executives half a world away without it.

Not surprisingly, it also takes confidence. Otherwise leaders would just throw in the towel.

I’ve seen executives increase both their confidence and their tolerance to ambiguity. How? We’ve noticed that by pausing, reflecting, listening and engaging with others, leaders begin to approach ambiguous and complex situations with greater confidence and credibility.

These global leaders are conscious of their strengths and weaknesses in their entirety and approach people and situations with humility (another core quality).

Driving for results is a given. What’s under-appreciated is the need to reflect and manage ourselves amidst uncertainty, ambiguity, and heightened complexity. It takes consciousness. (Check out Daniel Goleman’s Self-Regulation: A Star Leader’s Secret Weapon.)

The good news is that we can measure these qualities through our assessment tools. By openly presenting our assessment data to global executives, we build self-awareness, reflection, the commitment to change, and a greater sense of purpose. And purpose drives performance. This is the “mindset” we look for in Global Mindset.

For thirty years, Michael Bekins has lived and worked in Asia, Europe, and the US in global and regional roles, making almost a dozen cross-border moves. He is Managing Partner of CapitaPartners, an executive coaching and consulting firm specializing in Global Mindset and Purpose-driven Careers (see SpringBoard). Connect on LinkedIn. Follow Michael on @michaelbekins.

Why Career?

With the vast amount of job-related advice available online and in print today, the best way to translate it into a thoughtful action plan is to put it in the context of the why of our career. This becomes increasingly important as we move up the ladder and consider our impact and legacy.

Finding meaning in our career is a matter of listening to what life wants of us, not just what we want of life. John Schuster, a coach and writer on human development, says that responding to a call is a choice that leaves you no choice. Our purpose sometimes grabs us, shakes us, and refuses to let us go. Responding—and giving in—to that calling or purpose can energize us to achieve amazing things.

When we are honest and clear about where we are on our journey, we can move forward more thoughtfully and efficiently, saving years of “soldiering on.” However, not all of us are lucky enough to attune to a higher calling all the time and most people’s lives and careers aren’t linear. Instead, we move through ups and downs in a spiral fashion, riding the waves of intense energy, success, frustration, boredom, change, growth and renewal.

Building a “successful” career isn’t just about moving up; it’s also about digging deep. By mining our past and mindfully approaching our present, we can regularly tap into our passions, values, and strengths to design a career that fully reflects what we want our life to be about. If you feel something is missing and want more in your life and career, now may be the time to act.

CapitaPartners introduces SpringBoard, a career redesign workshop for executives.

For 35 years I have advised and coached senior executives, particularly global executives, through career transitions, big and small, formally and informally. I can remember just about every one of these encounters, so lasting is the imprint that is formed during periods of intense human interaction. If ever you’ve experienced career coaching you will know what I mean.

More recently, I’ve thought deeply about how to make an impact on careers in today’s world where we are, in many respects, “contractors.” We can author our own careers, leveraging LinkedIn and other networking sites to promote and monetize the unique experience, skills, networks, qualities, and passions that set us apart and add value to organizations.

And so CapitaPartners created SpringBoard, an intensive career redesign workshop for executives. I am pleased to announce that over the next year CapitaPartners will deliver SpringBoard to executives in three cities: Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo. Over two and a half days, a cohort of like-minded executives will move through a series of interactive exercises designed to bring awareness and insights to their career and life plans. The approach is grounded in concepts of adult learning, executive coaching methodologies, and 30 years of practical experience in career decision-making. Through feedback and support, you will come away with fresh thinking and a concrete plan. Our goal is for these experienced participants to learn as much from each other as from the coaches. Our first workshop is in Santa Barbara from October 15-17, 2015.

Consider taking a short time-out to focus on the “why” of your career. Visit our website and consider registering. Or email SpringBoard@capitapartners.com for more information.

Our take-aways from 2014

As we reach the end of 2014, I would like to thank all of CapitaPartners’ friends and clients great success and fulfillment in 2015.

For us, this has been a year of unbelievable progress, thanks to the contributions of my associates and partners Ken Brousseau, Armin Pajand, and Steve Fisher. Together, we partnered with and supported clients in Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, across Southern California, Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, Maine, and New York. Thank you all for your commitment to achieving new levels of success; you are an inspiration to me!

Looking back at the outcomes from the past twelve months, some core themes emerge:

First, receiving executive coaching is exhilarating—and challenging. In fact, growing self-awareness and taking the necessary actions to expand various capabilities during the coaching process is hard. Our clients dig deep to uncover all of their behaviors and mindsets, some pleasing, others not, and lay them out on the table for observation and introspection. While this is uncomfortable at times, with dedication, it can be extremely rewarding. One client told me that, while she “re-discovered her love affair with the business,” being coached also was one of the most difficult things she has ever done in her professional life. My take away here is that change doesn’t happen because we want to change or because we are thinking about changing. Change happens because we step outside our comfort zone and take action. There can be no coaching without action.  I am continually moved by my clients’ courage in this regard.

Second, global leaders experience far more complexity and flux than do executives in local roles. We know this from research, our own careers, and our clients. Executives based overseas experience the “tyranny of distance”—the midnight phone calls, bosses 10,000 miles away, and constant travel. As a result, our clients need to summon extra mental energy and resilience and go out of their way to build bridges, demonstrate interpersonal adaptability, and appreciate different cultures. Success for them is a matter of maintaining optimism in the face of these challenges, and a lot of our work revolves around providing extra support so they can do so with more ease.

Third, I am reminded time and again that we author our careers and the contributions we make to organizations and the world at large. Some are surprised to discover that our limitations are determined by ourselves, not by our employers. A career is ours to create, share, and, sometimes, transform. Beyond a resume, a LinkedIn profile, or a value proposition, the best careers are an extension and expression of who we really are. The more we understand ourselves, our purpose, our passions, and our development needs, the sooner we can take control over our careers. I am especially gratified by the work we do with clients to help them gain mastery over their ability to leave an inspiring legacy. Again, I am humbled by my clients’ dedication to re-think their life and career.

As a result of our shared efforts, almost all of our clients successfully navigated some sort of major transition during 2014. One was promoted to CEO, another repatriated to the US after seven years in Japan, a third found his true niche and value proposition after being promoted to CFO. Building on the principles that contributed to these achievements, in 2015, we will be expanding our research and coaching programs that focus specifically on global leadership and facilitating critical career transitions for global executives.

About CapitaPartners. We partner with clients to develop global mindset in executives and build an outstanding cadre of global executive talent. Through coaching, workshops and consulting, we offer programs on Global Leadership, Leading Across Cultures, Global Careers, and Transitions. Our AsiaNext platform ignites the next generation of talent in Asia.

How Bosses Learn: Three Steps to Learning Through Career Inflection Points

Unless we are totally lacking in self-awareness, most of us would admit to failing in a new role at least once. What separates effective leaders, the people who keep getting promoted, from the managers who seem to get sidelined?

In “The Seasoned Executive’s Decision-Making Style,” (Harvard Business Review, February 2006, CapitaPartner’s strategic partner Ken Brousseau of Decision Dynamics proves the adage, “What got you here won’t get you there.” Through data collected by assessing thousands of executives, Ken shows that somewhere in our early careers, usually as we are beginning to manage people, our jobs become more complex and the solutions and behaviors that worked until that point do not work anymore.

In fact, leaders tell us that they typically confront this “inflection point” when they move from being a supervisor to a manager, or from an individual contributor to a team leader. Relying on old habits that were good enough to “get the job done” in their early career —like doing instead of leading, or telling instead of listening—most executives hit a wall. To move past this point quickly, new learning needs to happen and new behaviors, specifically essential, “soft” leadership qualities, are necessary.

Deepak got promoted by being smart and getting things done. He became a General Manager early in his career and quickly flamed out. The warning signs were there but he ignored them. He describes this failure as a “crucible experience,” saying, “I didn’t listen to my team. I was the smartest person in the room. Then my boss read me the riot act.”

While Deepak learned his lesson, too many others do not, and continue to operate as they always have, blaming everyone but themself for their derailment. This is most tragic in the case of otherwise high potential executives with the smarts and talent to excel, but who fail to win the support of colleagues, even other high potentials.

So, what can you do when being smart simply isn’t enough? Deepak embraced and applied three steps recommended to anyone seeking a positive change and transformation in any area of their lives. They are:

  1. Self-awareness: Deepak faced the behaviors that threatened to derail him head on. He began to ask for feedback and sought help clarifying specific areas for development.
  2. Commitment to change: Fueled by a compelling picture of what success would look and feel like compared to his current experience, which was causing frustration, Deepak took full responsibility and was willing to do whatever it took to change himself and his results.
  3. Action and reflection:Deepak recognized that thinking about doing something or promising to do something aren’t the same as doing  He consciously selected and consistently practiced new behaviors, reflecting on what was working and course correcting until the most effective new behaviors became part of his daily life.

Discovering his authentic, most positive and powerful style took time and courage. Luckily, he was someone driven by learning and continuous self-improvement with the motivation to move out of his comfort zone. If you find yourself struggling to move past a similar inflection point in your career, dedicated coaching can significantly accelerate your learning process and empower you to make a positive impact with greater ease and enjoyment.

Getting on Top of the Job in Asia

Sonny got a coach and got on top of his job.

Sonny, based in China, was recently promoted to lead a 40,000-person organization across China and neighboring countries. And yet, for the first time in his career, he felt like quitting.

His company, one of the largest and most successful manufacturing services firms, had been growing at breakneck speed for ten years, riding a global boom in manufacturing outsourcing. Prior to Sonny’s promotion, he led Operations — the core growth engine for the company. Sonny ran Operations with the skill and efficiency of a highly experienced battlefield commander — calling critical shots and tending to the needs of the delivery team. Sonny loved the job. He knew the business better than anyone and was respected in local circles for his no-nonsense style. He had reported to the company’s head of Southeast Asia, who reported to the EVP, based in the company’s head office.

Two months after Sonny’s promotion to Regional General Manager-Asia, things began to unravel for him. He now led all functions within the region, including HR, Finance, Operations, and Global Account Management. Because of a re-organization, he reported directly to the global EVP of the company, based in headquarters.

Things became far more complex. Sonny was now expected to be the architect for the company’s growth strategy while leading the P&L across a diverse geography and continuing to grow at record rates. Sonny had never reported directly to a top executive at headquarters. As Sonny commented to us, “I can’t get on top of it. I have no balance. I’m spending my time fighting HR and Finance, people who have no feel for Operations. I am expected to present a strategy for growth — everyone looks to me and I’m getting no support.” Sonny also knew that his direct reports were frustrated, and one—his key HR executive—was about to resign.

Studies show that cross-functional global roles are different. Global executives experience far more complexity, flux, and ambiguity in their jobs than domestic executives, and they deal with a multiplicity of stakeholders across diverse cultures and boundaries. Intelligence alone doesn’t lead to success.

Through coaching, Sonny began a journey of change, beginning with a heightened awareness of his own leadership style. He then learned how to lead others within the team and across the organization in a global context. All successful global executives take this journey sooner or later, some more consciously than others. Executives who don’t evolve, don’t get promoted—we know this from evidence. Sonny learned how his style impacted others, including his team, and how to better influence across borders and cultures.

1. Leading Self: Sonny learned that others, especially those across the matrix, considered him “a bully, overly demanding, not strategic.” Executives at headquarters felt Sonny needed to step into the Regional General Manager role with more of a strategic impact. His decision style assessment report revealed a task-orientation style that leaned heavily on speed and action over planning, active listening, inquiring, and systems thinking. In short, the skills and behaviors that got Sonny promoted were no longer enough.

2. Leading Others: Sonny began to understand how his own style was negatively impacting himself and others. Worse, as the pressure grew, Sonny’s style became even more controlling. As a result, he became more alienated from his team and decision-making became dysfunctional.

The turning point came when Sonny decided to change. “Through coaching, I realized that my job was to create purpose and opportunity for thousands of people in this organization. My focus ceased to be ‘operations versus everyone else.’ We need to become one organization.”

Over the next six months, Sonny learned how to become more versatile as a leader and decision-maker, but it was hard. The new behaviors — more listening, probing for information, and pausing before judging others — didn’t seem natural to him and he almost gave up. Over time, however, he realized that the new behaviors were essential for success and consistent with his purpose. He couldn’t possibly succeed in his new role without the expertise and ideas of others. In addition to understanding his own style, he learned how to adapt to the style of others, a critical first step in influencing teams. In other words, he developed his ‘empathy muscles’ and used his new skills to read people and situations.

He later observed, almost by surprise, that there was no more fighting within his team. People felt heard. As he leaned on others for ideas, others provided solutions. Through greater self-awareness, Sonny began to adapt his style to each situation.

3. Leading the Organization: Although his job required constant influence — up, down, and across — Sonny lacked the skills to influence across cultures and borders. “I was impatient,” he says. “If someone disagreed with me, I wrote them off.” Through practice, Sonny became more aware of the needs of executives across the matrix. He built relationships and communicated in ways that allowed him to be heard.

4. Impact: Because others on his team were contributing more, Sonny had more time to think strategically. He began to use his influencing skills to engage executives in headquarters to shape the global strategies and policies that impacted his business and teams. He built alliances with global executives across the matrix. He showed more confidence and initiative in his communications with his boss and, as a result, demonstrated more impact at a global level. By managing himself with greater self-awareness, Sonny learned to adapt his style to meet the needs of each situation. Sonny said to us, “the business is becoming more complex, but I’m enjoying it more.”

Sonny did all the work. Our job was to show him the thread by which he could knit through the personal, relational and organizational layers of culture, complexity and chaos.

Thriving as head of Asia: a case study

It’s hard to survive, much less thrive, in a Western multinational’s top job in Asia. These roles—Head of Asia, President-China, or something similar—are high risk leadership opportunities. There are lots of reasons: failure to grow fast enough, failure to connect with local teams, inability to adapt to the ambiguity of emerging markets, failure to build the right products for local customers.

But because of the attention Asia gets from Boards and shareholders, none of those beats the biggest derailer of all: failure to drive an Asia agenda and enlist crucial support from key stakeholders. This takes a global mindset and great communication.

Figuring out how to influence the agenda at headquarters isn’t easy for anybody—and it wasn’t easy for KC, the newly promoted Chinese Head of Asia for a US multinational.

KC’s struggle was not out of lack of desire, smarts, education, tenacity, or ability to execute. He was promoted into a job for which no training exists. And as the business in Asia continued to grow in complexity and size, all eyes were on him. Like many Asians newly promoted into the top job in Asia, KC had never even sat down with the CEO.

KC put it this way: “I’m an entrepreneur. I love running a business. But I suddenly found myself head of a matrix and there was no accountability. The headquarters wanted me to run the P&L of a region and I lacked control of anything.” Here’s what KC’s bosses in the US said: “KC grew up in the sales force and was comfortable leading the sales team and driving the local P&L. But he was then promoted into a regional leadership role where success in executing across the global matrix is more important. KC didn’t engage the matrix. He didn’t speak up on conference calls. He didn’t take the time to influence peers.”

Both the headquarters leaders and KC agreed that the skills that got him to where he is today were not the same skills that will carry him forward. What happened next? Three big events, all involving better engagement with his senior colleagues:

1. KC got an executive coach.

Rather than put KC through a battery of training programs, the head of HR asked KC a simple and smart question: What’s the one skill you know you need to master in order to succeed? His reply: “managing the matrix and influencing my peers at a global level.”

This was a bold step outside his comfort zone. KC had never liked working in a matrix. A natural entrepreneur, he was comfortable calling the shots and making fast decisions. With the help of a coach, he learned that he needed to paint a picture of what the business needs to look like in a year or two and communicate this story to everyone, even the CEO. Because of the stakes, he knew he needed to get this story right, achieve buy-in, find and fix its weaknesses, and ensure accountability on the part of everyone, even those who don’t report to him.

KC found his point of view. He listened for resistance and asked for support. Asia is a kaleidoscope of changing patterns and complexities; no one person can discern the best way forward alone. Leaders engage with others to find a better way, to validate their point of view, to hear the reality checks. Rather than complain about the matrix, he used it. KC put into place specific practices that forced regular communication. He scheduled regular check-ins, probed for the points of views of others during meetings, and walked down the hall to ask his peer in manufacturing what might be missing from the picture. Even now he is experimenting with new practices, while summoning the entrepreneurial instincts that he knows works for him.

Then during one of his regular conversations with the CEO, KC had another idea:

2. KC invited the top five operating executives in the company to each spend a week with him visiting customers. He spaced these meetings a few weeks apart.

Over the course of the next few months, KC developed deeper relationships with the top executives. The corporate culture became less a mystery. These operating executives took KC’s and the customer’s messages back to headquarters. These insights led to better strategies around products, faster decision-making, and better customer support.

The third big thing came from KC’s counterpart in Europe who, like KC, was at heart an entrepreneur.

3. The company hired the best Business and Financial Planning executive they could find to join KC in Shanghai.

KC knew he needed to become a better planner. But now he had the support of someone who was an expert. The planner became a business partner and mentor. Together they ran scenarios and tested growth plans. KC became better at operations. Other leaders began to trust KC’s point of view.

It would be a mistake to assume that KC needed to be someone he was not in order to succeed in his new role. That was KC’s fear. Yes, he built new skills related to business practices, the matrix, and better communication. At the same time, he continued to do what he was good at. Through coaching, he figured out how to use his strengths while learning new skills. And notice that the entire executive team rallied to support K.C.’s development.

The CEO took a chance on KC. And KC, for his part, stepped up. He decided he was accountable for his own success. It’s taken a year for him to tackle these leadership development issues. It’s probably too soon to say he’s thriving. But he’s increased his chances for success.

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