In transition? 6 lessons from successful career changes.

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Change happens fast. Transitions take time. That’s because with each new career change, if you’re thoughtful about it, you take a step closer to becoming your true self. This can’t be rushed.

What will it take for the next five years to be your best ever? By linking what you do to who you are, your career becomes your vocation.

Over the years, I have witnessed hundreds of executives make job changes, mostly involving a bigger title, more money, or greater responsibilities. Few of these executives quit to move into entirely new careers. Fewer still describe their new career as their vocation. Maybe it’s because most executives are too damn busy to reflect on what makes them truly effective or happy; or maybe the easy pay raises have seduced them into careers defined by money or power. Or tunnel vision. It doesn’t have to be that way.

What will it take for the next five years to be your best ever?

Changing your career is not the same thing as changing jobs. A truly successful career transition requires a redefinition, or reinvention, of who you are. In my experience, executives who have succeeded in single or multiple career transitions — and I don’t mean job changes — and who love what they do, have five critical qualities in common:

  1. Self-Awareness. The starting point is understanding what drives us. 75 members of Stanford Graduate School of Business’ 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. Self awareness gives executives the power to spot the disconnects between their chosen career path, their income potential, and the joy they get out of life. Self-awareness gives people the power to recognize when “something’s missing” in their career. By reflecting on what’s important and experimenting with different choices, they learn from their experiences. In our coaching, we routinely use self-assessments to flesh out motivations. We help executives find meaning from their career successes and failures, their values and passions.
  2. Autonomy. Successful career-changers self-author their careers and lives. They, not their employers, take responsibility for their own development and the fulfillment they get out of their work. Thirty years in the making, a self-determined career is now a reality, thanks to LinkedIn and the slow death of the social contract. Like it or not, we are all contractors now. Successful career-changers know that theirs is the start-up that matters most. Their livelihood is determined by how effectively they discover, nurture, and sell their inspired vision for the future.
  3. Pursuing Mastery. Good things happen when we are at our best. This takes conscious effort. When executives strive to attain higher levels of mastery over their mindsets, ideas, and behaviors, opportunities come their way. People are eager to work with us because of who we are, not just because of what we know. And we, in turn, want to work with people we can learn from and who challenge us to be better. Mastery is a journey that takes time, experimentation, effort, and discovery. My coaching clients describe this journey as the hardest thing they have ever done — and the most rewarding. With each new level of mastery, higher mountains stand before them.
  4. Purpose. All of us are drawn to an activity that is meaningful for us. If we are lucky, our purpose or ‘calling’ grabs us, shakes us, and doesn’t let us go. Succumbing to our purpose can and should dedicate us to something bigger than ourselves. Our energy, engagement, tenacity, and confidence stems from our purpose. Life takes on a sense of urgency. But relatively few of us are committed to a purpose, according to research published in HBR (see my prior post).
  5. Identity. In your transition, who is the new you? By stepping into the future of your own design, you become the person or leader you aspire to be. Your identity, the way you show up in the world, shifts, and there is no turning back. Have you felt this way? There are many examples of accomplished people who have consciously reinvented themselves, driven by a clarifying and renewable sense of purpose: Winston Churchill, Leopold Stokowski, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Gates, to name a few. Without exception, every successful career shift coincides with a shift, or reinvention, of identity.
  6. Experimentation. Successful career-changers have a learning mindset. Reflection can take you only so far. It is often a good strategy to experiment or act your way into a new way of thinking or being. This involves testing your career ideas on others, attaining certifications or new skills, building new social networks, and trying out new jobs or volunteer roles where your passions can be tested.

How do you score on the above list?

Back to the drawing boardThe most successful people find creative ways to express their inner selves through work. If something’s missing, they change their work. They stretch themselves, accept their strengths and weaknesses without judgment, and are relentless in pursuing the thing they love to do.

If you are in the second half of your career, you know that most careers don’t always follow linear upward paths to success. Careers are journeys filled with ups and downs, pain and joy. Changing your career deliberately and consciously is not the same thing as changing your job. A successful career change takes reflection, hard work, a personal support system, and the courage to experiment. I’d like to hear about your experience.

Remarkable careers don’t happen by accident. Careers, like the leaders who create them, are made, not born.

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 talent consulting firm specializing in Global Mindset and Purpose-driven Careers. He co-leads Executive SpringBoard, the career redesign workshop for executives. Connect on LinkedIn. Friend on Facebook. Follow Michael on @michaelbekins.

Interested in more information? Visit our Executive Springboard website and consider our reading list.

Leaving tracks

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Remarkable careers, like the leaders who create them, are made, not born.

I don’t spend 15 minutes thinking about making money. What’s important in my life is influencing many people as well as China’s development – Jack Ma, CEO, Alibaba

Successful careers don’t happen by accident, any more than successful start-ups are accidental. Consider three critical building blocks to career-building:

 

1. Purpose. In a previous post I reported that less than 20% of business leaders can express their individual sense of purpose, according to the Harvard Business Review. And yet the most effective leaders have fierce resolve. They know their talents, strengths, gaps, and passions. They put their purpose to work consciously and with urgency. Think level 5 leadership. See Executive SpringBoard video

 

I see every human being as having a purpose, a destiny, if you like – the destiny that exists in each of us – and find ways and means to provide such opportunities for everyone. – Jonas Salk

 

2. Being the best at something. There must be a need for what you have to offer, and your offering must be sought after.

 

I place the remaining years of my life in your hands. – Nelson Mandela to the people of South Africa, on the day of his release from prison, February 11, 1990

 

3. Financial viability. Your market-driven financial model must be sustainable. Test it. Perfect it. The money needs to be enough to keep you going.

You shouldn’t be surprised that these are the same building blocks of any successful entrepreneurial company. You are the only start-up that matters. Leaving your mark takes self-awareness, conscious choices, and some hard knocks.

You may not fully comprehend the tracks you leave, but others will.

 

I make dreams happen for my team and my customers. Out of work executive preparing her the next opportunity

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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.

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.

CapitaPartners introduces SpringBoard, a career redesign workshop for executives

CapitaPartners announces the launch of SpringBoard, an intensive career redesign workshop for executives to help you put purpose and meaning back into your career.

Over two and a half days, a group of like-minded executives will move through a series of interactive exercises designed to bring awareness, insights, and critical thinking to their career and life plans. Our goal is for participants to learn as much from each other as from the coaches – and for the coaches to learn from the participants. This 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’ll come away with fresh thinking and a concrete plan that’s been validated by your coaches and peers. You’ll have a fresh mindset and a new sense of purpose. You’ll know how to retool and how to correct any gaps in skills or leadership competencies. Finally, you’ll have a strategy for writing the next chapter in your life and career.

Our first workshop will be in Santa Barbara, California, on October 15-17. Consider taking a short time-out to focus on the “why” of your career. Contact SpringBoard@capitapartners.com for more information, or visit our SpringBoard website.

About Michael Bekins

For 35 years I have advised and coached senior executives, particularly global executives, through career transitions big and small. Whether the encounter was formal or informal, I remember just about every one, thanks to the lasting imprint that is formed during such periods of intense human interaction. If you’ve ever experienced in-depth career coaching, you’ll know what I mean.

More recently, as an executive coach, I’ve thought deeply about how to make an impact on executives and careers in today’s world where we are, in many respects, “sole proprietors.” By 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, we author our own careers. This new reality requires us all to think about our our value to the market-place and to develop a set of skills that was once needed only by entrepreneurs.

About CapitaPartners

We partner with clients to develop global mindset in executives and to build an outstanding cadre of global executive talent. Our executive coaching and consulting offerings include Leadership Coaching, Global Mindset Workshops, Leading Across Cultures, SpringBoard (career redesign workshops for executives), Expatriate Advisory, and Transitions Coaching. CapitaPartners also works with clients to assess and recruit senior executives into global roles. Our AsiaNext platform focuses on igniting the critical leadership qualities necessary for the next generation of leaders in Asia.

Our platform has grown considerably over the past two years. Our executive coaching team focuses on a radically unique agenda – building a firm dedicated to understanding what it takes to lead successfully in challenging global markets, truly moving the dial with the clients we serve, and underpinning everything we do with evidence-based assessment tools and research.

Five Steps to Making a Career Change

A leap into the deep end.

A leap into the deep end.

Over the years, I have witnessed hundreds of executives make job changes, mostly involving a bigger title, more money, or greater responsibilities. Relatively few of these executives quit to move into entirely new careers. When we see a true career shift, we tend to marvel at the executive’s courage. In fact, most executives who make the move are not thinking in terms of courage. They are making a rational decision to get more out of their lives and careers, albeit with more risk. The key is having the self-awareness to know what you want and taking the bold steps to get it.

Daniel, once a successful banker and now an award-wining film composer, is a case study in how to do it right. After meeting Daniel over lunch in Los Angeles, I thought that others might like to hear his practical insights on how to deal with the challenges of making the big change.

When Daniel took his career leap he was 35, married, had an MBA from UCLA and was already a successful investment banker on Wall Street. He knew something was missing and his gut told him to do something that was meaningful and enjoyable. He made the leap. Daniel left the prestige and trappings of investment banking to start a new career in music, his first love.

He explains his life change this way. “It wasn’t as big a step, or as courageous a step, as you might think. I had always loved playing music. I had a bachelor’s degree in composition from UC Berkeley. Obviously I also knew the business world. So I decided to put the two together.”

Here is his advice:

  1. Listen to your passions but be honest with yourself. Daniel made the practical connection between his love for music and his business experience. He took a leap but beneath him there was no dark and mysterious abyss. He was honest about what he knew and what he needed to learn. He calculated the leap.
  2. Prepare a financial cushion. How much is up to you and depends on what you value. Daniel felt motivated to live a more authentic and simpler life, to live his values. Daniel wanted to be freed of trappings and his costs were low. He had enough to live through the transition. Beyond that, he put trust in his capabilities.
  3. Write a business plan. Daniel’s first action after leaving the bank was to write a business plan. “I didn’t know the business like I know it today, but I knew I first needed to write down my goals.” This, he says, creates intent. When the plan gets on paper, it gets done.
  4. Re-tool. The next thing Daniel did was to learn the new business. He enrolled in UCLA to study composing for film. He took as many courses as he could find, including movie-making and screen-writing. According to Daniel, “if I was going to write for movies, I wanted to understand storytelling–how to convey the emotional side of a story through music.”
  5. Build a network. It was also through the courses at UCLA that he began to develop a network. Looking back, Daniel found that building his new network–in the days before LinkedIn–was slow and time-consuming. “I made cold calls and asked for endless introductions. I was shameless in asking for help and made lots of mistakes. I assumed that because I had a pedigree in banking studio executives would see me. These were totally different worlds, different cultures. I needed to adjust.” It was through this active engagement process that Daniel came to understand and adjust his style.
  6. Look up, look often. Daniel sought feedback at every step along the way. He measured his successes against his plan and make course corrections as needed.

After Daniel walked me through these learnings, I asked him what the hard part was. He says he underestimated the work involved and the impact on his identity. “Hard or painful, I don’t know the right word. The secret for me has been to act with intent–to know what I want more of and what I want less of. The hard part for me was to bore down into the fundamental questions of what I want and then to act on it. I had to do a lot of work on myself.”

I also asked him what he meant about identity. “After making the change, I slowly woke up to the fact that I needed to revise my identity. I wasn’t a successful banker any more. When I sat in the chair talking to a potential customer, I wasn’t a success. The other guy didn’t care about my past. He only wanted to know if and how I could help him now.”

Daniel summed it up his journey this way. “Even after I made my career change, I defined my success in terms of others. I wanted to be accepted by my industry, to win awards. Now I define success according to three things that matter most to me: doing good work, making enough money to live, and feeling personally happy and whole. I’m glad I didn’t wait until later in my career to make the change. This business is my life’s work.” Daniel turned his calling into his career.

Roads not taken: Considering the opportunity costs of career choices

Which track?

Most of my conversations with job-seekers focus more on finding jobs than on making career or life changes. This makes sense. My corporate clients are practical: they need to know if and how the candidate’s leadership skills, motivations, and competencies match the needs of the organization. Most of my candidates are not out of work; they tend to view their career as a linear trek up the ladder. They’ll ask if the opportunity provides more responsibility, challenge or pay.

And yet every step up the ladder has an opportunity cost: the road not taken. The conversation on “career changes” forces executives to ponder deeper questions relating to their basic motivations, aspirations, and dreams. What am I good at and why? What if I did follow my dreams? What are the consequences of not taking the big leap? How realistic are my aspirations? What’s blocking me from achieving them or even taking the first step?

Most of us don’t take the time to envision our future. The recent Great Recession forced many executives to re-examine their careers only after they found themselves out of a job.

When is the right time to ask these questions? Probably every year if you want to make sure your career doesn’t head off down a track you didn’t intend.

These are meaty conversations for career coaches, spouses, mentors, priests, and best friends – someone with no axe to grind, who has no other agenda than to help with your career choices and life goals. There are books written on the subject and you’ll also find links on the right side of this blog. Most of these articles or guides provide “tips” rather than start with the unique needs of the career-changer.

It wouldn’t hurt to open up to executive search consultants when you get the call – if you can find one that will care about you, the person, not you, the candidate. But the conversations need to start somewhere. If it doesn’t start here and now, then when is a better time?

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