My Secret Formula for Success

By Donald Shannon posted 11-28-2018 11:20


In my working career - a 50 plus year journey - I have been many things and held many jobs. I have been a shoe-shine boy and Fuller Brush salesman; a program manager and contracts manager; and an instrument flight instructor and aircraft maintenance officer to list but a few. So what's my point?

My point is that over the years I have come to appreciate that a job - any job - can be seen by some of us as an entrepreneurial opportunity. Note: Not all employees fee this way - I know there are colleagues who graduated school, took a job, and retired 40+ years later never having done anything else. But for me and others I have known who were very successful; we tend to match our unique skills and abilities with the requirements of the job. By doing so we make the job "ours" and we become invested in making sure the results are not only satisfactory but also a positive reflection of us.

This is why managers and HR professionals often have trouble finding a suitable replacement for a departing 'rock star' level performer. The job morphed during their tenure into a unique blend of attributes such that only the incumbent could fill that position. But that's not an all bad thing!

Allowing our people to assert ownership over their jobs is a key to enriching the work experience and making the employee more productive and satisfied. But - and here is part two of the secret - not all employees want that experience or responsibility. So as managers it is incumbent upon us to be 'talent spotters' and when we find an entrepreneur in our midst to guide and nurture that person's initiative towards the needs of the organization. Conversely, when we see someone who seeks the security and predictability of the same old - same old we should (to the extent possible) let them have that.

The next part of the formula is understanding that knowledge and experience are important contributors to one's success. But not necessarily in the conventional way. Knowledge (and experiences) can be viewed by how they relate to one's career path. They can be aligned with (i.e., 'vertical') or supportive of (i.e., 'lateral' or 'horizontal') one's career path. The vertical knowledge and experience is more directly aligned with the technical requirements of the job - such as a law degree for a contract manager. The lateral knowledge adds context to the vertical knowledge and influences how we perceive our environment.

Being a 'prior enlisted' avionics technician and an instrument flight trainer certainly provided context when I was commissioned as a Maintenance Officer. My experience provided both vertical knowledge (I knew and understood the equipment and the repair procedures) and horizontal context (I had been a follower for 11 years so I knew what I expected from a good leader). This is why I am an advocate of what the Air Force called 'career broadening' assignments. Take an up-and-coming top-performar and give them not only in-depth technical skills such as an MBA but also expose them to a variety of positions and leadership styles.

Great leaders and employees are not born - they are grown.

Growing your own great employee or manager then is largely a matter of planting the seeds of talent and initiative, placing them in the soil of a growth position with the latitude to mold that position to fit their unique abilities, watering them with new knowledge and experience, and occasionally transplanting to a new bed where the climate will make them strengthen and flourish.