Career coaches spend their days doling out advice to help people get ahead. But what advice did they get that helped them along the way?
We asked five successful career coaches what was the best career advice they ever received. Here, the words of wisdom that’s stuck with them through the years.
Roughly 15 years ago, Jeff Wolf, author of Seven Disciplines of a Leader, and founder and president, Wolf Management Consultants in Chicago, had just come out of corporate America. During a conversation about business and leadership, his father-in-law, a consultant, told him, “Make sure you surround yourself with great people.” Wolf was in the process of building his team, which now totals 55, and thought about how much better has CEO life had been when he was surrounded by top talent.
He says that being careful in selecting his team members “helped the company weather the recession.” Not only were they able to come up with solutions and look for opportunities that contributed to the business. In addition, their skills and expertise were so strong that they helped Wolf’s management consulting firm land business even when companies were sharply pulling back their spending on outside consulting services, he says.
While working at the University of Washington, Robin Ryan was considering a career in speaking and teaching when she met a fellow speaker who told her she needed a book. Ryan had never thought about writing a book. “Grammar is not my forte,” she says.
But she took a class on writing a book proposal and began to research the process of writing a book. She sent out 24 proposals to various publishing houses and sold her book, 60 Seconds And You’re Hired, based on an interviewing class she taught. In 2016, the book’s sixth edition will be released, and she’s gone on to write several other books. She’s been featured in many national publications and has been a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, NBC News and many others and has a thriving career coaching practice. But none of that would have happened if she hadn’t have taken on a challenge that wasn’t a natural fit for her and for which she had to work hard to achieve, she says.
Former Marine Courtney Lynch was working at a large law firm when she had the opportunity to go off on her own and start a leadership development company. But who ditches a cushy law gig in pursuit of something so amorphous without any promises? Lynch turned to her financial advisor for a reality check.
“She told me she could put me in a lot of different investment products, but in the end, she couldn’t sell me an investment better than investing in myself,” she says.
The advisor also said that Lynch couldn’t save her way to security, but that her talent was her true safety net and that she would be wise to follow it. Lynch made the leap and her book, Leading From the Front: No-Excuse Leadership Tactics For Women, was published by McGraw-Hill. It became a best-seller, and as founding partner of Fairfax, Virginia-based LeadStar, she consults with companies like Merrill Lynch, ESPN and Google to help develop leaders within organizations. She uses her personal example to illustrate to her clients what’s possible.
When Lorenzo G. Flores was just starting out as a psychiatric social worker, one of his bosses took him aside and gave him a few words of wisdom: there’s no substitute for hard work, but you also need to know the politics of the organization. In an age where “work smarter not harder” is the mantra, he says his mentor’s advice was a more pragmatic approach. Working hard is important, especially when you’re first starting out. However, you need to know where hard work is valued so your efforts are generating results that are important to those in charge, he says.
“It comes down to that 80/20 rule. Where do put your emphasis? What do you do best? What seem to be the boss’s priorities? All of that is critical to repositioning yourself for career advancement,” he says.
Flores worked his way up to a department director position using this philosophy. He now owns a Fresno, California coaching practice, which helps individuals and companies develop career advancement tactics, using a book and board game he self-published based on the concept.
Nicole Williams, founder of New York City-based career consulting firm Works, took to heart the old writing chestnut, “Show, don’t tell.” She sees it as the notion of focusing on outcomes and demonstrating your value rather than just talking about it.
“If you spend a lot of time talking, it’s a sure sign to your managers and clients that you’re uncertain,” she says.
Instead, put your effort in and deliver results, she says. Be a problem-solver, focus on solutions, and make an impact. This approach has helped her build her firm to include corporate and college consulting and working with brands. Her commitment to results has even attracted private investment from business development lab Loeb Enterprises. She also uses this mantra as a litmus test to determine how serious people are when they ask for her help, requesting that they send her a summary of how they’d like her assistance.
“If you can’t send me a one-pager, within a reasonable amount of time, which is a week, you know, I kind of just cross you off the list of potentials, because you just haven’t responded,” she says.