James F. Fitzgerald & Associates
Human Resource Consulting

James F. Fitzgerald is a regular contributor to the Irish American News and other publications.  His most recent columns will appear here.

 

IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

MARCH, 2014

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD

DO FUNERALS INFLUENCE YOUR CAREER?

As a South Side Irish kid all grown up, I am still affected by the solemnity and finality of funerals. I went to a lot of funerals with my dad, although I was always  troubled by the sadness of family members and friends.  However I went to a funeral just last week which had a very positive effect on me.  Father Tom McCarthy O.S.A., the Chairman of the Board of St. Rita High School, was the celebrant and also delivered the homily for the lovely young man who was being buried.  Neil Spore, just 20 years old, had been a St. Rita graduate and football player, who had considered becoming an Augustinian priest.  He and Father McCarthy were dear friends.  As Father gave the homily/eulogy for Neil, he made it quite clear that he was celebrating this awesome young man rather than mourning him.

Many years ago, my adopted grandmother and I sat holding hands in front of her son’s casket; “Uncle” Bernie Puschak, one of the nicest people I ever met.   Bernie was only 52 years old when he died.   Gramma said, “Jimmy, parents should never have to bury their children.  But I guess Grandpa needed to have his pinochle partner close at hand.”  We both chuckled.

 Father Mc Carthy spoke of the spirit, strength and holiness that Neil had displayed for all to see.  And this was validated by the diverse crowd that packed the church full with a variety of people; young, old, white, black, men and women.  Father said that his life would never be the same for having known Neil.  What a powerful statement to make about such a young person. 

Let me relate that experience to a substantial number of people I deal with on a daily basis.  Some ask why can’t I be as successful as that “other”guy in Accounting?  Why didn’t I get that recent promotion?   Why doesn’t the boss realize that I am an outstanding performer for the company?  What could I have done differently?  It strikes me that many of us at all levels in our society have come to see ourselves as “victims.”  Be honest, do you see yourself as a victim?  Of a prejudiced society?  Of an uncaring employer?  Of a non supportive family?  

During President Kennedy’s shortened tenure as president, people regularly quoted JFK’s statement  “Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country.”

If you are currently feeling unappreciated by your boss, you might want to look carefully at your own manner and conduct.  Let’s get something out of the way, some bosses are simply idiots.  How they got promoted defies logic and good reasoning.  So what!  The person has been appointed or anointed your superior.  In my experience, you can be sure of one thing in this work place relationship.  ONLY you can improve your circumstances.  You need to have an attitude adjustment because it is likely your boss is not interested in how you see his performance.  As the expression says, if it is meant to be, it’s up to me. 

Perhaps another way to say this is can you begin to manifest those characteristics that people found so transforming on the part of Neil Spore?  He was just a kid and he was dying of cancer.  If he could be pleasant, helpful, caring and cheerful, can’t we learn a lesson from that? 

Maybe we all should look more carefully at our set of circumstances.  The vast majority of us live in well heated houses, drive reliable cars or have access to buses and trains. One recent morning, I saw a man waiting  for the commuter bus close to my home.  It was about zero.  But because the bus operates more or less on a schedule, this “freezing” person really only had to wait a few minutes before getting on a heated bus which would drop him off at the train station.  Having walked uphill both ways going to my various schools, I fully understand a “few minutes” in bitter weather can sap one’s energy, but it is far from life threatening. 

The weather the last several weeks has been terrible, we can agree on that.  But it sure seems to me that not many have been homebound for too long because of the weather.  If you doubt that, go to your local mall this “frigid” weekend and you will see great numbers of shoppers. 

Father McCarthy said he felt that his life had been changed just by knowing Neil.  I am feeling the same way, even though I never met the young man.  I am convinced that all of us have the capacity to contribute much more to our society, if we would demand more of ourselves.

 A correlation to Neil’s story is Brian Swift’s life journey as a 17 year old football player who was paralyzed from his chest down, yet he married, raised a family, has had a very successful career and has never lost his vim and vigor for life.  Brian’s book, UP—Getting Up is the Key to Life, is absolutely inspiring.

We all know there are awesome problems that some people have with their health or finances.  And we should help those people, but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to take a “woe is me” attitude to our work places or homes. In Brian’s book, he included The Creed for the Disabled; let me just share the last two lines of the creed with you.  “Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.  I am, among men, most richly blessed”.  In closing, I simply ask you to consider how you conduct your interpersonal relationships whether at home, school, or work.  Wouldn’t your life be more enriched if you conduct yourself like the wonderful person that you are capable of being?  Carpe Diem.        

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY TO YOU AND YOURS.   

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:  Some people strengthen the society just by being the kind of people they are.  John W. Gardner.             

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook-based senior executive coaching and outplacement firm.  #630-684-2204. Web site:jamesffitzgerald.com. jamesffitz37@hotmail.com

 

IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD

FEBRUARY, 2014

WHAT DOES 2014 HOLD FOR YOU?

 Somehow journalists feel compelled to challenge everybody about the New Year as the old year fades.  In brief, they ask, what does 2014 hold for you? Are you ready for the next year or do you still have too many unfinished tasks that should have been done in 2013?  Did you find 2013 a very profitable and satisfying year or just the opposite? We are now a month into the New Year.  How are you finding it?

You and I both know that anything that happened before you read this article is already history.  You simply can’t change the past regardless of what anyone tells you to the contrary.  So, Lord willing, we will be going through this same exercise 11 months from now.

The challenge is back in your hands.  Take a blank sheet of paper and write down your hopes, your wishes and your dreams for this New Year.  Create that BUCKET LIST that people talk about all the time.

It’s my understanding that a bucket list is a compilation of things that you hope to do before you die.     We have all heard people say after some important event in their life, “now I can cross that one off my bucket list.”

But many of us have probably stuck with the same old boring resolutions such as:

“Stop smoking,

Lose weight,

Work harder, or

Establish a retirement fund.” 

It seems to me that those resolutions don’t work much beyond the first couple of weeks of the New Year.  Be honest with yourself; how are your resolutions holding up a month into the New Year? How about trying a different approach?   

Maybe a bucket list will have more staying power and more energy attached to it.  As you think about your bucket list, remember it does not have to be filled only with awesome things like winning the lottery, or sky diving, or surfing, or walking the same trail across America as Forrest Gump did. 

No, maybe a more satisfying and realistic bucket list would include things like taking that trip of your lifetime.   That trip you have dreamed of for years, perhaps a trip back in time for you.  Maybe it is to your old neighborhood, the place where you grew up, or the place where your parents or grandparents lived or came from. 

I recently spoke to a college classmate of mine, Tim Guiheen, who told me that he and his daughters visited the ancestral home of his grandparents in Ireland just a couple of years ago.  He said that after that visit he asked himself why he had waited so long.  In fact, he was so taken by the first trip; he went back again last year.  We have all heard stories like that many times.  Perhaps we are simply fearful of what we will find.  Maybe the trip won’t live up to our expectations, whatever they might be.  Are you willing to take a risk?  

What if the extended Guiheen family had expressed total disinterest in the visiting Yanks?  It could happen.  Instead he felt like he was “home” with the relatives he met. 

One can see why web sites like Ancestry.com intrigue us.  I spoke to a man today who told me he visited Ireland again a year ago and felt more welcomed than ever, because this time he had located some family members three or four generations removed.  So even though the earlier generations of his family have been gone for years, he felt more connected.  Now he has some current family and a little history he can relate to.

 I can only surmise that many of our fellow American born friends and family whether their families were from Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Italy, etal feel the same. 

You might say that a trip to the “old country” wherever that is, just isn’t a real possibility, for any number of reasons; health, finances or family commitments.  Well then, you could try adding some simple, but appreciated items to your bucket list?  For example, you could track down an old classmate or old workmate to advise him or her how important they have been to you over the years?  Could you find an old teacher or boss who taught you so much and warm their lives with a greeting of appreciation and fondness?

 I have talked to people who have done such things many times and they claim that whatever the effort was on their part, it proved to be satisfying to both them and the recipient of their kindness.  Don’t you have a couple of people you could “reach out and touch” who helped you when you needed some help?

My wife wrote a letter to one of her college professors years after their paths had parted.  Sometime later, a close friend of the professor advised my wife of the professor’s death and one of his last requests.  He asked that his friend arrange to have my wife’s letter of thanks be read at his funeral service, as a eulogy to his life.  This was a request by a distinguished professor and world traveler who was delighted to be remembered so appreciatively by a former student.

If you choose not to do something like this, that’s your call.  But please don’t blame it on the lack of time; remember Michelangelo lived in the same 24 hour block of time that all the rest of us do.  

If you started the New Year with a positive attitude, psychologists say it will definitely be better than if you started with a “woe is me” attitude.  Positive self-expectation impacts greatly on our lives.  Carpe Diem

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless facing them.  Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it. From Rabindramath Tagore who was Asia’s first Nobel Prize winner in 1913; for literature.

PERSONAL NOTE: I would like to belatedly thank my two wonderful editors for all their help in 2013: my wife, Sandee Wask Fitzgerald and my brother, Joseph Fitzgerald.

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook-based senior executive coaching and outplacement firm. # 630-684-2204. Web-site: jamesffitzgerald.com.  jamesffitz37@hotmail.com

 

IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

JANUARY, 2014

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD

FORGET ABOUT NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS, THERE’S SOMETHING ELSE!

Many of us, if not most of us, are in the habit of preparing a list of New Year’s resolutions at the end of each year.  And we solemnly commit to the notion that this year we are going to be absolutely dedicated to keeping those resolutions.  Yes, we are going to lose 22.5 pounds by June 1st of the New Year.  And without a doubt, we will read at least one new book per month.  We all know that we will be sucking down those cheese laden pizzas before February 1st.  We also know we will be glued to TV shows like White Collar Crime, Justified or Blue Bloods and not reading anything of notable value.

Here’s what I propose.  Let’s agree to adhere to some Techniques For Living Life Well.  I am indebted to an unknown author who prepared a list of techniques that s/he felt would help us to live our lives well; probably better than we have been doing.  Here are the nine techniques, each with a little commentary. 

  1. Keep life simple.  This three word concept/motto will no doubt lessen the pressure we feel on a daily basis.  Many of us, with a strong assist from our iPhones and other technologies tightly schedule our lives and unwittingly overload our bodily systems.  In essence, we have written checks that our body simply can’t cash.  Our ability to schedule ourselves very tightly does NOT mean that we must follow that schedule.  Medical professionals are convinced that a very high percentage of hospitalized patients are there due to the stress load they are carrying.  Perhaps the expression, KISS (keep it simple stupid) speaks of great wisdom.
  2. Practice being satisfied.  We have all heard the old expression, “he is just never satisfied.”  He wants things to be perfect, but experts tell us that achieving perfection by completing the last 3% of any significant project probably costs nearly as much as the first 97%.  I am sure that some readers will argue with the 97% figure. Okay, make it 92%.  Seems to me that 92% is an A in most grading systems, so why not declare victory and move on to the next challenge.
  3. Be decisive.  As my drill instructor would say to me, “Just don’t stand there, Fitzgerald, do something.”  His challenge was not intended to force me to make a bad decision, but rather to make some decision.  If my decision was wrong, I would modify it and move on.  General Colin Powell said “Once the information is in the 40 to 70% of certitude, go with your gut.”
  4. Be cheerful.  If you are the boss, walking around with a scowl on your face does not motivate most people; rather it bothers them; unnerves them; or possibly even frighten them.  Practice being cheerful (aka optimistic) even if down deep, you don’t feel cheerful. If you listen, you will hear many motivational speakers tell you to “fake it until you make it.”  If you accept Optimism as a synonym for Cheerfulness, you understand the tremendous amount of energy generated by Optimism. 
  5. Live and let live.  I have strong opinions on many (some may say, most) things.  Some other person may have very strongly held opinions different than mine.  Does our difference really warrant going ballistic with the other person?  Thomas Jefferson summed this one up when he said   “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Wouldn’t  we both be better off if we simply said, “Let’s agree to disagree and go have a beer?”
  6. Don’t take yourself so seriously.    Realize that there are a lot of smart people in the world and the person you are arguing with may be one of them.  I suggest you work on the operating premise that the other person may be right, so don’t bet the farm based upon your point of view.  Haven’t you found that occasionally your memory has failed you?
  7. Have a good sense of humor.  I am sure that most of us have found that a good sense of humor can diffuse even a rather unpleasant situation. Believe this concept goes hand in hand with #6.   
  8. Practice objectivity.  Before racing to a conclusion which many do in a discussion, try to maintain your objectivity.  Ask questions.  Ask for a definition of terms.  Are you and your protagonist talking about the same thing?  Many of us belong to the “Ready, Fire, Aim” club.  Would practicing #6 and #7 facilitate your practicing objectivity?  Does a discussion have to be contentious?
  9. Forgive yourself.  We all know people who have never forgiven themselves for some past mistake.  Some silly incident plagues them for years after it happened.  Find a way to forgive yourself for your past indiscretions.  There are books about how to do this.  Read one or two or more if necessary.  But please come to the recognition that what’s bothering you was in your past: leave it there.   

Perhaps you don’t do buy into each and every one of the above techniques, that’s okay.  I don’t claim to have all the answers (read #6 and #7 again).  But maybe adopting one or two of these techniques will serve you well during the New Year.  Please let me know if the process worked for you.  Carpe Diem. 

 

FOR YOUR FURTHER CONSIDERATION:

I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.  Thomas Jefferson.  

James F. Fitzgerald is the President of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and outplacement firm.  Web-site:Jamesffitzgerald.com. Jamesffitz37@hotmail.com. #630-684-2204

 

   
  
IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD

OCTOBER, 2013

WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW!        PART 3

This column is the third and concluding one dealing with the need for leadership in our country.  We Americans have been seen as leaders in the world for a long time.  If you have any doubt, just listen to representatives of countries all over the globe saying Americans should intervene and solve this major problem or that major problem.  There is something almost humorous about President Putin telling us we should not think of ourselves as exceptional.  I have no doubt that we are an exceptional society, but we have become too comfortable with ourselves.  We need to re-energize ourselves, our schools, our corporations, and most assuredly all levels of our government(s) in order to maintain our edge and our place in the world.

The emphasis of these articles is directed at the continuous development of our leadership pool throughout our society. We need an attitude adjustment at every level that challenges the acceptance of mediocrity. To quote John Gardner, “for many Americans, unfortunately there has been a loss of positive attitudes toward the future and diminished awareness of what our shared goals might be.”  We need to re-ignite the flame of excellence.  Clearly we need to revitalize the notion of personal responsibility.  We need to recognize and encourage those who demonstrate their willingness to undertake leadership roles.  We need more and better leaders.

To achieve the desired higher level of leadership within our society, we will have to look more closely at ourselves.  We need to ask if we are simply riding the wave of success created by our ancestors.  As any player on any sports team knows, you can have a bad year or even a bad decade and maybe that’s where we are now.   We need the encouragement of our current leaders.  We need their leadership in defining the problem, developing the solutions and monitoring the effectiveness of our efforts.  I heard an item on the radio recently that spoke to me.  Professor Al Gini of Loyola University-Chicago said that there were probably 20,000 books published in the last 20 years on the topic of leadership.  Surely there are contradictions within such a mass of books, but some one person or organization could develop a comprehensive approach to this matter. 

Should we teach leadership concepts directly at all levels in our schools?  Should we have well defined and researched curricula for programs?  Of course, teachers currently feel overwhelmed by the demands placed on them already.  Someone would have to practice the art of compromise to find the right mix and amount of leadership training.   There is no doubt that there are real dangers in such an approach; some disreputable individuals could hijack the program for their own narrow purposes.  I can’t think of any formal exposure to the study of leadership that I had as a student up to and including a graduate degree.  So often our schooling is focused on the acquisition of the fundamentals, not the ultimate application of them.    

Acquiring an understanding of the basics of “writing and reading and arithmetic” is of course imperative.  But who then gets to decide how we use that information?  Simply stated, our leaders do!  For such a project to be formulated and implemented it will no doubt take a great deal of effort and direction.  Can you think of any person or organization that could provide the required leadership to accomplish these goals?

Obviously there are organizations and programs that do provide the opportunity to explore or exercise some leadership roles.  There are organizations, like the Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts for youngsters.  There are organizations like the Jaycees that provide opportunities to those in their 20’s and 30’s.  There are organizations such as, medical associations, profession-specific groups and religious communities.   These organizations provide excellent settings for exposure to leadership opportunities, but not much training, perhaps other than the Scouts and similar programs. 

When I started this series of articles, I stated that my purpose was to spark some interest amongst the current base of our leaders and scholars to see our current circumstances as a real problem.  Maybe we will never see a national program focusing on this issue, although who would have foreseen the limitations on smoking in our society?  Many smokers viewed their habit as a matter of right.  But the culture changed around them, once the real need was understood.  Someone needs to passionately accept this issue as their own.  I don’t know if there is ONE specific solution to this problem of inadequate leadership, clearly there are numerous elements to the solution.    So if you can see a way to address this need, SEIZE IT and IMPLEMENT IT. Each of us can help in this process:

  • Encourage your children and grandchildren to try out their leadership skills; they will make a difference in our society.
  • Encourage them to accept responsibilities.
  • Assure them they can be leaders if they want to be.  Remember we are exceptional.

Carpe Diem. 

QUOTE BY JOHN W. GARDNER (“On Leadership”) FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION.  Leaders today are familiar with the demand that they come forward with a new vision. (With my personal thanks to the distinguished John W. Gardner.)

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc. an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and outplacement firm. Web site: jamesffitzgerald.com. www.linkedin.com/pub/jamesffitzgerald/22/668/106.  Email:jamesffitz37@hotmail.com. 

 

Phone: 630-684-2204       



IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

SEPTEMBER, 2013

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD

WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW? PART 2

In my August column I said that our country suffers from a terrible lack of leadership at every level of our society.  We are always hearing that “the system” is broke, well who is going to fix it?  But simply stating the problem doesn’t solve it.  I would hope to spark further study into the concept of leadership.  Ideally ethical scholars, business people, clergy and government officials would join the crusade to resurrect the leadership gene that we seem to have forced into hiding. Although being a leader is as American as apple pie, we attack, demonize and degrade people who take leadership positions.   It doesn’t seem to matter what level they reach, we criticize them.

Let us be clear, some of our “leaders” should be “thrown out” of office or their area of responsibility.  These people are not advancing a positive program.   

How do we address the issue of creating more and better leaders?  Let’s resolve the eternal question: few leaders are born with advanced leadership skills, but rather most leaders have learned leadership skills. There is an inadequate supply of born leaders, so our society has to help develop leaders. 

Due to space limitations, the global aspects of this issue will be addressed next month.  This column will focus on a basic level, should you become a leader?  Do you want to be a leader?  If so, stand up and tell somebody that you are willing to take the responsibility and allow yourself to be accountable.That’s all it takes to get on the road to a leadership role. 

Why would you even think about being a leader in your community?  Perhaps it is because you could get some things accomplished that need doing.  Certainly there are numerous advantages to being a leader.  You get a certain level of respect from people.  You get more praise and support than the average person. Most importantly, you help formulate the agenda. As the famous Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Could you be the person that initiates this group? 

Clearly there are disadvantages.  The responsibilities of leadership will take time from your life.  People commonly turn to their leader when a crisis develops.  And, the leader is commonly held to a higher standard regarding his personal behavior.  His actions are more likely to be closely scrutinized than the actions of Jane or Joe Six-Pack.  The very nature of being a leader tends to make your life more public.  You are out in front of others.  Your flaws are more easily observed. 

But if you have a passion to do something, why not take the responsibility for it?  Go beyond simply being the “responsible” party and accept specific accountability for your actions. 

It is pretty common for individuals to doubt their leadership ability.  Virtually everyone can be a leader.  You need to give yourself a chance.  The authors of Leadership Challenge found that the top five characteristics of admired leaders are:

  1. HONESTY
  2. FORWARD LOOKING
  3. INSPIRING
  4. COMPETENT
  5. FAIR MINDED.

How would you grade yourself on these five traits?  Please note the absence of intelligence on this list; it ranks # 8.

Give yourself a little five minute test.  What are the five most important achievements you have had in your life, whether in school, at work, in the neighborhood or community?  Do you have any significant achievements in your life to build on? 

Do you believe that you have the capacity to be a leader?  Perhaps In order to give some frame of reference to this question, you really have to get into it a bit.  You have to take the time to learn more about yourself.  Clearly, willingness to be a leader implies that the person can tolerate some risk.  They can accept responsibility.   They are willing to be held accountable when something goes wrong. 

As a leader-in-training, there are four things that you need to know about yourself.  First, you must know who you really are.  You must understand your essence. Do you have a passion for a mission?  Are you ready to step up?    

Second, you must know your competencies.  Examine yourself; can you state the three or four major strengths you have displayed in the past?  Of course, you may find that you have strengths that are exposed when some circumstances demand it. 

Third, you have to look closely at the things that compete for your time now.   If you are “addicted” to some activity, are you willing to table it while you are in a leadership role? 

Fourth, what goals or challenges speak to you?  Simply wandering around, claiming to be a “leader” won’t cut it.  You need to focus your activities on one or two specific challenges; otherwise your energies will be so fragmented you will not be successful in any one of your activities. 

So if you agree with my premise, leadership in our society is lacking, then you may want to decide if you are part of the problem or part of the solution? 

I am absolutely convinced that many of us just need a nudge or possibly a cause to bring out our leadership qualities.  How about coming out of the closet during the last three or four months of the year?  Don’t waste your time focusing on your limitations, but rather concentrate your thoughts and efforts on your talents.

As mentioned above, we will focus on the more global aspects of the leadership crisis in my column next month.  Your comments or suggestions are sincerely welcome.  Carpe Diem.   

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and outplacement firm.  Web site: Jamesffitzgerald.com. Jamesffitz37@hotmail.com.  # 630-684-2204

   

 

IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD

AUGUST, 2013

WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW?

About 50 years ago, there was a popular song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David called What The World Needs Now Is Love, although I remember that song only vaguely, I enjoyed it at the time of its popularity.  It was a perky and lively tune, but I think what we really need now is LEADERSHIP at every important position in our society.  As the song said, we don’t need another mountain.   We need men and women who can take care of our world and put it on a more positive course. 

The distinguished John Gardner defined Leadership in his book, ON LEADERSHIP: leadership is the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leader and his or her followers. 

Here’s a little quiz on the subject.  Setting aside your prejudices, of whatever sort, can you name five “leaders” in the US that you admire?  Don’t list a person simply because he or she has a high priced job in the government, business or academia.   When you are considering the question, remember a few things. One, does the knowledge that one of your leaders in charge make you feel more comfortable, safe and/or secure?  Two, do you sleep well because he is standing on the wall (per Jack Nicholson’s character, Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men)?

 There has been a time when there were people (yes, perhaps, mostly men—but thankfully we are getting past that era) that we looked to for guidance. To name a few, President Franklin Roosevelt,  Warren Buffett, President Truman,  Pope John the 23rd, Knute Rockne, Mother Teresa, J. Edgar Hoover, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Walter Cronkite, Margaret Thatcher,  Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi  and  General George Marshall.  I didn’t then nor now endorse each and every one of the people on this list, but wouldn’t you agree if you can remember a person on the list, you could believe what they said, even if you disagreed with them?    I thought they were honest in their thinking at the time, even if subsequent events or findings raised questions about their judgment.   

Some would say that it seems to me that we are a nation struggling to do the “right” thing.  This is a great country; one to be admired for the ages.  But we seem to have lost our moral compass.  We make decisions based on what’s popular far more often than we should.  We don’t seem to focus on the fairness, legitimacy, or appropriateness of situations.  Rather, what works for me!  Many Americans feel powerless and helpless, they don’t feel that there is a major leader (business, politics, or other) in the US who is willing to stand up and take a position on a major issue and then defend it without tons of waffle points on the basic idea.  Do you think that your political leader, of whatever persuasion, really cares what you think?  Do you really think that the Chairman of the Board of your company cares that he makes 150-200 times what the janitor in one of his plants makes?  In conversation with a friend of mine, who is the president of a significant company, it was stated that if the Board thinks I am worth a certain amount of money, wouldn’t I be a fool to turn down my greatly enhanced compensation program?  What would you tell this person?  What would you do yourself? 

As a society, we need to establish a system of developing leaders for the future.  We need people running our businesses, our universities, and our state, local and federal governments who meet the test of John Gardner’s definition.  Do you feel that the leadership of our current leaders is providing us with the desired results?

In his book, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell leaves no doubt that leadership can be learned.  Leadership is a complex subject. In their book, The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner say their research shows that the most admired trait in a leader is his honesty.  So would you consider honesty as an element of “character?”

As reported in a recent AARP Bulletin, President Eisenhower, the former Supreme Allied commander in Europe became a pragmatic politician. He found a way to persuade the public and the Democrats in Congress that military excesses must be capped and that the nation’s civil rights, education and transportation needed urgent attention.  The article further asks, can you imagine our politicians changing their focus from the next election to the next generation.  Where do we find leaders with such vision? 

John Gardner said that “most of what an organization does in behalf of leadership development is done within the context of its normal day to day work supervision.”  Do you feel that you are challenged to perform at a high level or are you allowed to simply coast through the day? Mr. Gardner also said in his book,  On Leadership, that “ but where leadership development is the goal, the most effective arena for growth continues to be the work place .”  How do we provide this opportunity for our business, government and academic leaders of the future?

Does the insatiable 24x7 news craze intimidate our prospective leaders?  Why are the news media allowed to do this?  Has the media made it impossible for the political parties to compromise?  Has their influence affected our long held vision of fair play and decency? How does the concept of responsibility affect the concept of leadership? 

Hopefully this column has raised  questions in your mind about this critical subject.  I plan to write another column or two examining ways we might develop our future leaders.  I would sincerely welcome any thoughts you have on this subject. Carpe Diem.

 

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:  I am endlessly fascinated that playing football is considered a training ground for leadership, but raising children isn’t.  Dee Dee Myers.

 

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and outplacement firm. www.linkedin.com/pub/jamesffitzgerald/22/668/106. Web site: Jamesffitzgerald.com.  Email: Jamesffitz37@hotmail.com  Phone: 630-684-2204

 

IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

JULY, 2013

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD

DOES “CARPE DIEM” SPEAK TO YOU?

I have been ending each of my columns with the expression, “Carpe Diem”, for years.  To my best understanding, the expression means “Seize the Day”.  Well, how often do you actually seize the day?

 
Before I give my thoughts on this matter, let
me share a brief story. Years ago, my daughter, Erynn, met with a friend of mine who is a well-respected career consultant, with a strong psychological bent.  He told Erynn that he had never met anyone more optimistic than me. I genuinely believe that tomorrow will be another beautiful and bountiful day. Cynicism is not part of my life.  That said, I think many of us, if not most of us, burn out very early in life.  We simply become complacent; as long as it is okay, that’s good enough.  I am not suggesting becoming a perfectionist, but don’t you think there is value in improving your skills at least a slight bit each day?  

We commonly hear athletes say things like, “he left it all on the field.” Court? Workplace? Whatever one’s venue
of choice is.  I recall when I passed the CPA exam, with four 75’s (which was the passing grade in those days). Some colleagues of mine said that I really did well, I hadn’t wasted any of my time, and I had received the minimum passing grade of 75.  Their cynical view was that the very least that was acceptable was okay. I was delighted to have passed the rigorous exam but I wasn’t real proud that I had just scraped by.  I felt an undertone or attitude that said, yes, 4 scores of 85 would have shown more accounting prowess, but hey the four 75’s represented success. I received my certificate just like those with higher scores. 

Could you inspire some friends or colleagues who for whatever reason were consumed y their complacency years ago?  Could you help them get back into the "game"?  Could you advise or mentor them?  Maybe you could encourage and coach them.  Your support might help them attain higher goals than they would have ever expected.  To be sure, there is a significant pay off for you too.

Most people who help others feel more fulfilled.  There is a great story of a person walking through a construction site.  He asked one construction worker what he was doing; the response was that he was laying brick. The next worker said he was working for a pay check.  But the third worker said he was helping to build a cathedral. Which one of these people reflects your own perspective on your life’s work?

Is the problem that our society has said it is okay to be the “average” guy?  Or have we become a society of robots who expend the least amount of energy and creativity at work and save the rest for our TV viewing, sporting events, or whatever?  

When writing this article I spoke to my son, Neal, who works for a financial management company in CA.  He was an outstanding basketball player in high school; during his summers, he would religiously spend hours every day working on his shots and his free throwing skills.  Why?  Not because it was essential to his making the team, but rather it was somehow essential in his mind to perform at a higher level than other players. 

How do we convince people to feel this way?  How do we get them to excel because it is the “right” thing to do?  It’s not because their paycheck will be higher next week. It’s because they will think better about themselves.  People who are busy with meaningful work tend to be happier and more fulfilled than persons who are struggling to just look busy. Most bosses would be well advised to challenge and motivate their employees to stretch their goals. Think about the greats in any field, they were motivated to excel rather than simply exist. 

When did you last feel that your work had a sense of purpose? If you think your work lacks a sense of purpose, develop one on your own that works for you. Then your purpose would not be something imposed on you by your employer but rather some internal standard that speaks to you.  Perhaps up till now you have been doing your work simply because it pays the bills. If your work life is filled with incidentals, it would seem to lack any real purpose to me. 

SEIZE the opportunity; find a purpose in your work life.  Provide assistance to individuals in distress.  Volunteer at the local hospital.  Visit the sick; hold the hand of a sick patient. Give some time at a pet shelter. Perhaps some readers are asking, how does this relate to my work life or my career?  I am convinced that people who provide such support and care for others are often better performers.    Why not give it a shot?  You don’t have to make an irrevocable commitment to this approach to your life today.  Just try it. 

 I feel blessed because I am convinced there is a sense of purpose in my consulting work and in my writing.  So again, I say to you, Carpe Diem.  

For your consideration: One of the reasons mature people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.  John Gardner. 

 

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, IL.-based executive coaching and outplacement firm. Web site-jamesffitzgerald.com.  Email:jamesffitz37@hotmail.com Phone: 630-684-2204                   

SPECIAL FEATURE:
GRADUATES---DO YOU HAVE A JOB LINED UP? By James F. Fitzgerald

As a longtime advisor to job seekers, I would suggest that you need to be aware of these nine elements in the search process:

  1. It is essential that you know what kind of job you are looking for.  You should do some research before making your decision on the desirability of this or that type of job. In order to sell yourself to a potential employer, you have to be convincing that you are really enthused about a specific sort of a job.  You need to be able to define and describe the job you desire.  Once you decide on the ideal job you must focus all your energy on securing it. 
  2. When you talk to ANYONE you need to tell them four things about your job search: what you have been doing, what kind of work you are looking for, where (location) do you want to work and an idea of your salary expectations. 
  3. You need to help everyone you talk with understand why you should be hired.   You should focus on telling them the skills or talents you would bring to an employer.
  4. Recognize that there are three basic ways of finding a job. First, personal contacts— the single best way to locate that new job. Second, target companies—why not try some companies that you already know something about? Third, the everything else category i.e., job boards, computer listings, web sites,  employment agencies/ search firms, and advertised positions.
  5. Prepare a resume that focuses on your achievements, including significant ones that occurred on your high school or college part time jobs.  
  6. Prepare a presentation of your relevant experiences, skills and talents. Rehearse it frequently.  Be sure it highlights the reasons why you should be hired; tell them your strengths and how they apply to the job you are seeking. Read a book or two on interviewing. “From Interview Disaster to Interview Master” by Robert Ward is quite good.        
  7. Get yourself in front of potential employers. Realize that you are on stage; they are your audience. 
  8. Work on your job search every day of the week.  Think of yourself as your own full time sales representative.  
  9. Remember you are going to change jobs a number of times; start building your network of contacts NOW.

 James F. Fitzgerald is president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, IL-based executive coaching and outplacement firm.  Web site: jamesffitzgerald.com Email: jamesffitz37@hotmail.com  Phone: 630 684-2204

  

IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

JUNE, 2013

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD

GOOD TIME TO REVIEW YOUR CAREER?

We seem to have become a very busy society.  Everyone you talk to says that they have a great number of things “on their plate”. But many of us would also agree that the summer months seem to have less of the stress we feel during the cold winter months.  Hopefully you can schedule a couple of hours over the summer to assess the status of your career.

  1. Do a thorough self-analysis of your strengths and capabilities.  Supplement your own analysis with the counsel and observations of a couple of close colleagues who know you well and who are willing to be totally honest.   They may be friends, but they don’t have to be your best buddies.  Sometimes a “colleague” will be more specific and direct.
  2. Prepare a list of valid criticisms that arise from the self-analysis and from the observations of your colleagues.  Decide on what course of action you need to take to correct these matters.  The hard hearted approach you need to take at this time can be invaluable; you may find that the “strengths” of yesterday have become the “distractions” of today.  The care free youth gives way to the more serious minded adult.
  3. Look carefully in assessing the “technical” deficiencies you may have.  One of these deficiencies that I see regularly is a lack of a college degree. It’s not that the person is unable to compete academically.  Rather it is that something such as family illness or inadequate funds has gotten in the individual’s way. Often this temporary barrier morphs into a long term one.   
  4. Finishing a degree for a non-traditional student (NTS) is far easier than once thought.   NTS is an ill-defined term but it suggests that part time status and age are common elements. Virtually every major university, including the Ivy League schools, has degree programs for such persons.  I talked to an insurance adjuster recently; he said he was a college dropout and that his lack of a degree has hurt his chances for promotion.  But he refuses to think about finishing his degree because he erroneously feels that it would be a very long and arduous task. 
  5. Seek out a few people who can be mentors for you.  If you select a few tough minded individuals they can be invaluable in helping you to focus on the right path.  They can add some wisdom to your experiences. 
  6. Seek the counsel of some potential advisers within your own organization.  Let them know that you are interested in advancement. Hopefully they will become advocates for you. Don’t shy away from “tough” assignments; rather seek them out and volunteer.  Seek out opportunities to become more visible in your organization.
  7. Find subtle ways of advancing your agenda.  Let your management know that you are not just one of the crowd.  Research your business and industry; share your findings with the appropriate individuals.  Seek the support and counsel of your advisers.
  8. Establish goals for the next twelve months; put them in writing and make them as specific as you can.  Consider setting some longer range strategic goals which will certainly require some “serious” thinking time. Don’t skimp on this task, it can provide you with a road map for your future.    
  9. Be honest with yourself about the likelihood of your advancement.  Are there some factors that you simply can’t overcome?  If every member of management has gone to School A and you went to School B, will you always be an outsider?  Obviously some people would view this situation as a challenge.  Good for them, but are you willing to pay that price?
  10. I just finished a book, Charlie Wilson’s War, in which one of the main characters is a self-described “ethnic” from Aliquippa, PA, whereas the entire power structure of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at that time were all Ivy League school grads. This very productive and successful operative was viewed as an outsider for his entire career; in brief, he didn’t have an Ivy League pedigree. He was never allowed to be a member of the inner circle.   I once worked for a firm that merged with another consulting   firm; there were two “camps” in the firm for as long as I was there.  Each side created barriers against the members of the other side; it certainly diminished the effectiveness of the firm.
  11.  Be realistic with your expectations. Do you really want to be the Chairman of the Board?  Or do you have some other “sweet” spot that you would prefer?
  12. There is always the other option—take your talents and skills somewhere else.  Some say “I stay because I know the organization needs me”.  To them, I would refer to my wife’s comment “Don’t kid yourself; Jack Kennedy’s body wasn’t even cold when he was replaced by LBJ”. Yes, of course, some people will miss you and you them.  However the organization will continue, for good or for bad, without you.  A week (or sooner) after you have left “your” organization, you will become a historical character. And you may be blamed for every mistake made in the last six months of your service.  You have a choice as to when you leave your employer, leave at the time most attractive and convenient to you. Carpe Diem.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand. Colin Powell. 

James F.Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and career transition firm.  www.linkedin.com/pub/jamesfitzgerald/22/668/10b. Web-site: Jamesffitzgerald.com.  Email. Jamesffitz37@hotmail.com. Phone: 630-684-2204

  
IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

May, 2013

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD

WOULD AN ADDITIONAL 15 MINUTES IMPROVE YOUR LIFE?

You bet it would.  It will allow you to be on time for meetings more often than in the past.  It will provide you with enough “cush” time so you don’t have to speed like a lunatic to make the opening curtain.  It will also provide you with some time to “center” yourself before an important interview, sales call or basketball game.  Recently, my wife and I were driving with our daughter, Erynn, to her basketball game.  The conversation was lively and Erynn was not familiar with the area, so she missed a turn. She quickly realized her mistake and got to the gym, but the delay cost her all of her stretch and warm up time.  After the game she said that she had not played as well as she normally does because she had felt rushed into the game.  I am sure that we see such occurrences all the time.   

I continue to be intrigued by our failure to give ourselves enough time for very basic things. It’s simply a bad business practice.   Many of us will set our alarm clocks for the latest possible moment for it to awaken us in the morning.  We all know people who are constantly late for meetings and then they waste more time telling us in some detail about the “idiot driver” who held them up.  “I would have been on time except for that ambulance that screwed up traffic on the expressway.”  Yeah, if it wasn’t for that, he would have been on time. Think of the latecomers coming into the theater 5-10 minutes after the picture or the performance has started stumbling down your aisle and over (or on) your feet.  Perhaps if they had given themselves that additional 15 minutes they would have arrived at the appropriate time. 

I recall reading that Coach Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers was a real stickler with his players on matters of timeliness.  His attitude was summarized this way: practice starts at 10 o’clock, which means even if you were here by 9:45 you were late.  You should have been here at 9:30, so I would know you are really committed to this team and its goal.  When was the last time you were more than a few minutes early for any gathering?

Social scientists say that it is common place for the average citizen to show up just before “things” start. Many of us believe it makes no sense getting someplace too early; you only have to wait anyway.  We have all heard the famous motto of every army in the world, hurry up and wait. 

Come on, what difference does 15 minutes make?  I am convinced that tardiness is seen as disrespectful to the person you are meeting.  That’s true, even if you didn’t intend to be late; as the bumper stickers say, stuff happens.  Some people are simply time challenged. My suggestion is that they find a way that will remind them of their commitment.  If you are late for a meeting, you probably have annoyed the other person, and that may adversely affect the tone and possibly the substance of the meeting.   

Here are a few thoughts about how to minimize the annoyance factor.  Take the phone number of the person you are meeting and call them once you realize that you are going to be late; don’t wait until the last moment to call.  Yes, we live in a world of GPS and google maps with directions, but you still need to scope out your meeting place. I believe these systems are based on the premise of smooth sailing.  They do not include a “cush” because of that long funeral procession of cars delaying your passage. 

As you prepare for any meeting or phone call, develop a simple outline or agenda for it. If you show that you are prepared for the meeting, others are probably more likely to listen.  Most people will be appreciative of the time you took.  Think of some meetings that you have attended and I’m sure you’ll be able to recall presenters who had not done their homework.  In other words, they did not show concern or respect for the attendees and the value of their time.   

Some people say they are always late and their friends know that and plan accordingly.  But when you are meeting with a new acquaintance for the first time, your reception might not be so pleasant.  All of us seem to believe that our time is precious, otherwise why are so many of us glued to our electronic devices constantly?  Apparently we are failing to realize how we have wasted the other person’s time. BTW. Always confirm the time and place of your meeting.

A final thought about a way of dealing with late arrivals: start the meal or meeting twenty minutes after the scheduled meeting time, with no apology for the still missing person.   

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:  If you don’t follow your dreams, then you will work for someone who did.  Gerald Moriarty

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and career transition firm.  Email:jamesffitz37@hotmail.com.  Web –site:  jamesffitzgerald.com.  Phone: 630-684-2204

                   

IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

APRIL, 2013

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD, CPA

DO THESE THINGS GET UNDER YOUR SKIN? 

While considering topics for this column, I came across an item published in an old copy of the Journal of Accountancy.  It was addressed to those who were trying to succeed in business.  It listed 15 tips for building a successful career. 

The first tip was directed at developing excellent work habits.  I have expanded that concept for purposes of this article.  There are numerous items that could be included in this one tip.

 For example, you should never miss an appointment.  If it appears that you are going to be late for an appointment, call ahead and advise the individual you are to meet that you have been delayed. The call should be made as soon as you reasonably conclude that you are not going to arrive on time for your scheduled meeting.    Ask whether or not the person would rather reschedule the appointment given your tardiness.  Hey, things happen; road construction, inclement weather, accidents, etc.  If you simply “blow” the meeting, I recommend that you telephone the involved individual and personally state your apologies.  Sending an email or a tweet simply doesn’t do it in my book. 

Another obvious miscue is failing to return phone calls. In my experience, people frequently claim to be very busy and unable to respond in a timely fashion.  Frankly, that’s often a fair statement, they are simply swamped.  However, there is also an implication that they are so busy they can’t take the time to call you back; perhaps because you are not seen as “important” enough.

Last month’s column raised the question about how often we actually thank people.  A number of my professional colleagues have advised me that individuals who ask to have their resumes reviewed frequently “disappear” once they have received the recommended changes to their resume.  It’s fair to say that this is a pretty common practice. There is a Biblical precedence for this behavior; only one of the ten lepers who were cured returned to give thanks. 

Talking over another person seems to have become the current day way of dealing with people.  Certainly the conduct of talk show participants seems to make it quite acceptable to simply go over the top to get heard.  It would be far more appropriate and courteous to let the other person speak their mind and express their view before responding.  But instead, the verbal exchange gets garbled because both parties are talking (usually loudly).  Unfortunately, neither party has heard much of what the other person said.  They may have been too busy developing their own instant response and probably missed a good deal of the other person’s point of view.

Do yourself a favor, re-read every email that you send out.  For whatever reason, many of us make mistakes while preparing emails.  Perhaps our fingers just don’t seem to be working right at the time.  Or maybe we are preoccupied when we are typing the message or get distracted. I recently read a multi-page newspaper article about the expansion of a large retail merchant; one paragraph was repeated immediately after the first iteration.  Fortunately, it was a short paragraph, so it was not a great waste of time and space, but it did distract from the professionalism one might expect from a quality newspaper.  If the reporter was so careless as to type the same paragraph twice, might some of the facts in the story be suspect too? 

Recognize that once something is written; it becomes part of history.  It takes on a life of its own.  So when you write an angry message, follow the old adage, set it aside for 24 hours and then re-read it before dispatching. Sending an angry message is a bit like the prosecuting attorney making some devastating comment, which is objected to. However, once said it’s really too late to undo its damage.  Every juror has heard the comment.  A judge telling the jurors to disregard the comment is likely to have little effect. If you are about to say something in an unpleasant manner, consider silence.  At least count to ten or possibly even twenty before speaking.  Pausing for a few moments will allow you to frame your comments more appropriately.  Remember, your harsh comment(s) may be etched in the other person’s brain for years to come.  Don’t you know people who can quote unpleasant comments made to them years ago? 

Find a way to concentrate your energy on the successful completion of your most important project.  Of course, busy people always have a shortage of time; there are simply too many distractions or disruptions that can throw your schedule off track.  But if you have reduced your goals or tasks to writing, you can use it as a compass for getting back on the correct path.  I am always amazed how much more I get done if I match up my completed tasks to the list that I started with at the beginning of the day.  Have you been successful in creating and then following a task list throughout the day?

Your work could be substantially lightened if you look at it in a positive light.  As an old saying proclaims, if you find something to do  that you really enjoy and which earns you a living then  you will never “work” again.    I am always shocked to hear retirees say something like, “now I can do something I really like to do.”  Wouldn’t you wonder how successful or accomplished they were doing their “real” job?  Sometimes finding things you like in your work day can be a struggle, but keep at it. Maybe one of the above thoughts will help you to build a successful career.    Carpe Diem. 

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION.  Every once in a while ask yourself the question, “If money weren’t a consideration, what would I like to be doing?”

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and career transition firm.  www.linkedin.com/pub/jamesfitzgerald/22/668/10b Website: jamesffitzgerald.com Email:jamesffitz37@hotmail.com   Phone: 630-684-2204

 

IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

MARCH, 2013

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD

HOW OFTEN DO YOU SAY “THANK YOU”? 

This column came about because my daughter, Julie, recently sent me a blog, “Why Appreciation Matters So Much.” This blog was on the Harvard Business Review site.  It raised a number of basic questions for me.  How often do we commonly thank people who assist us in our daily tasks, even if they work for us?  Do you offer thanks genuinely or are they simply stated as a matter of fact? Perhaps our expression of thanks is just a reflex action. It seems to me that many of us are very reluctant to show appreciation to others, even family members.

Maybe it is time for a gut check. Do you commonly thank people even if strangers when they help you in any way? Ideally you look directly at them when you voice your appreciation.  I will let Miss Manners or other writers of social commentary drill down in our national psyche as to why we don’t express our thanks more regularly.

I would prefer to address the inherent value of showing gratitude to others whether associates, subordinates, family, friends, neighbors or total strangers.  It’s pretty simple; we all like to be appreciated by others. Even when you watch a celebrated athlete being complimented by some interviewer about their performance, you can see the smile on the athlete’s face. Accomplished actors often say they “love” the applause, the louder the better.  It helps to validate their performance. 

You sometimes hear people say that they don’t need to actually say the words, thank you; the person knows s/he is appreciated by the recipient of their service or kindness.  I don’t buy that argument.  We all like to be thanked (aka appreciated) by others, even if it seems less than genuine.  Doesn’t it somehow make you feel better about your role and yourself?

I recall reading an article about one of the major law firms in New York City that had prepared a video on common courtesies. Senior members of management were expected to watch the video as a reminder to them that they should show gratitude to their new and inexperienced associates for the tasks they had accomplished.  

The firm had come to realize that these young associates wanted to be recognized for their contribution to the solution of a client problem...  The firm also had realized that associates were leaving because their superiors took them for granted and showed them little or no respect, even when they had been quite helpful.  This story ran only a couple of years ago, so these associates fresh out of prestigious law schools were being paid around $150,000 or thereabouts.  Yet, because the superior almost never showed any sense of appreciation for their work, they were ready to leave the firm and go to another firm where they could feel valued for their contribution to the firm’s efforts. 

A supervisor’s unwillingness to give a subordinate a pat on the back or a kind word is sometimes the nudge that leads a person to consider a different employer.   Whenever the employee quits prematurely, it costs the company money, including recruiting costs associated with the replacement, additional training costs, and lost productivity due to the need to acclimate the new employee to the methods and procedures of the firm.

The desired outcome of a well-mannered and friendly company is a more contented work force, whether they are on the production floor or in the executive offices.   Too often companies are so focused on results that they lose the human touch which includes the little courtesies and niceties.  If you are a visitor, don’t you feel more welcome if the receptionist offers you a cup of coffee or a glass of water or a newspaper?       

 While typing this column I received a phone call from a person very dear to me and we briefly discussed this column.  He said he is quite appreciative when his boss returns a report to him with just a brief notation, such as “Excellent report” or “Good job.”  He says he feels that his work is valued and by extension so is he.   Many of us cannot recall when we last congratulated one of our workmates or friends on some accomplishment.   Can you conjure up how you felt when you got your book report back from your high school teacher with some kudos in the margins?  I bet it gave you a mental lift.

Somebody reading this column could say it’s all about that warm and fuzzy stuff.  I beg to differ with that point of view.  It seems to me work places that reflect a certain level of civility and warmth are at least as productive as other environments if not in fact more productive.  Remember, even the Seven Dwarfs are always portrayed as singing while enjoying their work.  Think about it, don’t you prefer being in a pleasant and courteous environment rather than one in which everyone seems to be harried, cranky and disrespectful towards you and others?

In other words, it makes good business sense to encourage and support a positive work environment.  It allows people time to think of new innovations rather than worrying why the boss is so crabby and unpleasant today, or this week or this month.  Take a little time to humanize your surroundings. Carpe Diem  

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: If you are kind, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.  Attributed to Mother Teresa.

   
James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and career transition firm. www.linkedin.com/pub/jamesfitzgerald/22/668/10b. Web-site: Jamesffitzgerald.com   Email:
jamesffitz37@hotmail.com. Phone: 630-684-2204 

 

IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

FEBRUARY, 2013

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD, CPA

DOES ONE PLUS ONE EQUAL THREE?

 We have all been taught that one plus one equals two.  Everyone knows that.  Some of us would argue without stop to convince any dissenters that TWO is the answer.  Haven’t we all been conditioned to accept TWO as the proper solution?

Let me challenge that long held belief.  I am convinced that when one intelligent person discusses an issue with another intelligent person, a third entity comes into being.   The thoughts and insights of each person are influenced by the exchange of ideas with the other person. Commonly the thoughts of each party will be affected by the other person’s point of view.  This doesn’t mean that their point of view will change, but still it will be affected.

Let’s look at the practical application of my belief.  I have spent a great deal of my professional life discussing concerns, primarily professional or career matters, with clients.   I have had the privilege of consulting or counseling with some darn bright individuals. 

Commonly the discussion is taking place because the individual is not sure how to proceed on a specific issue.  So we discuss that issue and the associated factors.  The client normally shares her frustrations with a particular matter, whether it’s another person or a set of circumstances.  Frequently, I don’t know the other parties and I may not know a lot about the specific issues.  I see my role as the interlocutor, namely, the person who has the role of asking questions, asking the client to explain and expand on the issues.   Often the client has made a tentative decision that he feels is totally appropriate or he is just comfortable with the conclusion. So the client may have all or most of the facts at his disposal, but he may be only seeing those facts from one specific point of view.  Haven’t you found yourself in this situation at times?  You are convinced that you have looked at the situation from every angle.  Then you talk to a friend, a mentor or even a casual acquaintance about the matter.  As the conversation continues, you begin to see the situation in a different light; your perspective changes.

The questions being asked by the other person tend to expand the breadth of your thinking.  Perhaps it may even force you to look at the matter from a different vantage point.  Now the old motto, two heads are better than one, may become crystal clear.   

The practice of seeking help from other confidantes is perhaps as old as time.  Yet, I am continuously struck by how often people go off and make significant decisions without input from a trusted friend.  I have certainly found that their counsel can be invaluable when it comes to reviewing written communications.  If we have written, edited, and then written a document time and again, there is a good chance that we will simply miss obvious mistakes.  It’s not only typos and poor choices of words, but maybe even most importantly, another set of eyes may help you see that the tone of the document is undesirable.    

It may be that the underlying theme of this column is NOT on improving your communication skills, but rather improving your cooperative skills.  Aren’t you troubled by the selfishness some of us display both in the work place and in public?  Maybe the expression, “lighten up”, could be applied to more of us than you would think.  Perhaps the lack of civility in so many of our public forums is catching on.  We seem to be willing to be quite unpleasant even when it is totally unwarranted.  Imagine how much more productive and fun your work place could be if people cooperated with each other.  Should that be one of your 2013 resolutions, becoming a peace maker?

Writing this column reminds me of the incident that one of my former neighbors shared with me.  He was in a management training program. Simply stated, each of the six individuals in his cohort was to select a total of five items from their plane that just crashed in the Arctic Circle.  So each person selected their five items.  Each member then explained why he selected those specific five items.  My neighbor is a very smart and determined person, who had selected his five items carefully.  But by the time the exercise was over he had agreed that all five of his items would not be the best ones to salvage from the aircraft.  He said there were adamant defenses stated by each cohort member, but their goal was to have the very best chance of survival by picking the most helpful items on the airplane.  This hardnosed neighbor enthusiastically agreed that his team had picked the most appropriate five items; he had been convinced by the excellent reasons that were presented by the other members.

How do you apply the lessons hopefully buried in this column?  Listen carefully to the ideas of your fellow employees; they are smart people too.   Share your ideas as positively and pleasantly as possible.  Do not allow yourself to become contentious with your fellows.  Try to see the other person’s side of the “argument”. Carpe diem. 

 FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:  I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.  Chinese Proverb.  

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald &Associates, Inc. an Oak Brook, Il-based senior executive coaching and career transition firm. Email: jamesffitz37@hotmail.com. Web-site: jamesffitzgerald.com Phone: 630-684-2204

 

 

 

 

 




IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

OCTOBER, 2012

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD, CPA

WHEN WILL I FIND THAT “NEW” JOB?

I continue to be very concerned about the number of well qualified people who have been unemployed for several months or even a couple of years.   None of us are likely to be unaware that this struggle has been caused and fueled by our current economic slump. I have written on this subject before, but the pain and suffering caused by long term unemployment really gets to me. However I am convinced that people suffering through a long stretch of unemployment can succeed.

Recently I spent some time in Ireland , and an Irish cousin of mine regaled me with  his long and continuous  work record as follows: farm worker, fisherman, painter, tug boat worker, able seaman on a cruise ship, painter again, fisherman, painter again  and home builder.  It was patently obvious to me that being unemployed was not an option for him.  He was going to find “work” whether it was his passion or not.  Yes, I am a big believer in working at a job that really speaks to you, but sometimes that’s simply not an option.       

To paraphrase a physics theorem, a body in motion tends to remain in motion.  A person who has a job tends to project a more positive image than the person who is out of work. One could argue that this statement doesn’t have to be true, BUT it is!    Virtually everybody finds their unemployed status troublesome and unnerving.

I spoke to a client yesterday about one of his employees that I have been coaching.  He said that the individual had been carrying the weight of the “world” on his shoulders for the last several months because he had not closed any significant sales.   How do you perform a task when you are under a lot of pressure?  You probably are not as nimble as you would be if you were loose and carefree. 

The reality is that long term job seekers are likely to be projecting their diminished state, whether they are aware of it or not.  It is absolutely essential   that you as the job seeker manifest the most positive, upbeat image that you can muster. Do you want to deal with a “sad sack” sales person, waiter, bartender, or tax accountant?  When you are being interviewed, your job is to portray all the most appropriate qualities desired by the employer, not the “woe is me” attitude.  

I am a big fan of the Robert B. Parker books about the Boston detective, Spenser.   This  private investigator   frequently  says something like  I don’t know what  to do about this case I am working  on, let me find someone I can talk to. He is convinced, as I am that most people, perhaps even the vast majority of people want to help others.  What are the people in your world like?  A bunch of crabby, cranky old birds?  If they are, don’t walk away, run (fast). I live in a world where some   90 % plus are willing to help total strangers.  I see evidence of that trait every day.  If you sincerely believe that most people are decent, helpful and concerned folks, your job search will be far easier. 

Decide on what kind of job you want.  Many people say that they hate their jobs, but when they lose that job they immediately start looking for a job similar to the one they hated.  Think outside your normal expectations. What really turns you on?  What’s the ideal job for you?  

Recognize that maybe you cannot obtain that splendid new job immediately. But, can you find a job that will lead you to your ultimate job?  Are you preparing yourself for your next job? Recently, I mentioned the availability of State financial support for training that enhances one’s job skills to a person who has been unemployed for more than two years. He told me that he had no clue that such aid was available.

You have to wonder why after such a long bout of unemployment he was unaware of these benefits. Maybe he is like the new car owner who fails to review his user manual.  It is certainly a worthwhile use of one’s time to learn what resources are available in both the public and private sectors.  There are all kinds of job support groups located throughout our area; job seekers need to become aware of the potential services that they could use. One of the great advantages of accountability groups is having someone else, in your same situation, challenging how you are spending your time. 

Being unemployed can sap a job seeker’s energy. Hey, there’s always tomorrow to do this or that.  NO, do it today.  Get up at a reasonable time and execute your list of planned activities for the day.   Volunteer someplace for a limited amount of time each week.  Find ways to relate your volunteer work to your desired full time employment opportunity.  Consider learning another language if your likely field of endeavor includes people who speak that language.  And get some physical exercise into your daily routine. 

W. Clement Stone, a Chicago multi billionaire insurance executive, coined the expression PMA, Positive Mental Attitude.    No question having PMA may pay tremendous dividends.  Even if your   contact doesn’t have a job for you, s/he is more likely to refer you to someone if you are upbeat and positive.  Will this column have any effect on your job search?  Yes, if you are willing to develop PMA going forward. Carpe Diem. 

For your consideration:  How would the person you want to be, do what you are about to do?   Unknown.



James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, Il-based senior executive coaching and career transition firm.  Ph: 630-684-2204. Email: jamesffitz37@hotmail.com  Web site: jamesffitzgeraldassociates.com.    

 

 IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

 AUGUST, 2012

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD, CPA

ARE YOU PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR STATION IN LIFE?

I have been thinking about this subject for a long time.  I am convinced that we live in a world where no one is responsible.  That’s right; it is always somebody else’s fault.  The Democrats are always complaining that the Republicans are at fault about this or that.  But not to be outdone, the Republicans are always ready to blame the Democrats for the foul ups in the system.

While on vacation last week, I saw a perfect example of this pervasive tendency on the part of Americans.  Our car was in the farthest left lane of traffic, fourth in line from the traffic light.  As we waited for the light to change, a car whizzed by us in the right lane alongside us.  When the light changed, the car in the right lane made a 90 degree turn and tried unsuccessfully to pull in front of the second car in our lane.  The driver in our lane had no chance to stop before crashing into the line breaker’s car.  The offending driver literally bolted out of the car, screaming at the driver of the other car while spouting obscenities at the “innocent” driver.  The door of the offending car fell onto the ground as the driver exited the car.  Certainly being in a car accident can unnerve any of us, but clearly the rage expressed by this driver was focused on the perception that the accident was caused by the innocent driver.  Incidentally, this accident was witnessed by 6 or 8 people in our three car caravan and everyone was convinced of the guilt of the aggressive driver. 

Perhaps the offending driver saw the 1949 movie, Knock on Any Door, when the lawyer, Humphrey Bogart, tells his client, John Derek (aka Nick Romano) we are going to blame everything and everybody but you for this killing.  Let the jury dwell on all the possibilities except you. 

It seems to me that blaming someone else for our mistakes has reached epidemic proportions.  But obviously many of our troubles are created by our own decisions.  We simply didn’t think about the consequences of our decisions. 

It would behoove parents to realize that this tendency starts in the home when we are mere children.  Children need to be educated that there are consequences attached to their decisions.  I made the decision to go to a parochial high school even though my brothers had all gone to the fine nearby public high school.  Due to that basic decision my parents allowed me to make, I experienced a different high school environment than my brothers.  I became acquainted with students who lived in a wider geographic area and came from several different ethnic neighborhoods that did not feed students to the local public high school. 

A student decides to go to the University of Illinois or Benedictine University. Obviously the experience that any one student would have will vary from one fine school to another.  The experiences are a direct result of the person’s decision to go to their chosen school.  I have always felt that going to Loyola University, a Chicago school, was quite beneficial for me.  Even as a kid I knew my future was more likely in Chicago than any other place.  Shouldn’t we as parents help our children understand the implications of their choice of a specific school?  Rather it seems to me much more likely the decision is made on the proverbial “I REALLY like their campus”, whatever that means.

Have you taken the time to really think about your life’s path?  Do you have enough goals to fill your bucket list? Or would you prefer to blame someone else for the holes in your shoes?  Bad decisions can create mountains of debt. 

If you have been downsized or laid off, have you seized the opportunity as a chance to improve your technical skills or competencies?  If you have been unemployed for several months, shouldn’t you use some of your “free” time enhancing your skills?

When someone else gets the promotion you anticipated, perhaps you have a right to be annoyed.  However, wouldn’t it be a better use of your time and energy to determine what other skills, capabilities or talents would make you a more desirable candidate for the next promotion? 

Many people surrender to the whims or wishes of their employer.  If not, why do so many people “hate” their jobs?  Do a little research the next time you are with a group of friends; ask each of them if they are happy with their job.  Surely some of us have a bad day occasionally and blame the world for all of our problems.  Commonly that feeling passes fairly quickly.  If you are a person who truly likes your work environment, consider ways you can make your job more interesting.   Make a “game” out of it; try to inject some fun into the job itself.  If you are a happy worker, you are probably more productive than the normal “bear”.  You won’t feel like a prisoner when you walk into the office or job site.

I fully recognize that there are circumstances in the lives of many that prohibit them from changing jobs or companies.  But for those of you who can improve your conditions, you owe it to yourself and your employer to do so.   The next time you walk past a mirror, take a moment to see if you look like a happy (and contributing) member of your employer’s team.  Carpe Diem.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:  In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson    

James F. Fitzgerald is president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and career transition firm.  Phone: 630-684-2204.  Web-site: jamesffitzgeraldassociates.com. Email: jamesffitz37@hotmail.com

 

IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

 JULY, 2012

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD, CPA

IS JULY 4TH A DAY OF INDEPENDENCE FOR YOU?

We all should be aware of the meaning of July 4th from a national historical point of view.  We are celebrating the independence of the thirteen American colonies from the tyranny of British rule.

How fortunate we are to live in this wonderful country where we can exercise our independence regularly without fear.  We should salute the brave men and women who fought for our independence and for those who continue to fight so we can retain our independence. Our appreciation of these heroes should go beyond just attending a fireworks show.   

But I think we might want to consider another aspect of independence as we celebrate this sacred holiday.  Are we as individuals really independent and free, or are we held hostage by certain behaviors we practice?

For example, have we given up our financial independence by making bad choices?  We bought our dream house but it was motivated by our wanting that house, not needing it.  As a result of that decision, we are being “buried” by the burden of this financial obligation.  Our indebtedness restricts our ability to implement other dreams.  If we are financially prudent, we realize that we cannot take that expensive or extensive vacation we had anticipated for years at this time. It would be good judgment to buy a high mileage car rather than a gas guzzler.    

Have you made the appropriate decisions regarding your career that will allow you to exercise your independence on such things as where you live or work?   I counsel job seekers to improve their technical skills when they are between jobs, but in my experience only a small percentage of unemployed individuals do so.  A commitment to lifetime learning is essential in this era of exploding knowledge, how else can one keep up with the burgeoning technology? 

To stay out in front of your competitors, you need to exercise your mind and your body.  First, the mind, you need to consider how you can acquire or enhance the skills that are necessary for success in your field.  If you don’t keep up with the changing world, aren’t you losing some of your independence?  Taking care of your body seems obvious, but that awareness becomes suspect when you watch the obesity numbers that are soaring in this country. If you don’t keep yourself in good physical shape, you relegate yourself to second rate performance. Your body will not be able to provide you with the necessary oxygen, energy or stamina to excel. 

Free yourself of all thoughts of what you should do, must do, and can’t do except for the most basic absolutes.  Because a person doesn’t agree with your views on politics, religion, baseball, child rearing or lacrosse, don’t write the person out of your life.  Open yourself to opposing views.  Read books, watch videos, watch TV talk shows that present views that you find abhorrent.  Hopefully doing so will allow you to free yourself of some of your prejudices.  It makes no difference whether you are a liberal, conservative or independent you can consider the other person’s point of view.  Perhaps that person is NOT really an idiot.

Another way to free yourself is to take a risk.  Go someplace where you don’t know anyone. Expand your awareness of how other people see the world. Corny, perhaps, but go to ethnic restaurants, see what other people eat.  Go downtown and simply walk around and soak in the differences amongst those around you.  You may very well find that more things unite us than separate us.  This awareness may help you to free yourself of old notions of other people.

As a reader of this CAREERS column, you may ask how these enhancements   of our independence can improve our careers.  An example that comes to my mind is from a movie, Save the Tiger, where the old dress cutter is quite persuasive that he has more independence & freedom than Jack Lemmon who plays the jaded owner of the dress factory.  Why?  Because the dress cutter has made appropriate and judicious decisions, whereas the factory owner has long ago surrendered his independence to greed and corruption.

 If you find yourself in a position where your freedom is being held hostage, perhaps you need to consider how to free yourself.   It’s not realistic to expect to shed your shackles of dependence in one act or one day.  Rather it will require you to look carefully at your job or career.  What changes would allow you to feel more like a real live contributor rather than just a drone?

Every Fourth of July or Independence Day should provoke a gut check on where we stand in our careers and in our lives.  Do you feel that you are in control of your destiny or have you compromised your life and your dreams?  Clearly sometimes events in our lives overwhelm us, but we must find the strength and fortitude to overcome those times. 

I commonly close each of my columns with the suggestion, CARPE DIEM, which means Seize the Day.  Have you taken the time to seize the moment, hour or day that will move you towards true Independence?

Personal note: Happy Birthday to Mary Veronica Sullivan Fitzgerald on her Fourth of July birthday.         

James F. Fitzgerald is president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and career transition firm.  Email:jamesffitz37@hotmail.com. Web-site: jamesffitzgeraldassociates.com.  Phone: 630-684-2204

 

 

IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

 

 MAY, 2012

 CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD, CPA

 THE INTERVIEWER IS IN CHARGE, RIGHT?

It is a commonly held view that the interviewer is the person in charge of an interview.   Perhaps it’s time to rethink that point of view   The more interview  experiences I hear, the more I believe interviewees should be prepared to take charge of the interview, if necessary.  Frequently the interviewer is NOT prepared to conduct the interview.  Their reading of one’s resume can be casual and hurried, if done at all. 

When a human resources person is conducting the interview of a person with a technical background, he is really at a disadvantage.  How much is a HR person likely to know about IT, manufacturing, logistics or financial reporting?  They are really hard pressed to ask penetrating questions about the technical subject matter.  It’s clearly not their expertise.  They can learn general information from the interviewee such as schooling, interests, past achievements, some of the specifics about former employers and other “personal” things, but can they really learn pertinent info about the interviewee’s area of expertise?

Think about it.  A human resources person typically knows a lot about the company and its history, the benefits, plus the culture and goals of the organization.  But do they know much about the actual day to day activities of the different departments? 

In many instances, surprisingly, the HR interviewer will not have had any training in the interview process.  They are simply expected to pick up those skills.  “Hey, it’s just talking to an individual”; a good interviewer can draw some worthwhile conclusions about the individual. But can they look carefully at the interviewee’s background and experiences and relate them to the skills required for the job?  Much more likely the interview is concluded and the interviewer says, I like him or I don’t like him.  He or she would be a good hire.   

I recall a discussion with one of the best recruiters Coopers & Lybrand had, Chuck Bond, who said “I just know when a person is right for C&L.”  This statement was made without guile or conceit.  Chuck felt he could discern the person’s ability to be successful within our firm.  Perhaps because the person seemed to be a really nice person.  But as for the presence of the essential skills necessary to execute the job properly, often no real attempt was made to discern that.  A dear friend of mine recently told me that the top marketing executive of her potential employer started their interview by asking “What shall we talk about?” He then conducted an interview which never touched upon her considerable marketing skills, although she was being “interviewed” for a senior level marketing position.    

The interviewee should prepare an agenda of essential selling points before the interview.  Just like the 10 PM news broadcaster, what are the main stories that the interviewee is going to tell the interviewer?  What examples or experiences will help the interviewer to conclude that the interviewee possesses the requisite skills? 

The interviewee should have the two or three highlights etched in their memory; they need to share those with the interviewer, even if he doesn’t ask.  Don’t leave the interview without sharing these experiences with the interviewer. If the interviewer remembers nothing else about you, hopefully he will remember one or two of the highlights you were trying to communicate. 

The interviewee needs to realize that the interviewer may be as nervous as he is.  The interviewer may have realized the interviewee went to a “better” school than s/he did; the interviewee has some really important job experiences. The interviewee may be far more widely traveled or accomplished than the interviewer.  Perhaps the interviewer considers the job applicant as far more attractive in his/her overall appearance than himself. More significant than the externals is the reality, the interviewer gets to make a very important decision that affects the other person’s life.  Many interviewers resist making a final hiring decision because they are uncomfortable having that much power.     

An interviewee should remember the rule of the 4P’s.  #1) You must prepare your story. #2) you must practice what you going to say 3) you must present the individual facts as a cogent statement #4) you must deliver your story with passion.     

To be successful in an interview, you need to bring your “A” game.  You must strive to help the interviewer see your virtues and skills. You must manifest your excitement and enthusiasm. How else is the interviewer going to know you are excited about the job?   The interviewer wants to hire someone, why not you?  Remember people hire others with whom they are comfortable.

Your ability to “take over” an interview is directly related to the thoroughness of your preparation for the interview. Like any other process, this approach will not work every time.  A highly experienced interviewer is not going to let you run the show, but I think such interviewers are few and far between. 

The value of taking over the interview shows itself in how much relevant information (the selling proposition) you have been able to provide the interviewer. Remember you are trying to facilitate a positive decision on the part of the interviewer; you are trying to close the sale. 

Personal note: In addition to my two excellent editors, I asked Robert Ward, author of From Interview Disaster to Interview Master to review this column.  Carpe Diem. 

 

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and career transition firm.  Email:jamesffitz37@hotmail.com. Web-site: jamesfitzgeraldassociates.com Phone#: 630-684-2204

 
 
IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

MARCH, 2012

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD, CPA

DO YOU KNOW HOW TO START YOUR NEW JOB?

Many of my past columns dealt with the job search process. Obviously a lot of people start new jobs virtually every day of the year.  This column focuses on what that new employee should do in order to succeed in the new environment. 

Some time ago, a former colleague and accomplished outplacement consultant, Fred Gittinger, shared with me his thoughts on what a person should do when s/he starts a new job.  Fred developed a list of ten things that he felt a new employee should do to facilitate and enhance their assimilation into a new corporate environment. As I reviewed Fred’s recommendations, I am convinced that  all of us could improve our current employment situation by reviewing these same 10 suggestions as though we were new employees.

 

1.)    Meet with your new boss for purposes of defining what your role is in the organization and what goals are important to your boss.  Too often, new hires want to please the boss without really knowing what s/he wants them to accomplish. 

 

2.)    After meeting with the boss, write a memo of your understanding of the focus points for your first three to six months. Provide a copy of the memo to your boss; ask for a three to six months review to seek any additional clarification that may be needed.

 

3.)    Do a complete assessment of your strengths and weaknesses as you start your new job.  It will help you understand what help you might need to fulfill the expectations of your boss.

Write down the reasons why you were hired; keep them in the front of your mind. Remember to focus on those reasons with your colleagues so you don’t get trapped into fulfilling their agenda rather than your own.

 

4.)    Develop a self improvement plan. As you take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, you will most likely decide that there are things whether skills, style or behaviors, that need to be modified or totally changed.  Let your boss know that you are vitally interested in constructive criticism. Many bosses are uncomfortable criticizing people directly and honestly, so make it easy for them.  Once you have completed this self improvement plan, determine if there are some people who could help you by mentoring you as you strive to implement this plan.

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5.)    Solicit feedback.  How can you improve if no one tells you when you are doing something wrong? Make it clear not only to your boss but to others you respect, you would welcome their feedback on your performance.  Many surveys say that the lack of feedback is one of the biggest complaints that people have.  

6.)    Meet as many people in the organization as possible in your first month. It will help you to  feel more thoroughly connected than if you only met a person or two.  Meeting more people, from different parts of the business, will also help to expand your understanding of the total company.  It could open some doors for you in the future.  Keep your mouth shut about the “great” company you just left; remember, you are trying to assess this culture, not educate them on your former culture.   

7.)    Keep track of your accomplishments.  Start a CAREER file.  Every time you succeed in a major project put a note in your file.  Every time you receive a written compliment or endorsement of your latest achievement, drop a copy into your file.  Believe me; we all forget our accomplishments as the years go by.  After a while, some of your earlier achievements will lose their glow; but they can still be helpful when you are explaining your background to someone else in the organization.  And, of course, even a genuine accomplishment can become lost in an organization. Why?  Perhaps because the individuals that were involved have all moved on, been promoted or transferred, quit or been terminated.

8.)    Be thoroughly prepared for your performance review. If need be, insist on a review. A lot of managers don’t like to discuss a person’s background in detail. Perhaps they don’t really feel that they have command of the details.   Develop your own written agenda for the meeting.   Be prepared to defend your records and/or refute items when you believe your superior’s information is incorrect.  But do it with style; do not get belligerent or unpleasant; this person will still be your boss tomorrow.

9.)    Ask what it will take to be promoted to the next level of responsibility.  Are there one or two suggestions that your superior has for you? There are always a few. I am not sure the specific criticism is as important as is your willingness to admit that possibly you have some weaknesses or areas needing improvement.

10.) Develop a long range plan for your growth in the organization.  It should include steps that are specific and measurable.  NOT “Improve sales in my territory a lot over the next five years.”   RATHER “Improve sales in my territory by 12% per year for each of the next five years”

If you follow these 10 guidelines you are likely to be more successful with your new employer. Even if you have been with your “new” employer several years, revisiting these suggestions would not be a waste of your time.  Frankly, they could possibly help you to reenergize your career. 

It’s still early in the New Year, why not try them?  They are designed to help your career, not hurt your career. 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.  Carpe Diem. 

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and career transition firm. Email:jamesffitz37@hotmail.com Web-site: jamesfitzgeraldassociates.com Phone: 630-684-2204.

 

IRISH AMERICAN NEWS

FEBRUARY, 2012

CAREERS by JAMES F. FITZGERALD, CPA

HOW DO YOU ATTRACT A CAREER MENTOR?

As an executive coach, clients regularly tell me about costly and avoidable mistakes they have made in their careers.  Just this week, a mature and well educated client told me that he prided himself on only calling his boss when he had a serious problem. WRONG.  You need to walk the line between being a   whiner and an individual who keeps the boss in the loop. If you have the benefit of a mentor, you probably would have learned to keep in touch with your boss.  Bosses may outwardly agree with the statement “call me only when the ship is floundering.”  However, most bosses like to know what’s happening with their subordinates, if only because their boss might ask them about the status of an issue.    

Throughout our lives, many of us have received guidance from mentors of one type or another.  Parents, teachers, coaches or even just more talented pals served as role models or guides.  Unfortunately, after taking our first significant job, many of us allow our advisors to slip away. Maybe we do this to prove to ourselves that we have made the passage into adulthood.  Or maybe it because we are Intent on proving ourselves to our superior. Whatever the underlying reason, we make silly and costly mistakes that could have been avoided by enlisting the advice and insights of others who have more experience.   People who realize the importance of attracting and keeping mentors greatly improve their odds of career success.  One does not have to make every mistake personally to learn from the mistakes of others.   Isn’t that why so many of us read books by authors such Jack Welch, Jim Collins and others?  Hopefully, just by reading of the authors’ experiences, we are more likely to avoid the mis-steps that they took or saw others take.   

 Mentors can be invaluable: they can help you understand industry trends and intra-company debates while providing constructive criticism regarding your decision-making process.    They can help you understand the agenda of others, even perhaps your internal competitors. They can provide some guidance about avoiding some issues and interaction with fellow employees who could be toxic to you and your career. Your relationship with a mentor can improve the odds of your career success significantly.

Developing a relationship with a mentor is not a new concept. Throughout history, men and women have recorded in their private papers the help provided to them by mentors, including Margaret Thatcher, George Marshall, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. 

When searching for an appropriate mentor, it’s wise to consider several criteria. Ideally the mentor should be older and more experienced than you and more knowledgeable about your corporate environment.  Someone with a broader vision, who can see the entire company or division and put your role into perspective, is most valuable.  Strive to enlist the help of someone with a strong reputation and who appears to be “on the move”.  Choosing a mentor of your same gender may appear to be a wise move, but that isn’t always the case.  Talent, maturity and the competence of the potential mentor are more important than gender. If you can genuinely convince the potential mentor of your substantial respect, there is a good chance the mentor will accept the responsibility of mentorship. 

One mentor is great, two or three are better.  With multiple mentors you get differing opinions from different perspectives.  Take these steps to find a mentor:

  • Prepare a list of likely candidates; list everyone who might be even remotely helpful, but only people whose judgment and maturity you respect and value.
  • Sort through your list carefully.  Reduce it to three or four candidates.  This analysis will help you understand your needs better.  Eliminate anyone who made your list strictly for sentimental reasons. 
  • Meet with your nominees separately: ideally in the order of your highest interest.  Tell each that you would appreciate seeing them from time to time for lunch, a game of tennis or just a chat at the office—specifically to get their insights about your approach to your career.  Get them to accept the role before discussing any specific issues.
  • If you are sincere and genuine in this initial meeting, you will probably acquire a mentor.  The primary reason people agree to be mentors is the feeling that their advice will be valued and appreciated.
  • No matter how well you get along with your new mentor, never take them for granted. Once you demonstrate that you don’t value the advice you are receiving, the effectiveness of this relationship has probably been seriously damaged, if not destroyed.
  • Establish a clear understanding as to the frequency of contact and stick to it even if you don’t have any pressing issues to discuss.  Keep them posted on the progress of your career, even when all is well.

The wisdom and counsel of an engaged mentor can’t be overestimated. Accept this challenge TODAY: Find a mentor within the next 30 days.  Carpe Diem. 

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc., an Oak Brook, IL-based senior executive coaching and career transition firm.  Email: jamesffitz37@hotmail.com. Web-site: jamesfitzgeraldassociates.com Phone: 630-684-2204     . 



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