I was having a discussion with a colleague about staffing at the most senior level of an organization. Non technical, Director and CEO level jobs. In fact the discussion I was having was with a CEO himself. What he said actually surprised me, especially given the level he is at in his personal career. First let me give a brief summary of what transpired.
We discussed a potential candidate for a role in a large corporation at 2 levels below the CEO. I retorted that this particular person we had in mind, was above that level, too senior and ready for a CEO job himself, and so he wouldn’t be interested, and that I thought he was ‘better’ than the role on offer. He disagreed. He said that this person wasn’t ready for a CEO role as he had not even held the role of director and it was too much of a leap…. the discussion kind of went around in circles as to what qualifies a person for the most senior job. His view was that the very top job in large companies was really only the domain of a special few. My point was that who the special few are is really an arbitrary decision made by the people who have the power to put people in positions….
In the qualitative arena of corporate positions there is no such thing as being qualified. Every time a person steps up or gets the opportunity to step up, is because someone in power handed it to them. Sure, they may have done well before but it’s not a guarantee of future performance. In fact, there are probably more examples of CEO’s doing bad jobs than there are of those doing terrific jobs. Especially given that most CEO’s didn’t build the business they are managing, they ‘inherited the corporate wealth’.
As far as I can tell it’s rather simple, and there are a few things that enable and facilitate people getting that big job:
- The person needs to be good at speaking, presenting & selling the future, not necessarily making it happen.
- The person needs to be smart, good at influencing others, but not necessarily a hard worker.
- The person needs to ‘look the part’ – seem like they belong. Present and dress well.
- The person needs to have seemingly ‘relevant experience’ in the same or a juxtaposed industry.
- The person needs to look good on paper, be a justifiable choice to the decision maker(s).
- The person needs someone to have had faith in them earlier in their career, promoting them to senior gigs before they look too old, or even when they looked surprisingly young – they need to be ‘picked’ and promoted. It makes them look more special or talented than the other people.
- The person needs to play a good internal game, this matters much more than their actual output.
- The person needs to not stick out as risk to the organisation, that way the decision makers wont be blamed if they turn out to be not so good.
Notice how none of these things actually guarantee the right person will get the job?
In fact, every job someone gets is based on the previous job someone else decided they deserve. Corporate climbers know this and leverage this through their entire career until they break through the glass barrier. They often then go on to earn millions for years to come trading themselves to various corporations, fooling the world that they are better, more qualified or more deserving to be in such positions. It’s just a game, but it’s not like football where the persons performance can be easily measured.
I’ve met plenty of great CEO’s (in fact the person I’m referencing at the start of this post, is the best I’ve ever met) and I’ve worked for plenty of duds too. So don’t ever let someone tell you that you are not ready, or qualified for anything. Remember that everyone who ever made that level didn’t get there because of how good they were, they got there because of how good people thought they might be, or who their friends were. An entrepreneur on the other hand, gets to where they deserve entirely on their own performance.
This is a guest post by Jared Shay, who recently decided being employed was for chumps and started walking his own path. He blogs with his brother Xavier about personal development and being awesome at two-shay.com.
The advice “everyone has something of value to give” used to crop up all the time in my morning feeds, and it used to annoy the hell out of me. It was easy for all those successful internet folks to say it, they were travelling the world with nothing but a back pack and a laptop, or working with people who were at the top of their fields. It was obvious what their value to give was. What could I possibly do that would compare to that? I was always trying to think of that one big idea to set me apart. If I could find that, I’d have it made. I couldn’t find it though. It was my white whale.
You know who else had a white whale? Captain Ahab. His white whale was called Moby Dick and it bit one of his legs clean off. He spent years chasing after the thing so he could get his revenge. Eventually he caught up to big MD and decided to go toe-to-fin with it. Predictably the whale smoked him, and whilst he did get a few good hits in the whole thing makes you wonder—maybe Ahab’s obsession with finding that one big thing just wasn’t worth it. I got lucky. That could’ve been me—dragged into a watery grave by a whale. I realised I didn’t need to find that one big idea, I just needed to take stock of the life I had already and take notice of the things that I spend every second of every day either doing or thinking about doing. Things that I’d been doing so long they had become routine and boring to me, but were totally interesting to other people. As soon as I discovered this I realised why it was so easy for those annoying successful people. They didn’t start travelling the world or turning themselves into experts just to get readers or sell products—that’s just who they were already.
Let’s suppose Captain Ahab was alive today and he decided to forgive and forget all that whale business. He lead a pretty darn interesting life: He grew up as an orphan, began sailing at age eighteen, got a leg bitten off by a whale and in in forty years spent less than three on land. Now just try and tell me that if he started a blog that you wouldn’t want to read it, or that he couldn’t package together an international sailing guide, or fill a venue on a public speaking tour. He wouldn’t need to go out and find interesting things to do. Just from living his life he’d have all the material he’d ever need.
My life resume might not be quite as impressive but it still has plenty of things I can use to provide value to other people. I’m a musician who teaches and performs regularly, a huge personal development geek, and I exercise everyday. I’ve been cooking and eating vegetarian and vegan food for years. I got through a computer science degree without a computer, can juggle, have tutored maths, and have watched more professional Starcraft than just about anyone outside of South Korea. I’ve been doing most of these things my whole life, and that pretty much makes me an expert by default. Doesn’t mean I’m the best, but it does mean I can provide something of value to others.
I stopped looking for big ideas and starting using what I already had. I’d already done the hard work. I started blogging about personal development because I’ve spent years reading and practicing it; I began teaching drums because I’ve played the instrument my whole life; I help people learn to cook vegan food because that’s how I live. One out of these three is already profitable. These aren’t new or innovative ideas, but they’re backed with solid life experience.
Everyone’s lives are filled with things they can use to provide value to others. You don’t have to be the best, you only need to get out there and start sharing what you’ve got, even if you can’t immediately see where it’s going to lead.
This is the fourth of my crowd sourced blog entry ideas as suggested by Lani Pauli. Lani wanted to get my thoughts on the following: How to overcome the fear to take the leap and do your own thing.
I’ve written about this a few times. And I’ll start by pointing out previous entries on De-gearing, Quit your job and The number 1 reason being an employee sucks. But to make things contemporaneous here’s my thoughts on the topic today, off the top of my head.
Two important words come to mind when I think about the fear of pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors.
Having & Doing.
And as far as I can tell these two words are what we worry about when it comes to finance. We want to do cool stuff (like build a startup and pursue dreams), but in the short term it can have a big impact on our lifestyle and consumption patterns – the having part.
But most people don’t realize this important fact until after they have made the leap:
“The having is in the doing”
In my view we often replace our dreams and goals with consumption. And society promotes this ideal. We use money and steady income as a means of consumption based happiness. When in reality, we’d be much happier if we just did what we wanted to and had greater fulfillment in the hours of our days.
We have to make a decision on what’s more important to us; having lots of stuff and security, or doing cool things. I believe the latter creates a more enjoyable existence, and often leads to a virtuous circle where you realize how little we really need.
The real bonus is this: it’s easier to be successful when you are really into what you spend your time on. And when success comes to entrepreneurs we get the best of both worlds.
Startup blog says: Dream chase now!
I am incredibly happy with the following things:
- My relationship with my family (immediate and wider family)
- The state of my health. I fit and well enough to enjoy, people life and exercise.
- Where I live. Yarraville, Melbourne, Australia. In fact so much so that I evangelize it.
- My house. A beautiful little renovated Edwardian, not big but it’s just right for me and my wife.
- The state of my country Australia. It allows us to practice any religion / or not and live a free life with opportunity.
- How I invest my spare time. I like surfing, gym and mountain bike riding.
- The fact that I am continuing a vocation of learning. Both in life and academically in my areas of interest.
- The work I do. Running rentoid.com teaching at Melbourne University and writing this blog.
If any of these parts of your life aren’t right. If we are not quite happy with them, no less totally unhappy with them. Then this is the most important startup we can focus on. The start required to change it. Start today.
I’ve recently happened upon the Odwick project from serial creative Jacob Lodwick (founder of vimeo.com). Odwick is a 10 episode project I think most of my readers will like. I can’t describe it. It seriously blew me away. So much so that I was trying to find a reason to post one of his videos right here on Startup blog. Thankfully the second to last video in the Odwick project gave me that opportunity. It’s probably what many of us out there have felt while we resided in cubicle land, or still do feel if we haven’t managed to pull off an escape yet.