Build Your Leaders

Postcard from Asheville, NC

January 2009

I love my house. A California contemporary built in the late fifties, it is open and gracious with long-range mountain views. People constantly remark that it has "a nice feel to it." I have to agree: the house has great energy.

For the first time in a year, the house is not under renovation. Last year, I rebuilt the back patio, re-poured repoured the driveway, replaced the air conditioning, and built a private guest suite for clients coming to Asheville for retreats or intensive coaching sessions.

Today, there are no hammers hammering, pickup trucks lined up in the driveway, or workmen asking endless questions. I walk through each room grateful to have my home back.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote that houses often symbolize the dreamer. Maybe my house is reflecting a new focus for 2009. Maybe 2009 will not be so much a year for building or renovation, but for being grateful and protecting what I do have.

Several clients have recently asked for career advice in this down economy. In a down economy, now may not be the best time for a move. (Last hired, first fired) Now may be the time to be grateful for the job you have while seeking ways to ensure that you hold on to it. This month, I share seven tips for how to bullet-proof your career in a recession.

Bulletproof Your Career During a Down Economy

  1. Maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
    1. Ensure that you are using your strengths to their fullest.
    2. Reduce your weaknesses through training, delegation (when possible), and strong support systems.
  2. Guard against blind spots.
    1. Review past evaluations for potential blind spots, attributes, deficient skills, or behaviors that may be derailing your career.
    2. Ask for regular feedback from your supervisors, subordinates, clients, suppliers, and peers.
  3. Build your brand.
    1. Seek opportunities for professional and personal development. Budget time to stay current from terminology to technology.
    2. Build a successful track record. Seek new opportunities; take initiative.
    3. Differentiate yourself. Become an expert.
    4. Get involved in your community and/or with professional organizations.
  4. Manage up.
    1. Establish mutual expectations with your boss. Ask the million dollar question: "Let's say it's a year from now and we are at my review. You are telling me that I did a wonderful job this past year. What did I do?"
    2. Take responsibility for your career.
      1. Don't expect your boss to be a mind reader. Tell him or her what you need to do a good job.
      2. Promote your successes.
      3. Set career goals and write an annual plan on how to get there.
  5. Strengthen your communications skills. Excellent communications skills are the number one determinant for social and professional advancement.
    1. Seek opportunities to strengthen your verbal and written skills.
    2. Practice strong listening skills.
    3. Think globally. Learn a new language.
  6. Build your network. A Department of Labor study shows that two-thirds of all new jobs were found through networking. Jeff Taylor, founder of, writes in his book Monster Careers: Networking, "In this 'free agent' world of work, your career advancement depends on your network. Your network will help you find a job and get that job done once you've landed it." In building your network, remember:
    1. Never burn a bridge.
    2. Stay in touch with former bosses.
    3. Constantly expand your network. Expand your circle beyond the people who are most like you.
  7. Shake it up. Complacency is a career killer. Business is built on doing things faster, cheaper, better, farther, and more efficiently. Careers are built on the same criteria.
    1. Evaluate where you are at least twice a year. Ask yourself: If I continue doing what I am doing, will I like where I end up?
    2. Constantly ask yourself: How can I connect with my passion?
    3. Reinvent yourself at least every ten years.

Tip of the Week

In the early 1990s, Dr. Thomas Harrell, Professor Emeritus of Business at Stanford University, studied a group of MBA students a decade after their graduation; he wanted to identify the traits of those who were most successful.

He found that grade point average had little bearing on success, but “verbal fluency,” or being a confident conversationalist, did. In fact, it was the most common trait among all those deemed successful. These men and women spoke well in front of audiences and were considered easy to talk to.