As someone at the beginning of their career, I often look at those who are successful and think to myself, “How did they do it?” I’ve made it a point to ask those with more experience than myself, what advice they would give as I begin my career.
The leadership team at Credera is a group I’ve come to admire for the simple fact that they truly embody our core values: professionalism, excellence, integrity, and humility. I decided to put a twist on my “How do you do it?” question and ask the Partner Team at Credera, “What advice would you give to your 20-something self?” This is part one of a three-part series.
This week I sat down with Justin Bell, Jason Goth, and Scott Covington.
- Invest in people. It can be easy to get caught up in the routine of just going to work and doing your assigned tasks, but it is extremely important to build relationships with the people you interact and work with. The benefits of this are that you get to know and have a positive impact on a lot of great people over the years—you build trust and credibility with people that can create mutually beneficial relationships. The key is that you have to be disciplined about staying in touch with the people you meet and look for opportunities to help them any way you can.
- Constantly seek out challenging assignments. If you find you’re feeling overly comfortable for a long period of time, you should seek out the next assignment or thing to focus on. Looking back, the times during my career when I’ve grown the most have been times when I was most outside my comfort zone, doing new and challenging things and learning through those experiences.
- Find good mentors. Mentors are important to have when working through challenging situations and likely need to change as you grow. Early in my career, my mentors mostly helped me get the basics of being a professional and learn new technologies. I still maintain several active relationships with mentors, but the focus now is from other executives who can help me navigate some of the challenges of leadership and this portion of my career.
- Be courageous and have 100% conversations. The ability to communicate clearly, even when it’s difficult, is critical. Especially in your 20s, it’s really hard to have the self-confidence and courage to have the hard, 100% conversations with people. These conversations can be with friends, peers at work, a client, or your CEO. The critical factor is that you share your full feedback with that person, but in a caring and respectful way. In my relationships and my career, this has allowed me to help other people and be effective in my profession.
- Avoid the tyranny of the urgent and make time for the important things. It is very easy as you grow in your career for every minute of every day to get filled with meetings, responding to emails, and doing the urgent tasks. If you don’t force some breaks in your schedule and focused time to spend on the important things, then you can go months without ever really thinking about the important things or making any progress on them.
- Invest in and maintain relationships. I have to give credit to my wife Leslie, who is a Talent Acquisition Manager at Credera, for helping me come out of my shell and teaching me the importance and value of relationships, and how to develop them. It requires spending significant time getting to know someone and having a genuine concern for their growth and well-being. This is applicable to not only professional relationships, but personal relationships as well. I recently asked my daughter about great memories she had from her childhood and what she said surprised me. It wasn’t the trips to Disneyworld that she remembered most; it was when I spent time doing “normal” things with her—like teaching her how to ride a bike or helping her with homework that she remembered most. Over the years, most of the great moments in my personal or professional life came because of these relationships.
- Follow through on commitments. Meet the deadlines you have set for yourself. Don’t commit to things you can’t do and when you do commit to something, make sure you get it done.
- Be open to feedback. We all have blind spots. If you keep receiving the same feedback it is time to become self-aware of what is going on. Reach out to someone you trust, perhaps a mentor and ask for advice on overcoming this struggle.
- Be on time. In my first year of consulting I was late to a couple of meetings in a row. My boss at the time called me into her office and asked, “Would you be late to your daughter’s wedding?” My answer was, “Of course not.” My boss then said, “That’s right, because it’s important to you. When you show up late to my meetings or client meetings you are telling people they are not as important as the other things you are doing.” As a rule of thumb, I do everything I can to be on time or early.
- Work hard, but keep friends and family a priority. I really enjoy my work and have always been a hard worker, but my advice to all young professionals is that your career accomplishments don’t matter if it comes at the expense of your family and friends. I’ve found that you can be great at home and great at work, but it isn’t always easy. The best tips I know for this are to establish your own boundaries and stick to them, try to be fully present when you are with family and friends, and focus on building experiences and memories together.
- Be a risk-taker. Careers are durable, so take some risks. Invest early in your career by taking some calculated risks. Realize that you start learning when you graduate. I worked 80 hours a week and never left to go home at night until I asked others if they needed help. I learned a ton. I made mistakes and learned to laugh about those and adapt. I sought out coaches and mentors and set big goals.
- Relationships matter most, close relationships matter more. The downside of the 80-hour weeks was that I drifted from my friends and family. I got so jacked on achievement that it became like a drug. I traveled around the world for work. I’d skip meals and keep working. The day after our first child was born I went back to the office on a Saturday. I was that addicted to the buzz and adrenaline of working on what seemed like really significant stuff. When my mother got really sick with cancer, I snapped out of it and reconnected with my family. I had to admit I’d been traveling for work so much that I missed some significant time with family. My wife took the brunt of my travels early in our marriage. Looking back, I’d trade all the achievements for one extra day with my wife. Spend lots of time with family and friends and church. If you have kids, you can’t help but realize there is nothing you’ll ever do in business that comes close.
- Be a life-long learner. Management consulting is really the curiosity industry. Ask great questions and then go roll up your sleeves and learn. Know when to go super deep and when to be hypothesis-driven. Know when to be in command and control and when to adjust and be consensus or collaboration-focused. Adaptability and learning are super powers. Get good at learning because the questions we ask our clients reveals the way forward. Be a life-long learner.
- Have grace for yourself if you make a mistake. Kids today get way too many trophies for showing up. I’ve seen lots of professionals loath making mistakes because they are scared they won’t get the gold star by their name. Hey, we are all perfectionists in management consulting. Get over it. Learn to laugh at yourself. Mistakes, while you are attempting to apply new learning, are evidence that you are growing. So choose your mentors and coaches wisely and don’t skip steps. The journey is about grit and determination and learning—rinse and repeat. Give yourself grace. We all make mistakes.
- Take more vacations. Memories happen on trips, journeys, and vacations. Early in our marriage, Meredith and I lived in Germany for one of my clients, so we traveled every weekend all over Europe. Mission trips, vacations with family—the craziest things happen and great memories are made. The time goes by so fast, get out there and travel. It could be a tent campout with your friends or kids—the cost and location are almost irrelevant.
- Maintain a handful of relationships from every client. If you connect with a client, maintain the friendship. Over time, they will grow in their careers and so will you, and collaboration will be natural. I love to help C-level friends achieve their vision.
- Character matters. In the end, the best funerals celebrate lives well lived. Children and grandchildren don’t care at all about how much money grandpa had or what he achieved in business. They remember the stories he read to them when they were small, the love in his heart, and the character that stood up or spoke up for others who could not stand up for themselves. Let go of the achievements and invest in your friends, family, and those in need. Be a man or woman of great character. Love people.
My hope is that you were able to see why I look up to Justin, Jason, and Scott through the advice they have given. Credera is filled with people from all walks of life, but each and every person brings something special to the table that contributes value to our clients and other employees.