When I first began this series, I had no idea how much this advice was going to help me grow as a young professional. I’m extremely grateful to have spent time learning from such successful individuals. If you’re just tuning in, be sure to check out part one and part two of this series.
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 week I sat down with Rob Borrego, Andrew Warden, Pete Gekas, and Trent Sutton.
Rob Borrego, CEO
- It’s not about you. As you grow in your career it’s easy to make this life about you, but it’s important to avoid anything that makes it about you. I love the book The Purpose Driven Life, and the very first sentence says, “It’s not about you.” So I would tell young Rob Borrego it’s not about you, it’s something bigger. You think it’s your story, starting a career to go off and be something great, but it’s really God’s story and he has chosen you to play a role.
- Strive for excellence in all you do. This applies to the big things in life, but also the small things in between. I always tell new consultants that the way you get great at consulting is by doing it, and doing it very, very well. You’ll learn more in consulting than you will in any other industry because you have to.
- Choose your friends wisely. This is one of the greatest decisions you could possibly make. Choose your relationships wisely because they will tell you a lot about who you really are—most people aren’t completely self-aware and need other people in their lives who love them enough to tell them the truth. “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” -Proverbs 13:20 (See It’s All About Relationships Part 1 for more.)
- Don’t sacrifice your family on the altar of your career or success. It takes time to find the balance, but when you find it your life will be changed. It’s important to invest time with your family, to be there for the big events and day-to-day activities. On the other side, it’s crucial to be the best you can be at work, but not to sacrifice your family for that success. That’s a bad trade.
- Figure out your gift and talent mix, then build a career that allows you to leverage those. Often times people choose a career because it’s the one that will provide the biggest monetary value, it’s what their parents did, or because they are settling. I always tell graduating seniors, “Don’t take a job just because it’s easy and you know you’ll get in, take a job because you love it. When you’re using your gift and talent mix you tend to love it because you’re passionate about it—and if you’re not, get out, reboot and start net new even if you have to take a step back financially, in seniority or whatever it is.”
- Be generous. There are three areas where you can become more generous—your time, talent, and treasures. Todd Wagner once told me, “The happiest and most joyful people I know are also the most generous. It doesn’t mean you have to be rich and just give out money. Be generous with your time, your gifts, and with your money. Just be a giver.”
Andrew Warden, Vice President
- Be comfortable with ambiguity. You’ll never have all of the answers or facts—there comes a point where you have enough information to make a decision. I heard Colin Powell speak once and one of the things that stood out to me was that he said to make a good decision he needed no less than 30% of the information and no more than 80%. How do you know when you have enough? You don’t, it’s more of a guideline, but take the opportunity to lead, make decisions, and take action.
- Ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. When we make mistakes, they are learning opportunities and it’s our job not to make the same mistake twice. I really benefitted early in my career from leaders who helped me learn from my mistakes, never punishing me for them. For more, see the illustration by Noel Tichy.
- Be kind. This is also something my wife and I are trying to instill in our two boys because there is always room to be kind. I recently read in a commencement speech about a lesson that Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, learned from his grandparents: “It’s great if you’re smart, it’s more important that you are kind.”
Pete Gekas, Vice President
- Learn to be resourceful. Early in my career it was safe to say that every project presented a whole new set of challenges—new industry, new business model, new technologies, etc. It is also true that things happened quickly and I never had the opportunity to “get trained” in advance of starting something new. Out of necessity I learned to research and problem solve on my own. Sure, I tapped in to more experienced team members when needed, but I also remember being told very clearly, “I don’t mind you asking questions. I do mind you asking the same questions.” Note to self: Bring a notebook and write stuff down.
- Seek opportunities to learn where you are. Great learning opportunities come with every new role and each project you may be working on, even the ones that don’t look so good on paper. Enjoy where you are and take it as an opportunity to learn and become better at your craft. When I started out in consulting, I remember evaluating my project roles and opportunities from a pretty selfish perspective. What will I learn from this role? How will this role help me progress faster? That’s not too unusual and isn’t necessarily bad. The flaw in my thinking, however, is that I was focused only on the hard skills related to the role. I wanted to work with the next trendy technology that would put me in a position to work on the next cool project. Over time I realized what really mattered was the value of building relationships with members of the client team and being focused on how our project could help them.
- Work ethic is crucial. This one didn’t become clear until I started playing roles where I had greater responsibility for teams. That’s when I realized that the characteristics I valued most in my team members were most visible when the going got tough. It wasn’t necessarily the smartest or the highest potential team members who shined brightest. It was the ones whose work ethic and grit demonstrated how much they cared about the client and their teammates. Those are the individuals who I worked the hardest to help and support throughout their careers.
Trent Sutton, Vice President
- Invest in relationships early and throughout your career. My focus early on was accomplishing the task at hand in almost a transaction-like mode. I cared a lot about doing an excellent job and making clients and coworkers happy, but many times I failed to get to know the person and their interests and stay connected with them over the years to follow. Several years into my career I began to better understand the concept of getting to know the person behind the professional and nurturing relationships over the longer term. Knowing a person’s personal and professional objectives enables you to better connect them with others who may have compatible needs, ultimately helping both parties along the way. And the larger your network, the greater the impact. By staying in contact and helping others when possible, you create deeper, more loyal relationships— and, who knows, they may just be able to help you if and when you should ever need it.
- Have difficult conversations early. It seems incredibly obvious that putting off difficult conversations or hoping a situation magically resolves itself typically creates more problems than solutions. As a young project manager, I too often thought that clients would not want to hear about an issue or risk, that it would somehow negatively reflect on our team, and that we could probably fix the circumstances anyway. I’ve learned that all projects have issues and risks, and addressing those as early as possible helps teams come together to resolve the situation.
- Take responsibility. One of the reasons my career grew is because I took on additional responsibilities whenever I had the chance. Whether it was owning a task on a project, a piece of a project, or the whole thing, this greatly helped my organizational and leadership growth early in my career. These opportunities may take the form of committee memberships, initiative ownership, basic tasks, or formal positions. Regardless of the position, I highly recommend taking advantage of every opportunity for new responsibilities and diving in headfirst each time, ensuring that you are successful and readily accountable for anything that may not go as planned.
- Be patient. Many of the lessons I’ve learned in life could probably be categorized as lack of patience. Over the years I’ve learned how to have patience, but I certainly have room to grow. Early on, my lack of patience affected my relationships with peers and leaders. My lack of patience also led me to rush through my day and my tasks in a transaction-like manner. By filling my day with so much I simply didn’t leave enough time to stop and smell the roses—and build deeper relationships along the way. Today when I catch myself in this mode, I take a deep breath and slow down. This is an area where I’ve greatly improved, but still have room to grow. I do know that being patient in all things career-oriented greatly helps relationships and personal satisfaction.
Whether you’re just beginning your career like me, or you’re the CEO of an organization, I hope you’ve found value from the advice shared by the leadership team at Credera.