You Can't Gift Someone A Future But You Can Help Them Prepare for It
Earlier in my career, I was making a transition from VP marketing to Chief Financial Officer of a global public company. Even though I had prior financial experience, it was still an unusual step. Thankfully, I had the good fortune to tap the expertise of a mentor. Bob Hunt had years of experience as a successful public company CFO and a deep understanding of the challenges. He believed that there are three stages in a career: learn, earn, and return. Learn your craft, earn a living, and then return it by sharing your experience with others. I’m grateful that Bob was in return mode for me.
Along with learning from Bob’s experience, I also took heed of his example. So these days, I devote time to mentoring business leaders, emerging entrepreneurs, and college students. The people I work with represent a wide range in ages, stages, and interests. While I do my best to understand their needs and help them achieve their goals, I have to admit that I’m learning from them too.
In my work as founder of Bottle Rocket Advisors, co-founder of a sport products company, and as a global strategy officer, VP marketing, public company CFO, and on boards of directors, I’ve also met some incredibly effective entrepreneurs and leaders. Through all of those, I’ve seen that there are several mindset characteristics shared by the best of them.
I believe that you can’t gift someone a future but you can help them prepare for it. In that spirit, I wanted to pass along a few of those characteristics. In this season of graduations and transitions to new opportunities, I believe these tips are useful in whatever pursuit one takes.
What stands out most among successful folks isn’t their pride. Sure, they’ve got a lot of wins to talk about but the most notable characteristic is their humility. Charlie Postins, co-founder of The Honest Kitchen, a $40+ million pet food company, said “We were very humble about what we did and didn’t know. And we weren’t going to pretend we knew.” That sort of willingness orientation is healthy because it opens up opportunities to look, to listen, to learn, and to collaborate with others to achieve mutual goals.
Lots of ink has been devoted to dreaming. There’s nothing bad about dreaming but it’s not quite the right approach, in my opinion. I’ve found that effective people are less about dreaming and more about wondering. The difference is in action. Dreaming is a head-in-the-clouds, what-I-want sort of thought process. Wondering is a more pragmatic, observation and problem-solving mindset. Maybe that’s why Socrates said, “Wisdom begins in wonder.” The people who tend to follow through on their ideas are those who are wondering what could be, what could be better, what should be, and what they need to do to make it all happen.
Along with humility, another characteristic that stands out for effective people is that they tend to be open. As people looking to bring about change, they usually are welcoming of change themselves. They welcome questions, people, ideas, challenges, responsibilities, and expectations. They also welcome the clarity that comes from the scoreboard. This welcome approach doesn’t leave them scattered but instead open to learning and adapting…or to staying the course after considering what they’ve heard. They tend not to be set in their position or opinion but rather secure in their ability to critically consider new thoughts.
There’s no secret to hard work but it is a secret. Less effective people tend not to want something badly enough to focus on it long enough and hard enough to get it. I love that quote “If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” Here’s the other thing. The most effective folks work hard, they work consistently, they work selflessly, and they work well with others. No surprise. What is unique is that many of them take their work not as part of a task or a job but rather they view it all as part of a cause. As a result, they’re very committed and also tend to be more satisfied with the sacrifices necessary in the journey to achieve their goals.
Yes, wandering conjures up an image of someone lacking purpose or direction. Certain people personify the curiosity that fuels an interest in exploring but also retain the focus to be searching for something specific or the awareness to connect what they find to an end. I call that aimful wandering. They do it to observe problems, generate ideas, to get what they need, to find answers, and to see how they can help. And that extends to seeking advocates and mentors with experiences and voices to help them.
Be an owner...
If there is one trait that achievers have an abundance of, it’s ownership. They tend to have an overdeveloped sense that they’re personally responsible for their choices, their actions, their time, and themselves. Regardless of their official role, they take ownership. And that includes extending gratitude, sharing recognition, and instilling the same pride of ownership in their teams. This is ownership without arrogance. Taking ownership is perhaps one of the most important characteristics toward building a meaningful career.
As we all know, life doesn’t come with a blueprint. These qualities can help lend a framework for the challenges everyone faces as they wrestle with the steady stream of ambiguity. Nonetheless, moving forward is about making conscious choices – and then acting on them. Choices not made – like chances not taken – too often end in regret. Here’s to applying the vital “Be” skills that make up your own “A” game.
Mike Irwin is an advisor, blogger, mentor, operator, and strategist. Drawing from his past as a startup co-founder/President, executive officer of a $1+ billion market cap company (WD-40), public company CFO, VP Marketing, global chief strategy officer, head of sales, and board member, Mike uses his diverse background to help companies grow sales, improve profitability, and scale up. He serves as an advisor, consultant, fractional or interim CEO/GM/MD, and on boards of directors. Follow him at BottleRocketAdvisors.com, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on LinkedIn.
Top photo by Kim Stivers on Pexels.