Roughly three years ago, SCRC Executive Director Rob Handfield listened to a presentation from the president of Lenovo’s Data Center Group, Kirk Skaugen, who shared some advice based on the key lessons he had learned over the course of his 20+ year career. Thinking Skaugen’s tips would be of value to current students, Dr. Handfield published them in a blog post shortly thereafter.
Now, in 2020, while students — and everyone, for that matter — are facing a whole new set of challenges as the world adapts to constantly-evolving work environments, Skaugen’s tips remain as valid as ever, and should be considered by anyone looking to start or elevate their career.
Here are Skaugen’s 10 pieces of career advice (as paraphrased by Dr. Handfield):
- Little things don’t mean a lot – little things mean everything. People come in to present to me – but hadn’t booked a conference room and couldn’t connect their computer – and so they start 6-8 minutes late for a 30 minute meeting! When I had to present to a CEO – I would book the room early, and make sure the screen was working! If I had a meeting with a client I would be sure to fly in early the day before to avoid being late. One time I heard it was a manager’s birthday, and I brought in a birthday cake for someone and it meant the world to her. As a result of these little things, I ended up getting a huge promotion. When I asked my boss why, he said “because with you every little thing clicked.” Little things build up the level of trust through execution excellence, and people notice.
- Burn your bridges and you better be a good swimmer. I was with a senior director of a big customer, acting as his supplier. Now he is running the company and he is trying to sell to me at Lenovo! I have tons of of examples where people I used to work for are now working for me. Beware of getting frustrated and closing doors, as it will come back to bite you.
- Execution trumps intent. Most people will walk in with a plan, but how many people actually say what they are going to do, and then do them? One study I read claimed that about 10% of people who write their goals down and execute them make 90% of the wealth. Everybody has a plan, but are you executing it? Personally, I enjoy mentoring people who actually go do it!
- Assume accountability. In a big organization, so many things fall through the cracks. Who are the people stepping into the cracks and assuming accountability? People notice this. You need to assume the problem is YOUR problem. If you see empty Coke cans in a conference room, pick them up and recycle them, don’t wait for housekeeping to do it!
- Trust overrides capability. I knew a person who was the world’s expert in a technology, but he didn’t get a high level assignment. Why? Because people didn’t trust him. The obvious expert didn’t spend time building trust with their boss to understand the decision-maker – and didn’t get the sign-up. The promotions go to people who actually get things done. So if you assume capability to get things done, you will build trust and elevate people’s estimation in your ability to be a leader.
- Development plans matter – have a plan “B”. Organizations constantly re-organize. I had a plan A for a lot of my career, but rarely did it work out. My entire career has been a series of plan B’s.
- Know your flexibility and market it! You can be flexible and if you do some things that you wouldn’t be able to normally do – then you can do more things. You need to be able to be very clear with your superiors about what you are willing and able to do, as well as what you don’t want to do. If you are clear, you are more likely to get the roles you are interested in. I marketed my flexibility to an executive, and they were making decisions quickly and almost passed me over – and then we moved to Singapore to a job I might never have gotten!
- Think carefully about who you select for your Mentor. You need to be very careful about the person you want to select who has the same basic life principles as you. The best mentors are people who might be a peer, and you agree to make each other better. That person can walk out of a meeting with you and tell you what you did wrong in that meeting and how people are perceiving you.
- Lions don’t need to roar. Be humble and have humility, the world is driven by people. If you are responsible for something and admit things aren’t going well, then you will get more respect than if you pretend things are perfect.
- Prepare and embrace the “big opportunity” when it arrives. You will get an opportunity to do something that is above your level of capability and you need to be willing to prepare like crazy for it. Spend two or three hours for every hour with your customer. Know your numbers. People get opportunities and they blow it and don’t take advantage of the moment.