Picture the scene.
The year is 2006 and I’m looking a lot younger, leaner and believe it or not, with less hair.
Life is good. I’m growing in my career. I’m starting to see more results from blogging. I’m meeting more people in my industry.
I’m at a conference and I’ve enjoyed myself.
As I tucked into the free food and drink, I’m certain it’s all going to be great. I was networking. I was mingling. It was awkward but I settling in to it.
Clearly, I was showing my positive side, because that’s when Mr Freaking Furious stomped over to me.
He had clearly made it his goal to ruin my evening. I clearly looked too happy for him
He walked up to me, looked straight through me and proceeded to tell me about how he hated work.
I forget his name; Pete, Paul, Paulo, Pedro, Patrick, Pauline, in fact, he may very well have never mentioned it.
After this outburst I simply referred to him as Mr Freaking Furious.
- He hated his job.
- He hated his industry.
- He hated his career.
- He hated his boss. I bet his boss hated him too.
- He hated the company he worked for.
- He hated me and everyone at the conference.
- If he met you, he’d probably hate you too.
He was broken. He was hateful. He was not alone.
As I started going to more conferences, I started to see the same patterns.
People disengaged, unhappy and jaded with work and life. People fighting against the very companies they worked for. People stuck in a rut. People trying to find a new life, but unable to put in place a plan to get them there.
I didn’t want to be the same as Mr Freaking Furious.
So, after the conference, when I was back home, I grabbed a sheet of A4 paper and wrote my name at the top of it. I wrote a list of all of the things I wanted to do in my life. A bucket list of sorts.
How exciting. A plan.
I pinned the piece of paper to my noticeboard, stood back and admired it.
And then did nothing with it after that. Life got in the way.
The Lucky Boy
It was a few years later that my first son was born.
He was born with a knot in his umbilical cord. A rare event that attracted the attention of many of the doctors, midwives and junior medical staff.
“You really don’t see this very often”.
“He’s lucky to be here”.
It normally ends in disaster.
He’s lucky to be here, and we’re blessed to have him.
After his birth The Baby Effect was strong in me, so I revisited the bucket list; the piece of paper with my name on it.
I looked at it, made a few changed and at that point made a decision to thrive.
I had a compelling event (the birth of my son), you may have some different moment. I just wished I’d had that moment earlier in my career – I was 30 when this happened.
The next few years took me from being terrified of presenting to delivering keynotes to thousands. It took me from playing video games every evening to moving through my career from maker, to manager, to VP, to running my own training and consulting company, to published author, podcaster, blogger, writer and more.
I’ve still got a long way to go – and I have a new list now.
I say this not to boast at all. I still fail every single day.
But I say this because simply by deciding to thrive you can steer your life to a better place, if you want to. There are no guarantees, no absolute control, but every day you can make decisions that lead you to the life you want or make decisions that lead you to somewhere else.
You could end up like Mr Freaking Furious where his life was steered, directed and controlled by others. Or you could take control and make decisions that are congruent with what you want and who you want to be.
Over the course of the last decade of this journey I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to thrive in the world of life and work.
Regular readers know I like a good list. So, here are 10 ideas that might resonate with you.
They are my ideas though, you may resonate with them, you may not. Take what is helpful, leave what is not.
1. Decide to Thrive
The first thing you need to do is to decide to thrive. Mr Freaking Furious never made this decision. It turned out he hated everything, but when I asked him if he had plans to find a better way, he came back empty.
There is never a better time to start thriving than now. But it does require a decision on your part.
Whatever your goals, opportunities, season of life or current reality are, unless you decide to thrive in your career and life, you will be on the path that someone else has for you.
There is also no better time than now. I waited too long.
Trust me. I waited until I had X role, or Y cash in the bank, or until I weighed X pounds, or a better laptop to write books on, or next week, or until I felt like it to write those books, do that work or go see that thing. Only when my son was born did I realise I had to take control of stuff myself.
I just needed to start. I wasted lots of time. I encourage you not to do the same.
Imagine life is like a sand timer hourglass, except you cannot see the top half of sand. You have no idea how much sand is in there, or in other words, how much time is left. You can only see what has gone and what is currently passing.
I have a clock in my kitchen that has a “seconds” hand. It doesn’t stop. It just keeps going. I sometimes sit and watch it – and literally watch time go by.
We never know how much time we have left.
I know parents whose children have been taken at a young age. I know people in their 90s who are still going strong.
We simply do not know. Start now.
If you have dreams, goals and ambitions – start.
If you have something you want to achieve – start.
Even if it’s small. I urge you not to wait for the perfect time because it won’t arrive.
I’m still working some items on the list now, 10 years on. Each year I rewrite it. I sometimes add to it, I sometimes take things off. This blog post is contributing to an item on the list.
My bucket list continues to evolve like I do. It includes plenty of career goals, but also personal goals, places to visit, experiences to have with people I love. But one thing is clear to me now – I’ve decided to complete as many items on that list as possible.
There is never a better time than now.
2. Relationships Matter
Relationships are how the world of work works.
Spend time building strong relationships in the workplace, the industry you work in, your community and life.
Relationships open doors, provide support, give you encouragement, help you get stuff done and are the way our world of work works.
When we talk about office politics we are talking about relationships. We help people at work, we ask for help from people.
The more we know people and what they want, the better we can serve them. This builds relationships. The stronger the relationship the more we can get done. The better we understand each other’s goals and motivations and communication styles, the better we can achieve the company goals and our own.
If we want a promotion, we’d better be working on relationships with people who can support that promotion – and demonstrating immense value to them.
If we want to be taken seriously for a role in another company, it helps to have a sponsor – someone who’s put in a good word for you based on your abilities and relationship.
In fact, you’ve likely seen the really negative aspect of relationships in work happening – people getting jobs they aren’t even qualified or competent in. It happens a lot. Jobs for friends. They’re there because they know someone.
Avoid that – that’s not the Cultivated Management way. We don’t stop learning and we get better every day.
Work on your character, your skills, your knowledge and keep delivering business results – and at the same time keep nurturing relationships. Meet people for coffee, demonstrate value, introduce yourself to people, volunteer for projects, learn to communicate with different people, help people achieve their results and goals, give back to the community and build a strong reputation.
Relationships are how businesses work. Start building them on day one. Keep building them every day.
3. Have Fun
“If you’re not having fun with it be done with it.”
It should be fun to thrive in your career.
If the work you’re doing isn’t bringing you some elements of joy, then why are you doing it?
If your life is all about work, achievement and getting things done, you’ll likely miss the reason to be in business – to help people, contribute to society and to have fun doing it. Business is about getting something done – but it’s also about enjoying the journey.
I’ve always said, if I look around a team of mine and they’re not enjoying what they do for the majority of the time – we’ve got it wrong.
Don’t get me wrong. There are hard times. There is work that is unglamorous, tedious, boring and dull. Work that just needs to be done. Work that sucks. Bad work. But it shouldn’t be the majority of the work. It may last long periods, but it’s a necessity to something bigger.
It’s not about nerf guns, slides and beer fridges either. I know plenty of unhappy people in workplaces who play table tennis every day.
It’s about working on something meaningful, using our high performing skills for the right reasons, working with people who share our mission and working for a manager who sets high standards, upholds them and helps others get there. Being productive and having fun are tied together with working on something meaningful.
Without the lows there are no highs though. You have to take the rough with the smooth. But your days shouldn’t be filled with negativity, anger, frustration and unhappiness. Mr Freaking Furious endured days, weeks, months and years of this.
Create a plan. Learn. Find companies that you like. Develop relationships. Show value. Work hard and you will likely find work that brings you joy. But don’t rely on work to bring you fun. It could be that you find joy outside of work in something else you do outside of work.
All I know from many years of managing high performing people – they have fun and get joy from doing what they do. I consider is a core measure of success.
4. Trade your values wisely
We all have values in life. Things we value.
Most people go through life without ever calling them out and making them visible. As such they are often trading their values without knowing about it.
Work out what your values are – and spend time writing them down.
What do you value in life? There are some good examples on James Clear’s website here.
Even when we know what we value we can still end up trading them unwisely.
- We work for managers who don’t share our values, in organisations that we don’t resonate with.
- We work on products we don’t like, and ship work we don’t believe in.
- We work for companies that don’t value us.
- We work with people who don’t share the same values as us.
- We join organisations where our values are tested everyday through the nature of just being there.
And it’s tiring not to put your heart and soul behind the mission and work and people.
And we spend our days in turmoil as our values are tested and tried and pushed.
I’ve seen too many people go through burnout. In fact, I’ve been there myself. And in almost every case it had nothing to do with working too many hours. It was simply about working for people and organisations that do not share our values and do not respect ours.
When we join an organisation, we trade our values at the door.
When we work for an organisation, we likely follow the norms of the organisation and work in certain ways. It may be as simple as having to dress a certain way, or work a certain set of hours, or only have lunch at certain times of the day, or deliver work in a certain methodology we don’t believe in, or work for managers who don’t care about us, or work in teams that hate their very customers, or work on tech that went out of date in the 80s.
By working out what you value, you can make conscious decisions about where to trade these values. Find an organisation that shares as many common values as possible. It will be much better for your soul and mind and career.
Trade them wisely, but be aware, we must always flex. There will always be things we need to compromise on. So, work out which values are unmovable and which ones you’re more flexible about. But don’t give up your values for the organisation – you’ll be miserable. There are plenty of different ways of working out there. Our goal is to find a place of work we resonate with.
I worked with a group of talented people once forced to work in old-fashioned ways with leaders who shouted at them. Young people trapped in a culture of toxicity. When I asked them why they hadn’t left yet – they told me that every company is the same.
No, they are not. Every company is different – our goal in our life is to find people and organisations that share our values – and thrive.
Of course, maybe you need to create your own company. Many people do this to avoid having to work for others who do not share their values – that’s why I work for myself. I have high standards for managers and leaders – and few companies are willing to meet them. I only like to work with companies where managers are willing to step up and own their role.
Here’s some advice though – don’t believe the banners and website blurb about values. These aren’t the real values of the company. The real values are what people do every day. So, before you join an organisation find out what people do every day.
The daily habits and behaviours ARE the company culture. By finding out what behaviours are conducted, accepted, promoted and tolerated – you find out what the people in the company value.
This requires hard work, research – and of course, relationships. That’s why recommendations from peers and friends who share your values is invaluable.
When your values are challenged everyday – you will be in turmoil. And turmoil is never conducive to thriving.
5. Ship Value and Deliver Business Results
Your goal at work is to deliver business results.
99% of managers I meet are worrying about, measuring and delivering the wrong things. They are focused on activity, productivity and measuring progress. All are important – none of them are business results.
Everyone has business results to achieve.
In great companies these are well defined, clear and compelling.
Most of us though go through our careers unclear about what we’re trying to achieve and how we will be measured. Or we have business results that sadly, we have very little control or influence over.
My advice is to get very clear about your business results. Then get clear about what obstacles stand between where you are now and achieving those result. Ensure the results are obvious and tangible and adding value to your customers.
A good manager will outline clearly what results are expected from you. If they don’t provide these, then ask them and if they don’t know what the goal of your work is and how to measure it, which is highly likely, then define your own business results. Make an educated guess at what you’re expected to deliver, write it down, and run it past your manager. Get buy-in, discuss it, fine tune it and then deliver against these results – add value. Once approved, roll it to your team.
By making it clear what you’re expected to deliver against you get these benefits:
- You know what success looks like and can design your work to achieve it.
- You can understand the gap between results you achieved, and your expected results – therefore learning how to get better.
- You know what your manager is expecting you to deliver.
- You can articulate to others what you’re trying to achieve and why.
- You can get support and buy-in from others to help you achieve these results – you can co-operate
- You can build a strategy that delivers these business results.
If you have no clear business outcome how are you going to get a pay rise?
- How can you talk about performance against objectives?
- How can you argue for your role in times of downturn?
- How can you be sure the work you do every day is adding value to the business?
- How can you structure your career to grow when you have no idea whether the business outcomes will stretch you, require new skills or be more than you can achieve?
6. Embrace our differences
We are all different. I have strengths, I have weaknesses and I have things I cannot do. Some of my weaknesses need to be turned to strengths. Some of my strengths need to be built on to make them truly unique. I often need other people to fill in the gaps I cannot do.
We are all in different seasons of life and with different motivators, yet our newsfeeds are full of people telling us to empathetic leaders, entrepreneurs, visionaries, risk takers, investors and inspirers of people. Some people aren’t geared this way.
We are all unique.
But to thrive in our career we need to know what makes us who we are.
We need to know what we’re good at and what we’re not so good at. We need to know where our weaknesses are, and we need to know what we value in life.
I’ve used the Trinity of Career Development for myself and anyone who works with me for years.
- I want to know what I’m good at so I like to use Strengths Finder 2.0
- I want to know how I prefer to work and communicate so I always use DISC
- I want to know what makes me happy so I always recommend Authentic Happiness survey. (Choose the Via Survey of Character Strengths)
These three tools are my recommendation for finding out the three things that I feel we all need to know to thrive at work.
For years I was doing well. I’d achieved promotion after promotion, ran an amazing team, delivered DevOps and Agile and all of our employee numbers were in the right direction. But I was miserable. I felt unfulfilled.
So, I sat the Gallop Strengths Finder and although not solidly scientific, was indicative of my strengths. And I wasn’t using many of them.
I had my DISC results that put me as a high D and I, an influencer and dominating kind of character – built for leadership, risk taking and leading during times of chaos. And there I was, doing the same tasks over and over, keeping the lights on, slowly fine tuning the world around me. I’d ridden the storm, brought order to chaos, inspired many to join us, stood up on stage and encouraged others to be better. And I wasn’t doing any of that anymore. No wonder I was unfulfilled.
I sat the Authentic Happiness profile and realised I didn’t have much of this in my life in or out of work either. The things that made me happy were being engaged in less and less. Work was getting in the way of that too.
So, I made a plan.
From these three tools I got an indicative insight in to what I was good at, how I liked to behave and communicate, and also what made me happy.
It was my job to align all three for a great career – and I did, and I moved to a much happier place in life.
In work, I view it as a manager’s role to help align an environment that supports people’s strengths and behavioural preferences, but it’s not a manager’s role to try and provide happiness. It’s your own role to do that.
And on this point, we need to respect other people for their strengths and behavioural communication style. Some people aren’t designed to be risk taking entrepreneurs. Not everyone is capable of great empathy. Some people struggle with detail. Some people have motivations that don’t match ours.
Yet we all have a place in the world. Respect everyone.
But don’t ignore your weaknesses. Don’t use these tools as a way to avoid making any changes and saying “Well, it’s just who I am”.
Go back to your plan – what are you trying to achieve and why? And do any of those weaknesses need to become strengths?
I’ve turned many weaknesses to strengths during my career. We can always get better.
To thrive you have to learn. You have to cultivate yourself. Books are my go-to source, find what yours is.
Pick up anything and read it. I often go to the library or bookstores and grab books that look or sound interesting, always non-fiction. I want to learn how people in different fields are doing things, I can then bring that learning to my own.
Build your own knowledge management system. Get good at taking notes, recalling information and finding sources of information. Put information into action to create knowledge. Knowledge is powerful.
Knowledge requires studying. Find what works for you.
I like to combine knowledge-based acquisition – where I read or learn something from theory, books, words etc. with task-based acquisition – where I learn from doing.
It’s possible to learn things either way – I find power in both.
I’ve met too many management consultants who talk a good talk – but have rarely tried and implemented and failed and learned and succeeded and modified and tweaked the very things they espouse.
That’s not the Cultivated Management way – everything we do has been tried and understood. Sometimes with epic failures.
We cannot thrive without learning.
Also learn from your mistakes. A mistake is nothing more than a gap between what you expected to happen and what did. Why the gap? What could you learn? What could be done differently?
8. Be Effective AND Liked.
To thrive in your career, you need to be effective at what you do, but also liked.
You’ve met those people. They are very effective, ruthlessly so. But people don’t like working with them. It becomes results at all cost, and usually a human cost. They have sharp elbows. They leave people in their wake. They don’t bring joy to any team they are in.
Equally, we’ve met people who are lovely. Like cuddly bears. So nice. So lovely. But what do they do? Why are they employed? What value do they add? They are nice, but we have no idea what they’re here.
The trick is to be both effective and liked and to know when to flex one way or the other.
The goal is to walk the line between these two as needed and one of the most effective ways to do this is to develop superhero communication skills. To be able to deliver messages clearly and with care. To read the room and read for cues and then change your communication style to suit. To be assertive, caring, attentive and still deliver strong results. To build relationships, respect others and add epic value. To understand how people are feeling and change your communication style.
Combine this Superpower with knowing your business results and you are on your way to thriving in your career.
People want to work with those who inspire them. They want to work with people who are competent but caring. They want to work with people who will help them succeed too.
Be effective and liked and you will go far.
9. Step outside of your job role
Another way I’ve found to thrive in your career is to step outside of your job role. In my experience the majority of people define themselves and confine themselves. I’m this. Or I’m that. And they stick to these roles.
In many organisations HR and managers encourage this through Job Descriptions and functional boundaries between work.
But in many organisations the most compelling, interesting and high impact problems often exist between job roles. They exist between well-defined and well clung to roles. Nobody owns the problems; people try to kick them to each other or simply ignore them. Not in my job description.
But when we see a problem that nobody is owning and we take care of it, we grow personally. We develop new skills, insights and relationships. We build bridges. Of course, there is a risk we step on someone’s toes or fail to own it fully or take on too much. But that risk, for me, is outweighed by the personal growth and the value we add to the organisation.
As people start to do this you see wonderful things happen. People grow, roles change, problems are owned, and collective consciousness rises. It’s a wonderful thing to see.
In fact, when you start to see this in action it becomes incredibly hard to write job descriptions and define the value someone adds. By the time you’ve understood it and documented it, they’ve moved on and are adding more value and fixing more problems. It can of course get out of hand as people take on so much work that they are spread too thin, but with careful succession planning in place others will step up to own the pieces of work left behind. And they too will grow.
It’s succession planning, agility and emerging problem solving in action. It’s how high performing organisations look.
Try looking at problems that are just on the edges of your role and see if it’s worth stepping outside of your job role to own them.
10. Family First
Life is too short to not put your family and those you love first.
When life, health or finances go wrong you’ll need your family and those you love.
Yet far too many people put their work first. I get it. There’s pressure to be rich, successful, be on this list or on that list, to achieve X by 30, be mortgage free by 40. Our social world shows us other people succeeding far beyond where we are.
Only most people aren’t. And the only person you need to prove anything too is yourself.
Yet I see too many people ill by 30, divorced by 40 and with kids who hate them by 50.
Only you will know how to balance the pillars in your life, and who am I to tell you how to prioritise, but in my experience – family first.
I’ve been blessed and very lucky as I’ve been able to work my bucket list and grow my career and also been home almost every evening to read to my kids and put them to bed. It’s what I’ve valued whilst they were young, and I’ve sought out companies that let me maintain this value. I’ve not always succeeded, but I’ve done ok. They grow up so quickly, that for me personally – it’s family first where possible.
Like I say – we all have different contexts and circumstances, opportunities and privileges. It’s not easy to get the balance right. Some of us are more blessed and privileged than others.
But family first is a good way to live your life.
So, there you have it. 10 ways I’ve been able to thrive in my career. They’ve worked for me; they may work for you. They may not.
I hope you’ve found the list useful. Head on over to LinkedIn and let me know how you thrive in your career.
Until next time.