The One Secret All Great Leaders Know

March 21, 2018 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” Dr. Peter F. Drucker

If you only know one thing about leadership, make it this one: the most powerfully motivating condition people experience at work is making progress at meaningful work. If your job involves leading others, the implications are clear: the most important thing you can do each day is to help your team members be engaged and experience progress at meaningful work.

As a leader, your obsession should be keeping people engaged in their work. Countless studies have shown that companies with higher rates of employee engagement have been shown to meaningfully outperform those with lower engagement.

Engaged employees at work in a vital environment is not accident however. You must understand what drives each person, help build connections between each person’s work and the organization’s mission and strategic objectives, provide timely feedback, and help each person learn and grow on an ongoing basis.

You may win battles, but without engaged employees, you will lose the war.

The best leaders understand that to realize their higher purpose, to create value for all their stakeholders, and to win in the marketplace, they must win in the workplace. They understand that if you only focus on results, then it can be very easy to get distracted from building the team you need to get the results you want.

Here are 10 things great leaders do clearly and consistently to help employees be engaged and make progress at meaningful work:

1.      They continuously confirm that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.

2.      They are relentless about motivating people and giving people energy to their best work.

3.      They create an environment where high performers feel unmistakably valued for their input and their output.

4.      They are uncompromising about maintaining standards of quality but do so by caring about their employees.

5.      They acknowledge mistakes and don’t blame others or take credit for their work.

6.      They understand that a good plan well-executed beats a perfect plan poorly-executed.

7.      The deliver on results consistently and repeatedly.

8.      They are role models for the standards they evangelize.

9.      They build and inspire trust.

10.  They hold others accountable and are accountable to themselves.

 A Final Word

In my over 30 years of leadership experience teaching and coaching leaders at various stages in their careers, locally, nationally, and internationally, I’ve developed a very clear worldview on what leadership behaviors contribute to success. This comes from my own leadership experience as well as hundreds of research articles, books on the topic and my observations of other leaders I have worked with. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t.

In a nutshell, I’ve observed that the very best leaders are masters at inspiring, influencing and setting up the structures, processes and environments that help highly valued people maintain their engagement and make progress at meaningful work. That is how they win every time.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

Why would you follow me?

The most compelling reason I can think of is this: I believe what I write and I write what I believe.

By that I mean your life is a reflection of you. If you want to change your life, you have to change yourself. If you want to change the world, you have to be that change.

I see myself as an alchemist of ideas writing at the intersection of personal, professional, and organizational development to help readers be the most effective human being they can be in order to create lasting impact in the world.

It’d be great to have you along on this journey.

©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

10 Things You Can Do Right Now To Build A Positive Work Culture

November 16, 2017 • 7 minute read • by Saeed


“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle.

I was having a conversation with my son, who was about 13 at the time, when he said something that floored me. He said: “everything is about atmosphere.” I asked him what he meant and he explained that he thinks family life, office culture, and everything else comes down to the atmosphere that the adults and leaders create. OMG, I thought, this kid is brilliant!

I have used what he said ever since in my talks.

Now let’s break this down…

Google the phrase, “healthy workplace” and you get 20,600,000 results! Clearly it’s a hot topic. And just as clearly, there are thousands of interpretations of what the phrase means.

The key to a productive business is investing time and effort in understanding what makes people happy at work. Yes, competitive pay and benefits are important but keeping employees happy at work can come down to subtle changes in the values of an organization and how the organization treats its employees. The best places to work are those in which people can flourish, flex their creative muscles, and generally be their best selves. The best places are those that foster a healthy atmosphere and workplace culture.

What is workplace culture?

Workplace culture is a combination of employee values, attitudes, expectations, and beliefs blended with the principles of the organization.  To a large extent, the culture shapes employee interaction, productivity, and loyalty to the organization or team.

A workplace culture study conducted by Deloitte found that 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success. Moreover, 83% of executives and 84% of employees rank having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that substantially contributes to a company’s success.  

These studies show that leaders understand that positive work culture means greater productivity and a negative work culture can be counterproductive or even toxic.

So why then are so many employees unhappy at work?

It’s one thing to know that healthy work cultures lead to productivity. It’s another thing altogether to know how to create such a culture. While leaders know this, all too often they don’t put their money where their mouth is. As a result, a 2017 study of 17,000 U.S. workers in 19 industries found that 71% were either “actively looking for new job opportunities” or were thinking about it. That’s a staggering number of unhappy workers.

 What can you do?

At some level, we all have to take responsibility for our own happiness and engagement. But in an organizational context, maximizing employee happiness and engagement is a key management responsibility because of the direct correlation to productivity.

Creating a positive work culture isn’t as difficult as you might think. However, to be successful, leaders must become more strategic on key issues such as recruiting talent, building teams, providing a broader scope for personal and professional development, developing future leaders and influencing company culture.

The first thing you can do is look around. Ask. Do an audit of organizational culture by surveying your employees on their perceptions. In sifting through the research, I have narrowed down ten of the most important indicators of a positive work culture. If any of these indicators are subpar, you need to start building intentional strategy around each one immediately and then ensure that they are working together as a whole to make up an organizational culture of excellence. They are:

1.      Leadership. It all starts here. People don’t leave jobs, they leave supervisors. Positive, accessible and fair leadership is critical to fostering a healthy work environment. When leaders express genuine appreciation – up, down, and across the organizational structure for employees’ contributions and recognize these contributions regularly, employees feel empowered and engaged. Leaders are not micromanagers. They are not rigidly tied to static job descriptions, titles, hierarchies and ranking systems. They are focused on hiring great people, playing to their strengths and putting their skills to the best use. They do not immediately take out the ‘blame thrower’ every time something goes wrong.

2.      Trust and Respect.  Employees respect their fellow workers and work meaningfully to avoid personality conflicts, gossip, and backbiting. They laugh WITH each other not AT each other. When employees face challenges such as accidents, illnesses or personal tragedies, leaders address these challenges with empathy, support and understanding. Trust is the cornerstone of all relationships. There is a high cost to low trust within organizations. Recognition increases trust between leadership and employees. So does honesty and integrity.

3.      Open Communication.  Employees feel they have the freedom to speak, ideate, and provide alternate views. There are no hidden agendas, no secrets and no rumor mills. Gossip is banished. Furthermore, employees are not surprised with any information and new information is communicated well throughout the company. Employees understand the direction their team and organization is headed in because the mission, goals, and strategies are clearly articulated and inculcated.

4.      Growth and Development. Employees are offered the chance to grow professionally through regular training, career tools, and different assignments and experiences. Employees feel that they are learning and developing.  They are not made to feel bad or guilty about seeking out professional development opportunities. They have regular access to new training, workshops, mentoring, coaching, and presentations to learn, grow and develop. Senior staff mentor junior staff as part of the culture. When employees feel this sense of investment from their employer, they are willing to reciprocate and invest back into the company with their hard work and creativity.

5.      Teamwork and Collaboration. Employees work better when they feel they have quality, supportive, and energizing relationships with fellow workers. Team members help each other with critical tasks – they don’t hear “that’s not my job.” Instead, they hear “we’re all in this together.” Space (both physical and mental) is created so that employees can collaborate when needed, but have time alone for calls, and deep thinking work. Collaboration is built into company goals and values. One study even found that 40% of Millennials (who are soon to comprise the majority of the workforce) are willing to pay out of pocket for social collaboration tools to improve productivity. Transparency and clear communication are the keys to fostering strong teamwork and collaboration.

6.      Mutual Accountability. Closely related to the idea of teamwork and collaboration is mutual accountability. Leaders and employees make and keep their promises and as a result, mutual accountability, trust and respect are fostered across the organization. Peers hold peers accountable for their commitments. They are direct and assertive when promises are missed, and they are quick to thank others for keeping their promises. Accountability to customers is no less important than accountability to one another.

7.      Engagement and Empowerment. Workplace happiness depends on leaders who know how to empower employees. There is a sense of pride and enthusiasm for the company and work that is being done. Employees own their work and they encourage others to stay engaged. Employee empowerment means sharing of information, resources and tools that make it easier for employees to carry out their roles and responsibilities. Employees feel engaged because they feel they are part of a bigger picture, a grander vision. But Gallop tells us that employee engagement is stagnant in the US at 32%. Something is wrong.

8.      Contribution and Value.  Employees feel that they are making a contribution to the team and that they are justly recognized for their contributions. They feel challenged to grow and they feel part of the bigger picture. Employees feel that their work exercises their creativity and imagination. Their contributions are recognized, encouraged and valued. Employees believe that their personal strengths are utilized, nurtured, and supported. They are happy to start the day because they know their work and contribution has meaning.

9.      Fairness and Inclusion.  Employees feel empowered because they have access to data and information. They have equal access to leadership and feel that their performance is assessed fairly following a set of standards that are evenly applied. There is equal opportunity for every employee to realize their full potential and a fair chance to move up within the company if they so desire. There is nothing worse than favoritism for diminishing employee morale. Fair treatment is a standard followed by all and every person is recognized as valuable; not just the star performers.

10.  Flexibility and Autonomy. The best workplaces offer people flexibility and autonomy. Flexibility is crucial to employees’ ability to optimally manage their work and their lives. Autonomy is fundamental to human happiness. One study of more than 2,000 people across three continents found that workers were nearly two and a half times more likely to take a job that gave them more autonomy than they were to want a job that gave them more influence.

A healthy workplace environment is not stress free. But a healthy workplace environment encourages employee well-being, safety and skill development with programs established to mitigate the inevitable stressors that are present on any job. Turnover, in most organizations, is a result of management issues, communication breakdown, and the lack of opportunity to make meaningful contributions. It goes without saying just how beneficial it is to productivity and to your business bottom line to be attentive to your organizational culture. You could offer high salaries, great benefits, and half a year’s vacation, but none of this would make an impact on an employee’s attitude and work ethic. True empowerment and engagement comes in the form of fostering a healthy workplace culture and atmosphere.

Even a 13-year old can tell you that much.

Good luck.

Wait, before you go…

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

How To Nail Your Next Job Interview

August 9, 2017 •   4 minute read • by Saeed


“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” ~ Steve Martin

Over the span of my career, I have interviewed hundreds of job candidates and have been interviewed countless of times myself. I am always amazed at the poor performance on both sides of the table.

I assume you are reading this because you have an upcoming interview.

I also assume you know the basics:

  • Dress for the part;
  • Arrive a few minutes early;
  • Shake hands, don’t hug (really, I’ve had that happen);
  • Have an extra copy of your resume and cover letter on hand;
  • Don’t respond with canned answers;
  • Prepare examples;
  • Research the company and prepare three questions to ask;
  • Don’t go off on a rant about how technology is destroying us if you are applying for a job at a Apple or how wall street is fleecing us if you are applying for a job at Goldman Sachs and so on;
  • Send a hand-written thank you letter.

Lastly, I assume you know that an impression is formed within the first 60 seconds of meeting you. Actually, the research says 1/10 of a second but who’s counting.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s focus on how to actually answer questions. One of the biggest turn-offs in interviews is when people ramble on. To avoid being a babbling brook, use the STAR technique. This is an especially useful technique for answering interview questions in which you must answer with an anecdote. There are four key steps: situation, task, action, and results. Here is how it works:

(S) Situation. Describe the situation in which the event took place.

(T) Task. Describe the task you were asked to complete. If there was a particular problem or issue you were trying to solve, describe that here.

(A) Action. Explain what action you took to complete the task or solve the problem.

(R) Results. Explain the result of your actions. For example, if your actions resulted in completing a task, resolving a conflict, improving your company’s sales record, etc., explain this. Try to focus on how your actions resulted in a success for the company

Now that you have your technique down, let me give you the big secret to job interviews: People want to hire people they can see themselves working with on a daily basis. In other words, it has to be a good fit regardless of your qualifications or experience. Otherwise, both sides will be stuck in a perennial state of unhappiness. So remember, if you don’t get the job maybe it’s because it wasn’t meant to be.

Good Luck.

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

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6 Reasons Why Your Job Search Is Failing You

December 19, 2014 • 10 minute read • by Saeed

WARNING: This post may be a difficult pill to swallow for some jobseekers (also it has lots of numbers).


“Nothing will work unless you do.”

– Maya Angelou –

Reality Check #1: 70% of people land jobs through networking.

Reality Check #2: 15% of jobs are filled through the traditional application process.

Reality Check #3: 42% of openings are filled by internal candidates.

If you were gambling in Vegas, which of the odds above would you bet your money on? The reality is that most jobs are either filled internally or through employee referrals. In your job search, Similarity Theory, which states that most people gravitate towards what’s familiar, is working against you. People don’t really want to hire strangers. That’s difficult-pill-to-swallow number 1.

But you’ve spent numerous hours hiding behind your computer and polishing your resume and cover letter because sitting at your computer and applying for jobs makes you feel productive. Which means you haven’t been talking to real people who can give you a real job. You’ve only managed to give yourself a false sense of security. The truth is that while you feel productive, your bank account is draining and the lack of response from employers is making you feel more insecure. That’s pill number 2.

Listen up. The problem is that what you have is a set of practices that amount to nothing more than a crapshoot. You don’t have a real strategy. You might as well go to Vegas and take your chances there. And that’s pill number 3.

So, what are you are doing wrong and how can you do it better?

1. You’ve adopted the shotgun approach

You believe that if you apply to enough jobs, you’ll eventually beat the odds and land one. You aim at your target like a shotgun, not a rifle. The problem is that when you adopt the shotgun approach, you often show up as over – or under qualified. Stop shooting in the dark and start doing some real field research. Ween yourself off your job board dependence. Imagine the job search process before computers. You had to hit the pavement and talk to real people instead of their avatars. Those were good days. Get out of your cave and into the light of day and press some flesh. That’s called being strategic. Which brings me to my second point.

2. You don’t like to network

Get over it – and I mean like yesterday get over it. How can you even survive in the workplace and advance your career if you don’t like networking? Networking is your number one avenue to work. Start identifying companies that you would like to work for and begin networking even before their jobs are posted. Yeah, I said it. Networking after a job is posted isn’t networking – it’s fly fishing (whatever that is). Also, forget HR. They’re too busy anyway. Invest your time reaching out to peer-level employees instead. Learn how they landed their jobs. Many employers don’t even know what they are looking for until they see it. Meet with actual people who have actual pain points. Then demonstrate how your skills, qualifications and background can solve their problems for them. That’s called writing your own job description. It takes time, skill and credibility, and it takes confidence. But trust me it’s totally doable.

3. You haven’t done your homework

I can’t stress this one enough. Why are you even applying for the job (besides the fact that you need one) if you don’t know anything about the company or the people? Why would they hire you if you showcase zero understanding of their work – their charitable nature? I don’t think so. And I don’t mean a rudimentary understanding either. Anybody can get on a website and read the About tab. Big deal. What you need to do is go deep. Find out about the industry, the competition, the customers – their past and future challenges and so on. Read their annual report. Look up their YouTube Channel, Facebook Page and LinkedIn page. Find out about the people in the organization by checking out their profiles on their website or on LinkedIn (I know, there is a fine line between stalking and research). Who did they work for before? Are their experiences similar to yours? Without exception, hiring managers are turned off by people who show up woefully ignorant of the company. So why should they hire you? That’s called, being smart. You know they’ll be checking up on you, so check up on them (wait till you get to the end of this post to find out how they are checking up on you right now – scary!)

4. You haven’t reached out to recruiters

Did you know that some jobs are only filled by recruiters? That’s right. They are not even advertised. Did you also know that temp-agency jobs often lead to regular employment? In fact, many employers use this as a try-before-you-buy strategy. So take advantage of it. It’s a good way to see and be seen. You still need to have a targeted strategy by reaching out to recruiters in your particular industry. But going through a recruiter or temp agency is a good way to get moving again and regain your motivation. That’s called being employed while you look for your real dream job.

5. You make lots of assumptions

You purposely submit a vague resume because you assume casting your net wide will catch you the most fish. Wrong! You’ll only get a call if you are a good match. Period. You also assume that every job posting you see is real. Wrong again. Some postings are just to see what kind of response is received and then the posting is modified based on the response. They are just testing the waters. Yes, surprise – employers sometimes don’t know what they are doing. Some job posting – no, actually many job postings are just filling the mandated requirement to post a job publicly when all along they have had an internal candidate in mind. Ouch! I know, it sucks. But this is the real world and it’s not pretty. That’s pill number 4. Finally, you assume that if you follow up with a prospective employer about your application, they’ll be annoyed with you and it’ll hurt your chances of landing the job. This is only true if you are annoying. Otherwise, a professional follow up call or email (and I do mean professional) to see if they have in fact received your materials and to see if there is any more information you can provide, is perfectly acceptable. That’s called showing interest.

6. You haven’t cleaned up your act

If you think they won’t ‘Google’ you, think again. When they do, what will they find? Is your Facebook profile full of photos of you stumbling over in a drunken stupor or mooning your BFF? Buh- bye. Want to hear something even more insidious? Social Intelligence, an online company that claims to be the leading provider of social media screening, uses “social media background checks” to dig up dirt on your social Self and provides the detailed ‘intel’ they’ve trolled up to employers. I don’t know how pervasive this practice is but it’s surely a wave of the future (if anyone does know, please comment below). And that’s difficult-pill-to-swallow number 5. It’s a brave new world and you have to learn how to navigate it. So use social media to your advantage and clean up your act. That’s called beating them at their own game. You should know by now that a well-constructed LinkedIn profile can be a boost to your job search. Consider your profile your virtual resume. Make sure it lines up with your paper one. But also know that that is only a limited use of your profile. There is much more you can do to boost your ratings. LinkedIn claims more than 250 million + users in more than 200 countries. That’s a lot of eyeballs (by my calculation, it’s 500 million stares). So what do they see when they see you? If your LinkedIn profile picture is of you lying in a hammock with a cocktail in your hand, well…

I know all this feels a little deflating. But please don’t feel defeated by your initial failure to land a job. Successful job seekers use a variety of tactics during their job search. If you’ve turned your home office into your own personal sweat shop churning out job application after job application and that’s all you do, realize you have become a one-trick pony. If you are waiting for the phone to ring only to be disappointed, don’t assume the world is against you and fall into a pit of despair and desperation. Realize instead that you are simply not using the right set of strategies. Pick up the phone, reach out to contacts and friends and generate new leads for yourself. Be proactive. They may not all land you a job but they’ll help you feel more hopeful and confident and take the edge off your desperation.

Above all, hold your head up high, know your worth and maintain a positive attitude. Your time will come.

Good luck.

On The Right Track: 5 Strategies To Build Your Career Capital

December 14, 2014 • 9 minute read • by Saeed


“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

– Warren Buffett –

You are not in Kansas anymore. The idea that you can show up to work on time every day, do your job and get ahead is a relic of a bygone era. In the past, employers focused significantly on professional development to support employees advancement. Those days are gone – or at least fleeting fast. Much to our collective chagrin, the Darwinian principle is alive and well in today’s hyper-competitive workplace culture.

Earlier this month, when I wrote about The One Trait You Must Demonstrate In Any Job Interview one of the concepts that intrigued a number of readers was the notion of career capital. Jobseekers know that to advance, they must invest in the appropriate education, training, and skills. But they also know that that is not nearly enough. Today’s worker has to dig deeper, much deeper to find his or her underlying value and make daily deposits in his or her career bank account.

Most would agree that Warren Buffett is one of the greatest investors of all time. It is also widely known that he largely credits Benjamin Graham, a scholar and financial analyst who is widely recognized as the father of value investing, for his success. One of the key principles that Graham advanced was the notion of buying stocks based on the underlying value and fidelity of a business enterprise. If we apply this bedrock investment principle to career advancement, our task becomes one where the building of our own underlying value and fidelity as a professional becomes paramount and one of strategic consideration.

As with any business enterprise, a series of strategies must be adopted and applied with focus and discipline to achieve our desired outcomes. We must pilot our work life using an instrument panel similar to the one we might use for our investments. We must be willing to risk, to learn, to grow and to adapt ourselves and we must be willing to monitor and improve our own performance in accordance with a set of underlying principles in order to advance accordingly.

A recently conducted Accenture Survey found that more than 89 percent of professionals believe building their career capital is the key to success in the workplace. The following strategies draw upon the results of this survey and other workplace research that supports the notion that career advancement is a matter of intentional and systematic planning and execution.

1. Build your Efficiency in Completing Tasks

Get organized, get focused, get disciplined and lose distractions. The key here is structure. Use agendas to drive meeting outcomes. Use “To Do” lists and planners to manage your time effectively. Use the countless (free) available apps out there to help you organize your life. Learn to use them and get ahead of the pack.

2. Build Mastery and Competency

Competencies are the combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors. You are hired for your competencies so use and enhance them to achieve higher levels of performance. Knowledge is information developed or learned through experience, study or inquiry. So learn, learn, learn. Skill is the result of repeatedly applying knowledge or ability. So practice, practice, practice. Ability is an innate potential to perform mental and physical actions or tasks. Highlight these whenever possible. Behavior is the observable reaction of an individual to a certain situation. Ensure that yours is always positive. Mastery is the ability to blend skills and knowledge in a specific area of practice. Cultivate it.

3. Build Your Networking Skills

Your network is one of the most important career assets you have. If investment in real estate is all about location, location, location, then investment in your career is all about relationships, relationships, relationships. Nurture them and they will nurture you. The surest way to burn career capital is to burn bridges. Having said that, some bridges lead to nowhere and they should be burned. Just know which ones to burn, when, where, how and why.

4. Build Longevity in Your Career

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wage and salary workers have been with their current employer for a median of 4.6 years. That doesn’t include the 14 million Americans who are self-employed free agents. Building longevity is no longer about staying with one company and holding out for the gold watch. Rather, it’s about staying fresh and building career equity: developing a set of skills, contacts and relationships as well as behaviors that value self improvement and the kind of adaptability that will allow you to be seen as a change maker, not someone who wants to cling to the status quo.

5. Build Your Personal Brand

If you watch a Nike commercial, the last thing you’ll see is a reference to shoe laces and leather. Apple commercials never boast about their monitors or keyboards. Rather, what you see is an association: great athletes in the case of Nike and great thinkers in the case of Apple. To develop your personal brand, you must ask yourself what you wish for people to associate with you when they think of your name. A strong personal brand is reliant upon a strong narrative. As an exercise, sit down and write your own story (your past and your future) and then align everything you do with that story.

As you travel the highways and byways on the new map of your work life, you’ll find that the foremost rule of the road is that career tracks are no longer linear. If there was ever a yellow brick road, it has been replaced by interconnected webs of opportunity, exposure and experience where a willingness to learn, to grow and to adapt to a brave and yet uncharted new world gain the greatest returns on investment.

Good luck.

©2014 – All Images and Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.