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What I Wish I Would have Known Earlier in My Career

Learn to Ask Great Questions, Shut up and Listen

Got the Wrong Advice Early in my Career

Without a doubt the one thing I wish I had learned earlier in my career is that people are eager to help you if you will seek them out and ask for help. Early in my career I had a manager come down hard on me for asking too many questions and it made me pull back on asking for help. I was right out of graduate school, eager to learn, and was full of energy and excitement about the business. This guy hammered me several times for asking too many questions and shut me down, hard. He felt like you should figure out things without supervision or direction. In hindsight, I think he was just too lazy to spend time helping people.

In hindsight, this guy was a low level manager with no upward mobility that no one really supported or liked. I took advice from the wrong person. So, I thought it was expected of me to figure out everything on my own. By doing that, it wasted much of my time and I struggled to get up to speed quickly.

Learned from a Great Leader

Later in my career I watch a powerful leader grow a complicated business by asking great questions from the smartest people she could find. She was brilliant and focused and was dog on a pork chop looking for more input on her business.

She spent most of her time looking for the people who were smart and had insight in the business. She talked to internal peers, customers, outside suppliers and consultants. She had no issues seeking input to help her solve problems. And she was wildly successful.

I adopted a new strategy.

What I discovered was the most powerful words for any employee are, “I need your help”. People new in their assignments or at a new company should quickly find out who the smartest, most successful or accomplished people are and get time with them. Come to the meeting with 4-5 good, crisp questions, ask them, listen and write down what they tell you.

Ask them if you can seek them out again if you have more questions and then start to develop them into a small group of your personal mentors. After each meeting send them a handwritten thank you note, (not an email) and thank them for their help.

You will find out that people have the answers to most of the questions you are looking for and if you will take the time and be patient and thoughtful, they will be happy and eager to help you.

This strategy of asking others for help and advice will take you to great places in your career and can last for all you career.

More importantly, as you get down the road in your career you can play this advice forward and teach others. As I start to turn the corner on almost 40 years of corporate America, this is what I enjoy the most. Giving back a little, teaching others, and watching them grow.

All the best.

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