Monday, January 14, 2013

OWL: Getting More of What you Want in Your Career: Patty Azzarello

Patty Azzarello, author and coach, joined our Oracle Women's Leadership talk on Risk Taking today to help us learn how to take risks and still enjoy our lives.  If you're enjoying your life, you're actually better at your job!

She tends to break things into 3 categories:
  • Do better: Are you thriving? Are you having impact?
  • Look better: Are you invisible? Being invisible is not a good thing.
  • Connect better: Do you have the right support?  If you're the only person that cares about your career: that's a big risk! And not a good one :-)
In order to do better you need to really get better about assessing risks, and stop worrying about looking foolish. There are risky career behaviours we all do that stop us from taking the right risks.

Early in her career, Ms. Azzarello had turned a project team around, taking a seemingly doomed project to a successful outcome. At the end of the year, when she went in for her performance evaluation and big rewarding raise, her boss had to let her down - nobody knew who she was. He couldn't get the raise for her.   If nobody knows what you're doing, it's difficult to get rewarded for it.

You need to realize something very important: the things that come easily to you are the things you're good at. Build on those strengths, people will be impressed.  We all only have so much energy to spend on our improving ourselves, so try to focus on what you've already got a knack for.

Be your brand - who you are. That does require you know what you're good at doing and aware of your strengths. Don't apologize for who you are and let other people know!

Ms. Azzarello reminded us that we can tune our jobs to suit our strengths.  I've done this myself many times over the years.  I'd been in the same position, on the org chart, for about 10 years... but had done at least 7-8 distinct jobs.  Sure, you still have to do the tasks you don't like - it's called work for a reason, but tune your job so you do more of what you love and less of what you hate.

When you get blocked at work, never blame your failure on the fact that your boss is stupid. Could be very career limiting. :-) Instead, use the voice of others - win others over to your side, get them to help you convince others.

You need Ruthless Priorities. Do FEWER things! [Note: I really need this!]  Think about it: what adds the  most business value? how bad is it if you fail or don't do this thing at all?  If something really cannot be dropped, prioritize the important things - protect them and do them. Get famous for doing important things, not for being busy.

[Note: that last paragraph seemed to be directed to me! see my recent post on out of control email... is that really my number one priority? Will I get an Oscar for reading it all?]

But, doing the right things yourself is not enough. You need the right team. The best project with the wrong team is just not going to be successful. Get people in the right jobs, delegate power and let those people be amazing.  A really smart person in the wrong job will be miserable and won't be productive.  They won't have the opportunity to be amazing.  Give it to them.

A risky behaviour Ms. Azzarello  has seen too many times is people avoiding clarity to avoid conflict. Big ambiguous fuzzy goals do not get action.  You need clarity - that might lead to conflict, but it is necessary for action.

Being invisible and ignored can kill your career in its tracks.  Put yourself out there, make sure your boss knows what you and your team is doing. There's a balance - you need to be visible without being annoying.  Steer away from shallow publicity - every little thing does not need to be announced, but excellent work should be shared.  Make sure your work is relevant - which may require translating what you do and why it's important into lingo someone outside of your immediate team will understand.

Ms. Azzarello gave us a great example of this. Gartner surveyed CEOs for their top 10 priorities and the same companies' CIOs for their priorities. She put the lists side by side on the screen, and there was only one common *word* between the two -  "business". She then made two new lists that combined the two separate ones. The CEO priorities were the headings, and the sub bullets were the CIO priorities and, combined, they made so much more sense as a cohesive strategy for a company. I could actually understand the CEO priorities when I saw technically relevant items underneath.

Ask your boss for their business initiatives, listen to their words and fit your projects into their initiatives using their words. Use this in real life! Magic :-)

Back on the visibility topic - She notes being shy is okay, but being invisible is not. She, herself, is an introvert on the Meyer's-Brigg's scale, yet she's on stage talking to us. It's performing - not presenting.  I do that myself. I am very shy (really), but when I'm somewhere I need to network or when I need to do a presentation - I act as if I'm someone that does that thing.  I love acting, so I just apply it when I'm presenting - I'm pretending to be someone that enjoys presenting and that does a good job.  Now, is my acting good enough to cover it?  Not always, but the more I practice the better it gets. :-)

Another risk Ms. Azzarello talked about is the experience paradox.  That thing where women will explain how if they aren't perfectly qualified for a job and they will talk themselves out of a position, when a man will often say, "Sure, I'll do the job" - even if they are actually less qualified than their female equivalent.  Someone once told her: Every CEO was a CEO for the first time in their lives at one point. You sometimes have to dive in and learn on the job.

Finally, and I've heard this so many times in the last 2 years: get a sponsor.

I really enjoyed this talk and hopefully can take a few things away from it and apply at least one or two in real life.

How well do you do about delegating and prioritizing? Any tips or suggestions?

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