Leadership - 05.31.2019

Direction Comes from Clear Goals

Never a straight line...prepare for uncertainty

Tony Hunter Author: Tony Hunter

Ever find yourself struggling with a decision and/or fretting your lack of progress in achieving a goal? Well, I know I have. Which leads me to lesson #2 in my series, “When you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

Man I wish one of my favorite bands, Dawes, had written this lyric back in the 1980s instead of 2013.

I could have used that advice as a kid coming out of college with no idea where I was going. Sound familiar?  I’ve heard from a number of parents with children who are facing the same thing – a recent graduate who is unsure of the next step and moving back home for the foreseeable future.

My response is normally, “No one’s path is a straight line.” Mine certainly wasn’t. The tough lesson I learned is still true today; nothing is granted by a degree, and no one is waiting to hire you.

The strong foundation that I grew up with propelled me to become the first college graduate in my family, with not one but three degrees; Accounting, Business Administration and Economics.

I was focused on accounting until I barely “survived” intermediate accounting. I realized I was not cut out to be an accountant, no offense to those who are. Still, I left college with very little vision and even though I didn’t want to be one, you guessed it, I applied for accounting jobs.

I’d anticipated it wouldn’t be hard to find a job, make some money and, if I got lucky, become good at something over time.

But without a strong vision for my future, I stumbled mightily. I applied for all those accounting jobs and received rejection letters as fast as I applied. I became a regular at “Old Style” university, where I spent a couple bucks each week on beer.

Doubt was beginning to creep in. Doubts about

  • my self worth
  • whether or not I had what it takes to become successful
  • whether I could meet the high expectations of my parents

When I say I started my journey at the bottom, I am not exaggerating.

Why use my story? Because, the main misstep I made was not defining the right goal. It is important to note: This doesn’t just happen right out of college, it happens throughout the course of your life and career. The chaotic pace of life, business and technology can create an abundance of choices, and confusion. Our decision is blurred… too many choices… not enough time… uncertainty about the outcomes.

As you assess opportunities and chart your career course, here are a few tips to consider:

Clearly define your goals  

I’ve found that answering a simple question provides the clarity and focus required to make career decisions with confidence; “What are my goals?”

Be clear about what you want to accomplish. Are you trying to gain new experience and knowledge; need to fill in a gap in your capabilities; want to learn from a great leader; need a fresh start? Once goals are clear, you can develop and execute a plan with urgency and confidence.   

Leverage Mentors

As I’ve written about before, mentors are critically important. Over the course of my career, I avoided several major missteps by surrounding myself with great mentors and listening to their sound advice.

For example, I was less than open to take a lateral move to gain union and tech experience. My mentor told me to “get my head straight.” That job led me to become VP of Operations. I often found myself considering a change for change’s sake, only to be reminded of the opportunities right in front of me.

And, when a lack of confidence was creeping in, my mentors reminded me to take Les Brown’s advice; “Leap before you are ready, and the net will appear.” Everyone needs help… make sure you have mentors you can count on.

Prepare for setbacks

Which brings me to the issue of resiliency. There is never a straight line to success. You’re going to get passed over for a promotion; fail to achieve your short term career goals; get direct, candid feedback on your shortcomings.

Rather than circle the drain and let the doubts creep in, reassess your plan and redouble your efforts. There are always circumstances beyond your control at play. Keeping your positive attitude and addressing setbacks with increased effort will send strong, positive signals to your company about the type of leader you are.  

Which leads me to my next lesson, “Failing isn’t falling down… it’s staying down.”