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The Crisis and Your Career: An Opportunity or a Threat?

By Pepper de Callier - Part 3 of a 4 part series

NOTE TO THE READER: The name and titles of the people interviewed for this series reflects the positions held at the time of original publication in 2010.  The information, insights, and relevance are as fresh today as they were then. PdeC

I began this series by talking about common sense.  The paradox of common sense is that it must address what are often complex issues with extreme simplicity like this old gem: “If it’s too good to be true, chances are it is.”  To be really good, though, common sense statements should have a delayed reaction.  Yes, they make sense when we hear them and some even cause us to smile.  But, after a while, sometimes when we least expect it, we hear them echo in our thoughts as we contemplate doing something, which brings me to today’s column in this series.

In today’s column, our panel of leaders will share a wealth of common sense with you regarding questions you should be asking yourself and specific behaviors and actions you should consider in order to convert this crisis into a real growth opportunity for your career, your brand, and your life.

Tomas Sabatka starts us off with an unusual question to ask yourself, “Am I adding value here, or am I just surviving?”  What, you ask, is so unusual about this question?  What makes it unusual is that your boss is asking the same question about you as decisions are made about whom to keep.  Remember the importance of being proactive from the last column?  Well, here it is as it relates directly to you.  Magdalena Soucek adds some clarity for us: “Retention and advancement are not entitlements. You must take control of your future.”  And a good place to start is to directly and honestly ask yourself if you are adding value or not.  When the economy is hot and people are buying things, it’s much easier for managers to overlook someone who is “just surviving”.  In times like these, though, they are looking for people who can, as Jane Hannah says, “…connect the dots.” And, Hannah adds, “Don’t let the routine of your job cause you to become less observant.  Step back, be objective, take a look at how different positions impact each other.  This will allow you to contribute beyond what is expected of your job and to be more valuable.”

If, however, you feel you are adding value, this is the time to explore ways to add even more.  This is how people get promoted and, in times like these, “battlefield” promotions are not all that uncommon.  Mike Short: “In challenging times, leaders are looking for solutions and people with a positive attitude.  These are the people who look for patterns of activity in a process, for example, that don’t make sense—the people who are continually searching for efficiencies and defining best practices.  In addition, these are the people who understand the company’s agenda and how they fit into it.”  This is not easy to do.  It takes time and energy.  But, those who “Step out of their comfort zone,” as Jane Hannah puts it, are sending a message that they are ready to contribute beyond what is expected of them.  “This is not about internal issues alone,” Hannah continues, “The more you know about your sector, your competitors, and the industry in general, the more valuable you become.”  

Being informed also has an interesting personal advantage for you as a professional.  In challenging times, there is a lot of information flying around and not all of it is factual.  There are a lot of emotionally-charged claims, comments and gossip as people scurry around reacting to new things being thrown at them every day. The person who is well informed, however, is not easy prey to emotional half-truths and gossip.  The well informed are able to think clearly and objectively, which is not only a benefit to their employers (that does not go unnoticed), it also is a benefit to them as they chart their own personal career paths.

Take a moment to consider the following questions.  Would a knowledgeable person in your business describe you as well informed?  If you were in your boss’s shoes right now, would you come to you for solid, insightful advice that reflects an appreciation of the interdependence of functions and departments other than yours, the market in general, and the company in specific?  Would your thoughts also anticipate any unintended consequences that might arise from various courses of action?  Or, for the less strategic and more tactical of us (we tactical types are needed just as much), would your boss come to you with a mission-critical project because she knows that there is no question that you will get it done and get it done right, and that you can be counted on to attack the project with the right attitude and sense of urgency?

Being able to relate, in a positive way, to the behaviors and opportunities above, and to answer yes, without hesitation to these questions, puts you well on the way to being a recession-proof contributor and a leader in your own right.  But, there’s something missing—a formula that ties it all together—a formula so powerful that it is always used in the calculation of success. What is the formula, the absence of which will keep you off any short list for retention or promotion, even if you have mastered the majority of the things we’ve covered in this series so far?

That’s what my next, and final, column in this series is all about—The Formula that separates the winners from the losers in that sometimes volatile and unpredictable concoction we call a career.  Stay tuned.

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at    

Prague Business Leaders Networking with Pepper de Callier 23.09.2013
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