Freedom, Three Keys to Maximizing Your Options
The executive recruiter is on the other line. It's the third time this
month you've had a call from someone wanting to offer you better work for
a better boss.
Maybe It's a Dream. Maybe It's
For some people it's reality. They are the ones who constantly use the
three keys to maximizing their career options. They have found a way to
get more choices than 97 percent of the rest of us.
The three keys to maximizing your career choices and your worth in
today's market are:
- People Power (using influence, support network or connections)
- Results (that stakeholders see)
- Skills (current and relevant)
The first and most valuable key to maximizing your career options is
often the least talked about: your power. It's your ability to influence
others to do what you want while avoiding things you don't want to do.
How do you get more power? By being so connected with other powerful
people that you have an army of powerful people poised to help you get
done what you want to get done any time, any place.
The first thing to know is that there is a huge difference between
making connections and making contacts, the core of traditional
The top three percent of the careerists I have studied are called
Winning Edgers because they stay ahead of the other 97 percent. They know
there is a better way than making contacts. Traditional networking is
based on maximizing contacts. These Winning Edgers constantly make and
strengthen their connections while leaving it to the other 97 percent to
concentrate on making contacts.
The second key is your ability to think and act empathetically. Think
in terms of and talk about what others pay you to produce: results. Then
get others to talk about the results you produce, especially stakeholders,
who are those special people in your life who have the interest and the
influence to determine your level of career success and are interested in
your results. And they are much more interested in your results than your
Sometimes your stakeholders are your boss and your boss's boss.
Sometimes they are the CEO's assistant and the top HR executive or her
What matters is that the results you produce are clearly understood by
those who count in your career. Your experience, the job titles you've
had, even the number of people who have reported to you are meaningless
compared to the results you produce for those who invest in you. That is
why on resumes we highlight accomplishments and quantify them. In business
plans we stress the results the principals in the venture have produced,
individually and collectively, as investors are attracted to the deal.
Experienced business investors say they would rather bet on a mediocre
technology implemented by a team that has repeatedly created success than
a wonderful technology implemented by a team with no demonstrated results.
They invest in results to get more results.
Look at top football coaches. They often have their best athlete on the
bench waiting for a chance to replace a proven winner. The starter is
playing because he has demonstrated results. He has proven he can win,
even though he may be slower, lighter and less agile than his teammate on
the bench. What is valued more than his skills is his probability of
winning. How do others decide if you have the probability of winning? They
look at what you have done in the recent past. That's because future
performance or results are best predicted by past performance or results.
What counts are the results your stakeholders have seen and can predict,
based on their understanding of your recent results.
It is up to you to make sure each of your stakeholders understands your
results and is able to relate them to their organization's or profession's
needs. As you do so, you will become more attractive to the influential
people who create career options for you. The first responsibility is
yours: Create results. The second responsibility is also yours: Make sure
your stakeholders know what you have done and are able to envision those
results in bigger and more lucrative situations.
The third key is skills — relevant, current and constantly
developing. Your interpersonal skills, your time-management skills,
leadership skills, computer skills and even linguistic skills can count
heavily toward maximizing your career options. They (plus your personality
make-up) add up to your potential to produce the results you are paid to
deliver. Skills are what we generally acquire in school or through other
investments of time and money in our professional development.
But skills are third in importance to the results stakeholders
recognize that you produce. And both skills and results are subordinate to
your power as you maximize your career options.
Let's explore how you can further develop your people power since it is
the most important key on your master key ring.
In 1980, when I was president of a southern California daily newspaper,
I met with the planners of the 1984 Olympics. I asked one of the top
officials why he was willing to dedicate the next three years of his life
to a successful Olympics. What in the world would make this project worth
that much? He said, "When these Olympics are over, I will have
created over 10,000 connections with influential people all over the
world. My Rolodex will have increased in size at least tenfold."
"That's a lot of contacts," I said. "They're not
contacts!" he almost shouted. "They are connections," he
Connections it turns out, are relationships with people for whom you
have done something. Contacts are names of people you have met. There is a
huge difference between connections and contacts.
"The way I have it figured," he said, "ninety percent of
the people I do something for are aching to do something back for me. When
the Olympics are over and I am trying to help a friend or even a potential
customer, I'll have 9,000 influential people aching to help me assist that
friend or customer. Can you imagine an army of 9,000, plus one, focused on
making a colleague's life better? That's power," he said.
"Where did you learn the secret of getting power by giving?"
"I've studied Mother Teresa's life," he said. "She's as
powerful a person as I know. She can raise money faster than the most
professional fundraisers I know," he said assuredly.
If Peter Uberoth were telling his story today, he'd probably point to
Princes Diana's life as another example of how to gain this kind of power,
by giving — by connecting.
Red Scott, a 1984 recipient of the coveted Horatio Alger award, told me
that one thing common about his fellow awardees is their ability to
connect with others by giving. "They are as ready to help others as
any group I know," he said when talking with a group of southern
California senior executives. What allowed fellow Horatio Alger awardees
like Billy Graham, Paul Harvey, Tom Landry and Bob Hope to become so
powerful? Their ability to convert contacts into connections.
That's it. The No.1 key to maximizing your career choices and your
value in our society is your ability to create connections with other
A year from now you will have increased your influence by 20 percent,
100 percent or not at all. To get started, all you have to do is
unselfishly, without expectation of repayment, help someone in your
office, your company or your profession. The more people you help, the
more connections you will likely create. The more connections you have,
especially with other powerful people, the more people you'll have aching
to help you help the next person and the next person. Before you know it,
your power to produce results will mushroom. So too will your career
choices. Sincerity is the secret; remember not to expect payment or
Set specific goals to increase your connections, and therefore your
power, each 90 days for each of the next four quarters.
Share your goals with someone you respect and who will hold you
accountable for follow-through. Set up quarterly progress and planning
sessions with him.
Identify your five most important stakeholders. Get to know each well
enough to discover how you might be able to give something of value to
each. It could be a clipping from a magazine, an introduction or a kind
word during a time of personal loss. Target doing one thing at least every
quarter to make their lives better — to help them get more of what they
want professionally or personally.
Explore joining groups of successful managers, executives or
entrepreneurs who are already increasing their connections. Look for
networking groups that have evolved into well-connected communities of
professionals focused on helping each other succeed. Some of these are
offered by international power-building companies such as The Executive
Committee, Young Presidents Organization and Renaissance Executive Forums.
Join a group of well-connected leaders in your community, your church,
your profession or your company by becoming a volunteer. Then become a
committee chair, the head of a fundraising effort or a leader of something
that stretches you and is fun. The group could be the United Way, your
chamber of commerce or your credit union board.
Contact the head of the your chamber of commerce, the newspaper's top
business editor or a business school dean. Ask which connection-building
(vs. contact-creating) group in your community would best fit your needs.
Join one, and consistently give value to each member. You will feel good
when you help them. That feeling will help you give even more. Before you
know it you will have taken a giant step toward maximizing your power to
produce results. And those results will make you more valuable to your
current and prospective bosses. As that happens, your career equity and
professional freedom skyrockets — all because you used your skills to
create results that turned into power.
Congratulations! You've learned the secret of Mother Teresa and other
Vance Caesar is the principal of The Vance Caesar
Group, a results-coaching firm, and is president of the Professional
Coaches and Mentors Association. His doctorate is in organizational
2000 Franklin Covey Co.