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Career 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 Not

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:

  1. People Power (using influence, support network or connections)
  2. Results (that stakeholders see)
  3. Skills (current and relevant)

People Power

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 networking.

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 skills.

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 assistant.

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 whispered reverently.

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 asked.

"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 influential people.

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 reward.

What's Next?

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 powerful people.

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 psychology.

2000 Franklin Covey Co.





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