When we are trying to figure out what comes next in our careers, we can create clarity by focusing on the “why”. Over the years there have been many books and articles that speak to the power of “why”, so I won't go into detail about how this has become widely adopted as the preferred method of providing clarity. That said, I’ve found that is not the way our minds intuitively work and it takes significant time and effort to get to why. In my experience, what typically happens is that our minds start “chattering” to us about this or that in our next career or job. Status, money, title, location, industry etc. Usually this dialogue is disjointed, circular and repetitive and it's terribly hard to stack rank what matters most when these things are swimming in our brains. We “think” we know what we want, but if we really dug deep, we would find that most of our thinking isn’t focusing on our most important “whys” and as a result we frequently make suboptimal career choices.
So how do I coach my clients on this issue? With a simple tool that is designed to anchor against the “why”. Before you look at that tool, perhaps just a quick exercise to anchor to the why.
Imagine I asked you to physically or mentally exert yourself to your limit. What might you answer? Some of you are avid runners, bikers, rollers, chess players etc. And some of you might not have done this in years. Using running as an example (just substitute your preferred activity and your ability for my hypothetical) I might say “How far can you run today” and you might answer “two miles”. What if I offered you $10,000 to make it 2.5 miles? Could you do it? Most of us would gladly take that extra money for some extra effort. What if I offered you $25,000 to run 5 miles? Could you do it? Would you even try? Now imagine how far you could get if you exhausted yourself completely. Nothing left in the tank at all. How much money would that take?
Now let me change the hypothetical. There has been a bad storm. The roads are out and the only way you can get to the one open pharmacy is under your own power. The trip is 10 miles in each direction. One of your loved ones is out of medicine and this medicine is critical to their survival. How far are you willing to go now? How hard are you willing to work to get there? Do you need a single cent to try this extraordinary feat? If you are like most people you will answer that you will risk your own life to get to that pharmacy and you don’t need a penny of incentive to try. This is the power of “why”.
What if you could harness some of this power when you choose what to do next? How would it improve the quality of your decision making? Ask yourself those questions and the next time you are faced with deciding what job to pursue, use the career tool below as a way to anchor to why and make your best choice. Detailed instructions on how best to use the tool follow.
How to use the career tool:
First, click on the career tool link above. Go to "File" and choose "Make a Copy" and save the document as your own so you can edit it.
Column A: Start here: In this column name the things that you think you really want. List somewhere between 5 and 10 things about your next career opportunity that really matter.
Column B: Next, for each thing you want, write as much as you can about why you want it or what is important about it to you. Don't skimp. This is where you are going to do the hard work. Put your heart into stating in as much detail as possible what it will mean to you to have each "what", how it will impact your life, how it will impact your loved ones, how you will feel in the future looking back on this accomplishment etc. Consider sitting with this first draft and coming back to it 48 hours later. Keep coming back to this section and going a layer deeper until there is nothing left to say about why this really matters.
Column C: Now, figure out how to get there. If the "why" is strong enough, the how will easily follow. Which is why you now need to go back to the "why" and look at what you wrote and ensure that it's as powerful as it can be. Do you need to change the order? Now is the time to do it.
Finally: go to column D. Stack rank the "whats" beginning with the the most impactful/important “why” (number 1) and finishing with the least important. This is you telling yourself what matters most and ensuring that you focus on what matters most to you. Your revised list will have the most meaning to you (not your friends, or society, you) and will thus guide you in choosing what to do without the noise and confusion our minds serve up moment to moment. If you need help sorting, this link will show you how.
For more thoughts and articles, visit me at LinkedIn at Seth Weissman LI Profile
Lawyers often ask me about the principles or practices that I use to train my teams or coach my clients. While there are many powerful principles that I have had the good fortune to have been taught over my legal career, the most useful has always been the ability to explain great lawyering and deliver it to an organization. The following three principles form the foundation for my legal practice. I hope they prove useful to you and spark a conversation or introspection about what you are already doing or what you want to change.
1) What and Why: What is great lawyering or compliance work? Let's start with what is bad lawyering. Bad lawyering is answering the client’s question incorrectly. Mediocre lawyering is answering the client's question correctly. A lot of lawyers can answer questions correctly, so you really won’t distinguish yourself from your peers if that is where you land. Great lawyering (or compliance work) starts with asking the client "What are you trying to do and why are you trying to do it?” or "What's important about that outcome?" Once you know the answer, you can chart a path to the desired outcome and figure out how to get from “here” to “there.” Most lawyers don’t spend the time or the energy to ask the question, and without it they can’t be great. Some don’t ask because they want to answer a client’s question as quickly as possible and move on to the “next thing.” Some don’t see themselves as needing to know about the business to be successful and relevant. Both risk the business not valuing their input or not asking in the first place. This first principle sets the foundation for the next two.
So, if you ask “what are you doing” and “why,” what do you do next? You always get to “Yes.”
2) Get to Yes. When the client explains to you what they are trying to do, always say "Yes." Sometimes it's "Yes, AND." Such as:
A) Yes AND I can do this cheaper and easier; or
B)Yes, AND that's not allowed and the first thing we need to do is get a law changed and we might need to meet with some trade groups or a lobbyist; or
C)Yes, AND I think the risk/reward is not great here and we should elevate this; or
D)Yes, AND we are all going to jail and I can't go to jail because [Insert your funny line here, like "I never share bathrooms"].
Answer C should be carefully considered/elevated and strategically decided. D is obviously a “NO.” And when you couch the obvious "NO" with a "YES" you are ensuring that the business partner is invested in the outcome of the decision and they likely won't risk their own future. If they still say "go" when you tell them everyone is going to wear stripes and get free healthcare for life, elevate the issue. You don’t want to be on the front page for that reason. When considering your type of "yes," and how you deliver it, you must consider point 3 below.
3) Risk/Reward Calculation: What kind of "Yes, AND" answer you give depends in part on the risk/reward ratio. Risk is an important part of business, you can't succeed in business without taking risk. Effective risk taking requires an understanding of both the risk and the reward. Try to capture both the likely risk (not the worst case scenario) and the likely reward (not the best case scenario, the likely scenario) and compare them using math. You might be a Political Science major (guilty) and you still need to master simple math to engage your client where they are.
Would you risk $1 Million dollars to make $1 Billion dollars? Of course you would. And what are the chances of that happening? What if the chance of making the $1 Billion dollar mark was only 1/10? Would you then risk $1 Million to make $100 Million dollars? Probably. What if the risk were $1 Million dollars to make $1.1 Million dollars? Why would you take that risk? Use math. Quantify the risk, if at all possible (e.g. what is the $ amount of liability to the Company if this risk actually occurs?). Dig in, understand the likelihood of the risk and the likelihood of the reward as you get to "yes." Do not get hung up on hypothetical or academic risks (e.g. a “run on the banks”). Look for ways to mitigate risk (through contractual clauses, changing how services are provided, insurance, etc.). Make sure the business is making an informed choice about risk by helping your business partners escalate risk awareness appropriately.
Finally, watch out for existential risk. Sure, the ratio of risk/reward might be amazing, but are you putting the very existence of the company at risk? If something is legal, is it ethical? These types of existential risk/reward decisions are rarely wise and at the very least require the highest levels of knowing approval. If the risks involve ethical concerns or any potential violation of law, make sure to escalate to your supervisor, the General Counsel, the CEO and the Board of Directors, in that order.
The bottom line here is, if you get a bad outcome, will you and your CEO/client consider this decision a mistake? The answer should be NO. You’ve looked at the upside and downside. You’ve measured everything as well as you can with the time, resources, and information that are reasonably available. You’ve done all you reasonably can do to control or mitigate the risk. Based on all of that, this decision is the best course of action now. If the answer is “YES, this will be a bad decision if it does not go well,” then you are not making a good decision based on what you know and can control. You are rolling the dice and hoping for a good outcome.
For more thoughts and articles, visit me at LinkedIn at Seth Weissman LI Profile
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