A to Z of Inspirational People – Part 1

A to Z Inspirational People - Part 1

I’m in the middle of reading Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography – Total Recall, and it’s a great read from a truly driven, focussed, and like him or not, hugely successful athlete, actor, politician and business person.

I got to thinking about other well-known people who have inspired me and what we can all learn from them, so I’ve pulled together a four-part  A to Z of people who are truly inspirational to me, but also to many others. But what makes someone inspirational? There is no single, clear way to make every person feel inspired, because we are all different and are inspired by different things. I’m inspired by many things; Nature, Music, Books, Art, Love, Passion, Compassion, Humour, Ideas, Innovation, Ambition and Business. That probably comes across in the following list!

A

albert-einsteinAlbert Einstein

Without us realising it, we encounter Albert Einstein in different fields of everyday life. The GPS system in our cars that guides us safely through the traffic. Our purchases in the supermarket are registered by a scanner cash register. And we took our latest holiday snaps using our new digital camera.

Even if Einstein himself did not write his most important essays for practical use or personal profit, his abstract thoughts on light, space and time have led to many technological innovations which appear to us today to be quite normal. Whether it be a music player, a television set or a modern computer, these new inventions are often based on one of Albert Einstein’s theories.

Einstein was also a great thinker and I’ve listed a couple of my favourite quotes from him below:

‘He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice.’

‘Many of the things you can count, don’t count. Many of the things you can’t count, really count.’

Amy Johnson

Born in Hull, my home city, in 1903, Amy Johnson transcended the contemporary conventions of gender, class and education to become a true pioneer in a man’s world at the time. Through a combination of brains, hard work and sheer determination, she earned her pilot’s licence and became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia in 1930. She subsequently completed many path breaking flights such as England to Tokyo via Siberia and England to New York. Her bravery in making unaided flights made her famous and a role model for women pilots at a time when very few women learned to fly, let alone made arduous trips across continents.

Her life came to a tragic end in January 1941, when she mysteriously baled out of her plane into the icy waters of the Thames Estuary. There is still some mystery about the accident leading to her death, as the exact reason for the flight is still a government secret and there is some evidence that besides Johnson and co-pilot,  a third person was also seen in the water and also drowned. Who the third-party was is still unknown. Johnson was the first member of the Air Transport Auxiliary to die in service.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Why is Arnold Schwarzenegger on my list? Is he the best actor in the world? No. Is he the best politician or the best entrepreneur? Possibly not. Has he done some stupid things? Absolutely. What he does have, however, is Self-belief, Goals and Relentless Focus. 3 Guiding principles of Think Oak!

Schwarzenegger set himself a goal of being the best body builder the world had ever seen. He succeeded. He set himself the goal of moving to America and being in movies. He succeeded. And he set himself the goal of becoming Governor of California and he succeeded, twice and without any of these things, he’s a self-made millionaire from his real estate and other businesses started long before he became a famous actor.

Through tireless focus, training, education, networking and sheer determination he has achieved everything he’s set out to do. Not bad for a man born in war-torn Austria in the ‘40’s, with few prospects.

Anita Roddick

For me, Dame Anita Roddick was one of the first women CEO’s that I’d heard of. She was the founder of The Body Shop, one of the world’s most successful retailers of cosmetics and related products. She was also known as one of the most outspoken social activists in the business world. The Body Shop still adheres to the core values laid out by Roddick, who sadly died in 2007. Today The Body Shop has over 1,980 stores and more than 77 million customers in 50 different markets serving customers in over 25 different languages. Its success put Roddick’s net worth at more than $200 million. In 2006, the company became an independently managed subsidiary of the L’Oréal Group.

From the outset, The Body Shop had a reputation for supporting social and environmental causes, thanks to Roddick’s strong personal sense of social responsibility. After stepping down in 2002 from co-chairman, she spent 80 days of the year working as a consultant in her stores and used the rest her time to advance causes in campaigns against human rights abuses and exploitation of the underprivileged.

In addition to her extensive travels and speaking engagements, Roddick was one of the first celebrity entrepreneurs to take to blogging with a passion. Her site, AnitaRoddick.com, includes extensive commentary from Roddick on activism, politics, women and entrepreneurship.

For me, Roddick proves that you can be yourself in business and be successful. You don’t need to be a chameleon and you don’t need to change your personal values.

B

Ben Saunders

ben saundersMany people may not know who Ben Saunders is. Ben Saunders is the third in history to ski solo to the North Pole and holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton.

He is currently preparing to lead a two-man team to Antarctica, setting out to make the first return journey to the South Pole on foot. At 1,800 miles and four months, the Scott Expedition will be the longest unsupported polar journey in history and the first completion of Captain Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting Ben, listening to his story, his experiences and sharing our passion of the outdoors.

To achieve what he has achieved takes a special kind of person. To have complete focus on a goal, a trust in your own abilities and the ability to build and trust the team of people who will help you achieve your goal.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates is known across the planet as the co-founder of Microsoft and hugely successful business person. His accomplishments are well documented in hundreds of blogs, books, articles and TV programmes that I don’t need to mention or replicate.

What inspires me about Bill Gates was his ability to predict the evolution of the home and business computer into the next generation at the right time, adapt to the internet effectively (albeit a little late!) and drive shrewd business decisions that would dominate the IT world for more than a generation. Microsoft may not have the excitement and innovation that it once had or a huge fan base like Apple, but millions, if not billions of people across the globe have benefited from its software.

More recently Bill Gates has focussed his energies on giving back to the world. Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. The foundation employs over 1000 people and had given over $26bn in grants since its inception. Now that’s inspiring!

Bob Geldof

Lead singer of The Boomtown Rats, Bob Geldof KBE (Knight of the British Empire) is synonymous with the idea of using famous people, particularly musicians, to raise awareness and funds for the plight of desperate and hungry people in Africa and other affected parts of the world.

In 1984, moved by images of young children in Africa dying of starvation, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure united a “supergroup” of British musicians and singers which recorded the single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas”. It became the fastest selling single in UK history and raised over £8 million worldwide in funds for emergency aid to Ethiopia. Since then he has dedicated his life’s work to hunger relief.

In 1985, building on the momentum of Band Aid, he organised the Live Aid concerts held in London and Philadelphia. In 2005 he organized the Live 8 concerts to launch Make Poverty History. Speaking on the events, he said; “These concerts are the start point for The Long Walk To Justice, the one way we can all make our voices heard in unison. This is without doubt a moment in history where ordinary people can grasp the chance to achieve something truly monumental and demand from the 8 world leaders at G8 an end to poverty.”

Fearless in questioning and challenging world leaders, Bob Geldof’s voice is both an inspiration and a threat to anyone who thinks the global issues of poverty and hunger need not or cannot be tackled.

C

Charles Darwin

charles-darwinCharles Robert Darwin was an English naturalist whose revolutionary theory laid the foundation for both the modern theory of evolution and the principle of common descent by proposing natural selection as a mechanism. He published this proposal in 1859 in the book The Origin of Species, which remains his most famous work. A worldwide sea voyage aboard HMS Beagle and observations on the Galapagos Islands in particular provided inspiration and much of the data on which he based his theory.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution based upon natural selection changed the thinking of countless fields of study from biology to anthropology. His work was extremely controversial by the time he published it and many during his time didn’t take it seriously. Darwin’s theory of evolution was a significant blow to creationism and notions of intelligent design prevalent among 19th century Europe.

Having the courage of his convictions, Darwin published his works at great personal risk to his credibility.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

D

David Beckham

In a way, I felt slightly fraudulent by having Beckham on this list. Until my two sons started playing football I had never watched a football match in my life. Obviously, I knew who David Beckham was, and knew that he was a great footballer and that he was married to a Spice Girl, but he’d certainly never inspired me in any way.

But in a number of ways, that has changed. Over the last few years, I’ve seen the inspiration that he has given a generation of youngsters to train hard and go for their dreams. I’ve seen a family man, who loves his country, be an ambassador for sport for UNICEF, one of the biggest personal brands on the planet with nearly 28 million Facebook followers, and built a huge personal fortune through his personal football salary and endorsements.

Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso)

The Dalai Lama is a man of peace. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. He also became the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.

The Dalai Lama has travelled to more than 67 countries spanning 6 continents. He has received over 150 awards, honorary doctorates and prizes in recognition of his message of peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion.  He has also authored or co-authored more than 110 books.

He has held dialogues with heads of different religions and participated in many events promoting inter-religious harmony and understanding.

Since the mid-1980’s, the Dalai Lama has begun a dialogue with modern scientists, mainly in the fields of psychology, neurobiology, quantum physics and cosmology. This has led to a historic collaboration between Buddhist monks and world-renowned scientists in trying to help individuals achieve peace of mind. This has also led to the introduction of modern science in the traditional curriculum of Tibetan monastic institutions re-established in exile.

Three of my favourite quotations from this inspirational man follow:

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

“With realisation of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.”

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”

Daniel Day-Lewis

daniel-day-lewisDaniel Day-Lewis is one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, his work has earned him numerous awards, including three Academy Awards for Best Actor, for his portrayals of Christy Brown in My Left Foot (1989), Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007), and Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln (2012), a feat which makes him to date the only male actor in history to garner three wins in the lead actor category. Day-Lewis has also won four BAFTA Awards for Best Actor, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, three Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards to name a few!

Despite his traditional acting training, he is considered to be a method actor, known for his constant devotion to and research of his roles. He often remains completely in character for the duration of the shooting schedules of his films, even to the point of adversely affecting his health. He is known as being one of the most selective actors in the film industry, having starred in only five films since 1998, with as many as five years between each role.

In a western world filled with people wanting to be famous and not wanting to work for it, Day-Lewis is an inspiration to those who respect hard work for their ‘art’ and not seeking fame for its own sake.

David Attenborough

For those of you that are regular visitors to my other blog Life Spirit, you’ll know of my love of nature. One person, probably above all others, has been a constant inspiration for that passion is Sir David Attenborough.

The scope of Attenborough’s work now spans 6 decades! So what can we learn from this inspirational person?

When Sir David narrates his documentaries, his passion for the animal kingdom is obvious. His love for anything with fur, feathers, fins or flippers and bringing fantastic footage of them into our homes has sustained his career for decades.  His enthusiastic tone makes his one of the most recognisable voices in the world.

One of the great legacies of Attenborough’s work is the increased exposure to the importance of protecting our environment.

“The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?”

There is little doubt that many eyes have been opened to the plight of the environment and many endangered species as a result of his documentaries.  The way that he has brought animals into our homes has not just entertained and educated us, but given us an incentive to take action to protect them.

Sir David Attenborough is a genuinely inspirational person whom I have learned a great deal from over the years.  Not only about the marvellous creatures that we share this planet with, but about doing work that you’re passionate about, making a difference and the fact that there’s no use-by date on greatness.

E

Eve Ensler

Eve Ensler is a Tony Award winning Playwright, performer, and activist, is the author of The Vagina Monologues, translated into over 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries, including sold-out runs at both Off-Broadway’s Westside Theater and on London’s West End  and has been running for 11 years in Mexico City and Paris.

Ensler’s experiences have inspired her to create V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. She has devoted her life to stopping violence, envisioning a planet in which women and girls will be free to thrive.

Today, V-Day is a global activist movement that supports anti-violence organizations throughout the world, helping them to continue and expand their core work on the ground, while drawing public attention to the larger fight to stop worldwide violence against women and girls. V-Day exists for no other reason than to stop violence against women. In twelve years, the V-Day movement has raised over $80 million.

F

Freddie Mercury

Freddie_85Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 on the island of Zanzibar off the west coast of Africa. He grew to be the lead singer of one of the biggest selling bands globally of all time with over 300 million album sales – Queen.

Bohemian Rhapsody, written by Mercury, is thought by many people across the globe as being the best ever song written and is also considered by many to be the very first true music video created purely for promotion of a single. Freddie Mercury, both with Queen and with his solo work, was a pioneer of rock’s video revolution.

Mercury was an idol to his fans, a consummate front-man, a rallying figure for those seeking the express themselves through his music, a rock star to the world and one of the true British cultural icons of the 20th century alongside the likes of David Bowie and John Lennon.

Following his death, Mercury’s band mates founded the Mercury Phoenix Trust to raise awareness of AIDs and fight the virus across the world in his name.

Queen’s legendary performance at Wembley Stadium for Live Aid in 1985 remains the most enduring and recognisable image of Freddie Mercury. The manner in which he dominated the stage and the stadium, leading 72,000 people and no doubt many of the 2 billion tuning in on television through the band’s set, including one was ultimately public vocal warm up, created what is unquestionably one of the greatest moments in rock history.

I was privileged to have been in the audience of Queen’s last ever concert in 1986 and to this day is the best ever concert I have ever witnessed.

Freddie inspires people even today through his music and Queen’s anthems are played at sporting and other events across the globe more than 20 years after Mercury’s death.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale carried out pioneering work during the Crimean War (1853-1856) to improve the care of sick and wounded soldiers. She introduced women nurses into military hospitals, set up kitchens to provide suitable diets for the sick, provided recreational facilities for convalescents and improved the distribution of supplies.

These principles became the basis for the way the Red Cross worked in later wars.

One of Florence Nightingale’s greatest achievements was to raise nursing to the level of a respectable profession for women. In 1877 the War Office decided to increase the number of women nurses employed in military hospitals after perseverance by Florence Nightingale in the face of official opposition.

Florence Nightingale is a true inspiration. She was a real leader, not only of nurses but of women, at a time when many things were almost impossible for women. She managed to get many changes by using statistics. She was one of the first people to use pie charts, to demonstrate simply that more soldiers in the Crimea were dying from infection than from their wounds. She was able to work on a broader canvas and we need that kind of inspiration for nurses today, about understanding the impact of people’s lifestyle and emotions, as well as their physical needs.

I hope you enjoyed part  1 of this A to Z. Part 2 here!

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A to Z of Career Progression

A to Z Career ProgressionThe world of work has evolved and changed significantly in the last 20 years. No longer is a job for life and you need to be in the driving seat when it comes to career progression. When did you last make time to reassess what you want from your career? Maybe today is that day! I thought I’d put this A to Z together to give some tips on where you might focus, what planning you might want to carry out and what action you can take to work on your career.

A – Ambition

I guess you wouldn’t be reading this post at all if you weren’t ambitious and didn’t want to learn more about how to develop yourself, your standard of living or find your next role.

Donald Trump extols the importance of ambition with the following quote:

“Get going. Move forward. Aim High. Plan a take-off. Don’t just sit on the runway and hope someone will come along and push the airplane. It simply won’t happen. Change your attitude and gain some altitude. Believe me, you’ll love it up here.”

Unfortunately, ambition by itself will not get you where you want to go. Ambition must be paired with action and execution to be truly meaningful.

B – Brand You

What is it that you want from life? What’s your vision for your own future? What personal values do you live by? What’s important for you in your life? Where would you like to be in 10 years? How do you want to be perceived by others?

I’ve found a couple of simple ways to get to the bottom of some of these often tough questions.

  1. Imagine that you were told you had 10 years to live, starting today, and you would be completely healthy during that time. How would you spend that time?
  2. Imagine that you’re 100 years old, you’ve lived your life to the full and you know that you only have a minute or so before you leave this world. Your great-granddaughter is sitting by your side and she asks you – ‘From everything you’ve learned from your life, what advice could you give me as to how I get the most from mine?’

Doing these two exercises could have a powerful impact on you. They did with me. Your answers will help you understand your personal brand and brand values and ultimately your OMG – your One Magnificent Goal!

For more information on your personal brand please see a downloadable series of posts – Brand New, Brand You

C – Career Planning

So, you’re ambitious, you understand your personal Vision, Values and what you want from life. That’s more than most people, so you’re off to a good start!

If you’re a regular Think Oak! reader you’ll know what comes next – Goals! Setting Goals for your career path, will help you monitor your progress and give you a plan, that you should revisit at least quarterly, but I would suggest monthly.

Your career plan should have some short, medium and long-term goals. Work back from your One Magnificent Goal, your OMG (if you have one!) and fill in the milestones along the way and more detailed, inch-pebbles in the nearer term.

It’s a good idea to review this with at least one other person on a regular basis to keep you honest and on track.

Download a free Think Oak! Career and Development Template here

D – Discipline

Progressing in your career and working through your personal development plan requires commitment and discipline. One of the main reasons why people fail is that there is no discipline in their action. They give themselves excuses why they cannot consistently follow-up on their plans. You will need to sacrifice some personal time to complete your goals in your career plan and that sacrifice takes discipline. Discipline also ensures that you can be persistent, especially when faced with challenges after challenges in your journey to success.

Entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn said:

‘We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment’

Your choice!

E – Elevator Pitch

You’re in an elevator, a corridor or at a party and the CEO of the firm you’ve always wanted to work for, is standing next to you. What do you say?

Elevator pitches are developed to relay just enough information to cause the person you’re speaking to, to ask, “Tell me more.” If you’re lucky, the CEO will say, “If you have a few minutes, I want to hear more.” If you’re even luckier, your prospective boss will ask you to set up an appointment the next day to meet up. All of that from the development, memorising, and tweaking of a few simple yet incredibly powerful words.

Putting your pitch together

1. Who are you? Introduce yourself and your credentials up front. There’s no point in saying anything if the listener has no idea who you are or if you have any credibility.

2. What’s your objective? Get to the point quickly about what you are looking for or how that person can help. Being direct not only grabs attention but helps the listener to put your pitch into context.

3. What can you do for the listener? This is where you explain how recruiting you will meet their need. Your goals and dreams are all well and good but remember in the end what you are offering must benefit them. This is your chance to communicate what makes you someone who your audience should consider helping.  People typically like to help those that they feel will be successful in the process.  There are a few things you should think about when highlighting your qualifications:- industry relevance, leadership, expertise, pedigree, and impact.

4. The close – this is tricky to deliver effectively, but ideally you need an outcome to the conversation. This could be a follow-up meeting with the person you’re pitching to, a name of someone who you need to contact to follow-up, or some advice as to how to reach your goal.

Once you have your personal elevator pitch, practice it in front of the mirror. If possible, try to video or audio tape yourself, and watch it in fast forward. You’ll be amazed at your nervous habits!

F – Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway

In Susan Jeffers’ book ‘Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway’, she gives some great insight and practical tools to help you improve your self-belief and your ability to face even the things that you fear the most.

It’s almost impossible to go through life without experiencing some kind of failure. People who do so probably live so cautiously that they go nowhere. Put simply, they’re not really living at all.

The wonderful thing about failure is that it’s entirely up to us to decide how to look at it.

We can choose to see failure as “the end of the world,” or as proof of just how inadequate we are. Or, we can look at failure as the incredible learning experience that it often is. Every time we fail at something, we can choose to look for the lesson we’re meant to learn. These lessons are very important; they’re how we grow, and how we keep from making that same mistake again. Failures stop us only if we let them.

G – Glass Ceiling and How to Smash It

Despite knowing that you have much more potential, is there a limit for “people like you” in your organisation? If so, you’ve hit what’s known as the “glass ceiling.” This is the point at which you can clearly see the next level of promotion – yet, despite your best efforts, an invisible barrier seems to stop you from getting there.

Historically, the glass ceiling concept was applied to women and some minorities. It was very hard, if not impossible, for them to reach senior management positions. No matter how qualified or experienced, they simply were not given opportunities to further advance their careers. Thankfully today, there are many more women and minorities in powerful positions. However, the glass ceiling is still very real. And it’s not always limited to gender or race.

Below are 5 ways you can help to smash through the glass ceiling:

  • Align your objectives and competencies with senior management
  • Build your internal network and relationships
  • Over-perform in everything you do
  • Find a mentor within senior management
  • Move sideways under a different manager who will support your growth

If all else fails you do have a choice to move from your organisation altogether for your next career move.

H – Hard Work

I don’t know many successful people who have got to where they have without a great deal of hard work. True hard work never goes unnoticed. You will gain a recognition and prominence not only in the organisation that you are working in, but also outside the company in your profession.  This will surely work for you when you are creating your job reputation & professional profile.

I’m not saying you have to work 16 hour days every day, although that might be necessary sometimes. I’m saying that 9-5 no longer exists; a job for life no longer exists; and a ‘God-given’ right to promotion based upon your tenure in an organisation, no longer exists.

I – Intuition

Boosting your intuitive intelligence and using it to “coach” you on the job can be your career’s secret weapon. This was confirmed in a research study at New Jersey Institute of Technology, which tested hundreds of business managers for intuitive ability. Those who demonstrated superior intuitive ability also were better at effective decision-making skills. In a Harvard study, 80 percent of surveyed executives credited their success to intuition. And business luminaries from Conrad Hilton to Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey have declared it essential for success. Donald Trump said, “I’ve built a multi-billion-dollar empire by using my intuition.”

So, how can we use this valuable skill on the job to become smarter, better employees? You can boost your intuitive intelligence by becoming aware of it, tuning in to what it’s trying to tell you, and heeding its advice. Like any skill, the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.

J – Job Satisfaction

Generally, you can have three fundamental approaches to your work:

Is it your career, your job, or your passion?

Depending on which category of work you put yourself in, the things which offer you satisfaction will vary.

If you feel you are pursuing your career, then chances of promotion and career development opportunities will measure your levels of job satisfaction. Your overall level of satisfaction will be closely associated with your power, status, or position.

If you feel you are doing a job, then it is the salary which will measure your levels of job satisfaction.

If you feel you are pursuing your passion, then work itself will determine your level of satisfaction, no matter what money you are earning or what your position in the organisation is.

In order to attain job satisfaction, first realise what kind of person you are and what gives you happiness. If you are happy, you tend to feel satisfied.

K – Key Performance Indicators

What are your personal KPI’s? Do you have any? Every individual has different goals in different spheres of their lives, whether at work or at home. How do you know when you’re on track or off-track?

By keeping a regular view of what’s important to you in order to advance your career, your relationships, your health or your finances you can begin to understand which areas of your life you need to invest time to improve.

As with any performance indicators, they should have target dates / measures and your should track your progress against them. Where you are falling short, you will need to put remedial action against them. As with your career plan, it is often useful to discuss these with someone you trust to keep you on track.

L – Learn More, Earn More

If you are looking to advance your career, get promoted or even just stay relevant in today’s job market you must be developing new skills all of the time. Many of those skills you will need to develop will be outside of your comfort zone. You need to stretch, take risks and sometimes fail!

Continuous learning is a must for anyone wanting to progress their career. The next few letters within this A to Z will give you some pointers on how to keep your knowledge and learning current and more importantly useful to progressing your career.

M – Mentor

Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. More professionals these days are actively pursuing mentoring to advance their careers. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, these types of partnerships can benefit your career.

A mentoring partnership may be between two people within the same organisation, same industry, same networking organisation or anyone whose professional opinion you value and have a good relationship with. However the partners come together, the relationship should be based on mutual trust and respect, and it typically offers personal and professional advantages for both parties.

A trusted mentor can help you do the following:

• Gain valuable advice – Mentors can offer valuable insight into what it takes to get ahead. They can be your guide and “sounding board” for ideas, helping you decide on the best course of action in difficult situations. You may learn short-cuts that help you work more effectively and avoid “reinventing the wheel.”

• Develop your knowledge and skills – They can help you identify the skills and expertise you need to succeed. They may teach you what you need to know, or advise you on where to go for the information you need.

• Improve your communication skills – Just like your mentor, you may also learn to communicate more effectively, which can further help you at work.

• Learn new perspectives – Again, you can learn new ways of thinking from your mentor, just as your mentor can learn from you.

• Build your network – Your mentor can offer an opportunity to expand your existing network of personal and professional contacts.

• Advance your career – A mentor helps you stay focused and on track in your career through advice, skills development, networking, and so on.

N – Network

Please see previous post on Networking – Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…

O – Opportunities

Opportunities are all around you, all of the time. So you need to be continually watching out for them. Get into the habit of looking for possible opportunities every day. Keep a notebook or digital recorder with you, or use a smartphone app like Evernote to note down opportunities when you think of them. Write down as many possible opportunities as you can – you can trim your list back to the most relevant opportunities later on.

You also need to make an effort to seek out “hidden” opportunities. These are opportunities like job openings that aren’t advertised, and projects that you can initiate because you have spotted an unfulfilled need within your organisation or industry.

Begin with your organisation. Keep an eye on current internal or upcoming vacancies, and on any plans for the organisation to expand or change direction. Also, think about how you could progress in the organisation from your current position – what paths are available to you?

It might be obvious which opportunity is best for you. If not, it can be useful to do a grid analysis to make a well-balanced decision. This technique works by getting you to list your options as rows on a table, and the factors that are important to you (such as fit with your strengths and interests) as columns.

You then score each option/factor combination, weight this score by the relative importance of the factor, and add these scores up to give an overall score for each option.

P – Politics without the Politics

Please see previous post – Playing Politics without the Politics

Q – Qualifications

Having the right qualifications for your chosen career will very often get you through the door for an interview. Depending on your particular field, and seniority in that field, you may require more or less vocational qualifications.

For any career, keeping your skills current and future-proofed should be an ongoing and important part of your development. In many cases, this may be ‘on the job’ learning and development, but many occupations also demand a level of qualification for you to even be considered to move to the next level. That being said, once you’re working in an organisation, it will very often be your attitude, work-rate, delivery and over-achievement that will count much more than qualifications for progression.

R – Read

According to a Harvard Business Review article last year, the leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging. Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Some studies have shown, for example, that reading makes you smarter through “a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills.” Reading — whether Wikipedia, Michael Lewis, or Aristotle — is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information. Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. And leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations are more likely to innovate and prosper.

Reading can also make you more effective in leading others. Reading increases verbal intelligence, making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator. Reading novels can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to better work with and understand others — traits that author Anne Kreamer persuasively linked to increased organisational effectiveness, and to pay raises and promotions for the leaders who possessed these qualities. And any business person understands that heightened emotional intelligence will improve his or her leadership and management ability.

Using down-time during your day, you can increase your reading capacity enormously. There are a plethora of ways to access books on the move – Smartphones, tablet devices and audio books. I personally find that using my daily commute to listen to audio books means that I can get through 4 or 5 books per month.

S – Soft Skills

Aside from reading, attaining professional qualifications and ‘on-the-job’ training, it’s also worth investing time, effort and money in honing some of the softer skills, often untaught in schools and universities and expected in senior business positions. This sort of training falls into 2 broad categories, namely Self-Management and People Skills. I’ve listed below some of the skills within these broad headings that you may wish improve upon once you have a good understanding of your Strengths and Areas for Development under letter ‘U’ below.

Self-Management

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-promotion
  • Time Management
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Problem Analysis & Solving
  • Working with others
  • Building Teams
  • Delegation

People Skills

  • Communication Skills
  • Presentation Skills
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Selling & Negotiation
  • People Management
  • Leadership
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Mentoring & Coaching

Getting this sort of training maybe freely available through your organisation, or via training companies or through local colleges. Be sure to get feedback on the course content and quality before you invest your valuable time, effort and money.

T – Treat Everyone with Respect

Albert Einstein said it best, I think:

“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”

Respect is not only about how you talk to people. Human beings crave the respect of others; it’s in our DNA. When we feel like nobody respects us, it’s difficult for us to be positive and productive. When we don’t respect ourselves, we act in ways that our counter to our interests in an attempt to make ourselves feel better.

Cultivating self-respect and earning the respect of others goes a long way toward leading a balanced, healthy, happy life as well as improving your chances of career progression.

The 10 commandments of Respect according to Think Oak! All of which could be encompassed by – ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated’

  1. Act with integrity
  2. Display good manners
  3. Be punctual
  4. Actively listen when someone is talking to you
  5. Follow through on your promises
  6. Understand the impact that you might have on others – your ‘Shadow’
  7. Be compassionate
  8. Value the opinion of others
  9. Be appreciative
  10. Admit when you’re wrong

U – Understand your Strengths & Areas for Development

On the downloadable Think Oak! Career and Development Template, you will find two sections to complete around Strengths and Areas for Development.

Before you complete these sections, I’d like you to do two separate tasks:

  1. Write down all your Strengths and Areas for Development that you can think of. Refine these down to those you will really need to work on to achieve your OMG.
  2. Get some feedback. You may think you know who your are and what you need to do to achieve your goals, but you may find that trusted people in your network can help you tweak or even re-evaluate some of these.

Now, fill in your template.

V – Volunteer

Whether internally or externally, volunteer to do new things, especially if they’re not in your job description! Get involved in initiatives that your organisation is launching or volunteer in your local community. Getting involved in new initiatives or community activity has a number of benefits:

Internal:

Many organisations give people opportunities to get involved in projects that are outside of your job description whether that be Customer Experience Champions, Employee Representatives on committees or sponsors for particular projects. Whilst you shouldn’t allow these opportunities to prevent you from completing your objectives at work, they are a great opportunity for you to build you profile with people from around the organisation, learn new skills and widen your sphere of influence – assuming you do a good job and don’t just use it as an excuse to get away from your day job!

External:

If you’re considering a new or change of career, volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and help you meet people in the field. Even if you’re not planning on changing careers, volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and people skills. You might feel more comfortable stretching your wings at work once you’ve honed these skills in a volunteer position first.

Volunteering also offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment. It is also a great way to gain experience in a new field. In some fields, you can volunteer directly at an organisation that does the kind of work you’re interested in. For example, if you’re interested in nursing, you could volunteer at a hospital or a nursing home. Your volunteer work might also expose you to professional organisations or internships that could be of benefit to your career.

Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are basic. Many volunteering opportunities provide extensive training. For example, you could become an experienced crisis counsellor while volunteering at the Samaritans or gain NVQ’s towards teaching qualifications as a support teacher.

Volunteering can also help you build upon skills you already have and use them to benefit the greater community. For instance, if you hold a successful sales position, you raise awareness for your favourite cause as a volunteer advocate, while further developing and improving your public speaking, communication, and marketing skills.

W – Work – Life Balance

This is a tough one for ambitious, driven and career-minded people. It’s actually very easy to get to a point when you’re consistently working 12, 13, 14 or more hour days. For most people, it is physically not sustainable to continue to produce continued quality results working at this level. Something will give – your health, your marriage and family life, your relationships outside of work, your personal time or a combination of any or all of these. It is much better to work on your personal time management skills, your delegation of tasks and understanding what’s critical to your success than to burn yourself out. Believe me, I know from personal experience!

Work smarter, not harder. Don’t get me wrong  – You will need to put in an all-nighter occasionally, you will and should invest in entertaining customers or building your network outside of the 9-5, but you should equally invest time in yourself, your friends and family and for relaxation.

X – 10000 Hours of Mastery

X with a horizontal line above it, is the Roman numeral for 10,000 and Malcolm Gladwell in his great book, Outliers, states that 10,000 hours of practice is required to truly master a field in life, citing The Beatles, Bill Gates and others as examples.

In order to be the best at anything, you do need innate talent, but you also need to practice your craft and practice a great deal!

Hard work alone is not enough, however. Talent, passion and spotting as well as taking opportunities also matter.

Y – You are in charge

Your career progression is no-one else’s responsibility other than your own. You set the pace, you decide when to leave a job that you don’t enjoy, and ultimately you decide how much effort you want to invest in your future. With the right attitude, behaviours, skills, experience and support, you can achieve your goals. Take the next step today!

Z – Zeroes and how to add them to your salary

By acting upon this A to Z, you are already positioning yourself for success in your career. It is essential that you continue to work on your career plan. Review it each month and update your 30, 60 and 90 day plans accordingly. Continually look for opportunities and take seriously any that come your way. Whilst it is often easier to stay in your comfort zone, that isn’t the way to progress your career. You will need to take some risks. Some will pay off, others won’t, but you will learn from them!

I hope you enjoyed the A to Z of Career Progression. As always, would love to hear any feedback or thoughts you may have.

Six of the Best …. Failures

Following on from my last post Fail to Learn, Learn to Fail, I’ve done some research into some famous business people to see how rocky their road to success was. I was surprised by a few names and fascinated by others, so I thought I’d share some of them with you:

Walt DisneyWalt Disney

‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them’

Today Disney rakes in billions from merchandise, movies and theme parks around the world, but Walt Disney himself had a rough start. He was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After that, Disney started a number of businesses that didn’t last long and ended with bankruptcy and failure. Legend has it he was turned down 302 times before he got financing for creating Disney World. He kept going with his mantra – Dream, Believe, Dare, Do and eventually found a recipe for success that transformed the dreams of millions of children and adults alike. Unfortunately he wasn’t alive to see his Walt Disney World vision become reality.

Winston Churchill

‘Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.’

This Nobel Prize-winning, twice-elected Prime Minster of the United Kingdom wasn’t always as well-regarded as he is today. Churchill struggled in school and performed poorly. After school he faced many years of political failures, as he was defeated in every election for public office until he finally became the Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 62.

During Churchill’s political career, he made numerous decisions that would turn into failures. In the First World War, he led the troop who invaded Turkey in order to establish a southern link with Russia, which resulted into a complete failure and loss of many young soldiers from Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, ANZAC. In the Second World War he was chiefly responsible for taking over Norway and he was defeated by the German army. In spite of all the failures and criticism, Churchill is regarded as one of the greatest leaders and orators of the 20th century.

In 1953 he received the Noble Prize for Literature for the book ‘The Second World War’, In 1963, the US Congress granted him an honorary American citizenship. In 1940 and in 1949, the Time magazine honoured Churchill with the “Man of the Year”.

J.K. RowlingJ. K. Rowling

‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.’

Jo Rowling is a huge success on a global scale due to her Harry Potter stories, but before she published the series of novels she was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel, which incidentally was rejected by 12 publishers before being published by Bloomsbury. Rowling went from struggling to survive on benefits to being one of the richest women in the world in a span of only five years through her hard work and determination.

Richard BransonRichard Branson

‘You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over’

Richard Branson has tried many different things in his life. He likes to compete and prove to bigger players that the smaller ones can indeed win too in business.

Virgin Cola, introduced by Richard Branson in 1994 as the rival to Coca-Cola, has practically disappeared. Virgin Clothes, launched on the stock exchange in 1996, folded with losses to shareholders, after debuting with promising new trends in providing more edgy wardrobe to the young. Virgin Money was launched with a viral and somewhat controversial advertising campaign, panned by critics with Richard Branson emerging naked from the sea, but did not deliver the expected big financial rewards to its shareholders. Then came Virgin Vie, Virgin Vision, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Wine, Virgin Jeans, Virgin Brides, Virgin Cosmetics and Virgin Cars – All the major brands who wanted to compete and earn a huge market share from established brands in those areas, failed to live up towards expectations.

He has lost millions upon millions, if not billions, over the years. Many people would have given up along the way. But he hasn’t allowed his failures to stop him from trying again. He has learnt from his mistakes and gone on to be extremely successful again and again. It is his willingness to give things a go that has seen him succeed. He sees his failures as a step to success.

Albert EinsteinAlbert Einstein

‘A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.’

Most people would come up with the name Albert Einstein, if you asked them to name a genius.  Yet even for Einstein genius did not come easy.  He had speech difficulties as a child and was once even thought to be mentally handicapped. As a teen he rebelled against his schools reliance on rote learning and failed.  He tried to test into Zurich Polytechnic, but failed again (although he did very well in the mathematics and physics section!  A few years later he had a PHD and was recognized as a leading theorist.  A few years after that he had a Nobel prize for physics and began to be recognized as the genius of our modern era.

James DysonJames Dyson

‘By fostering an environment where failure is embraced, even those of us far from our student days have the freedom to make mistakes — and learn from them still. No one is going to get it right the first time. Instead of being punished for mistakes along the way, learn from them. I fail constantly. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.’

While developing his vacuum, Sir James Dyson went through 5,126 failed prototypes and his savings over 15 years. By the time he made his 15th prototype, his third child was born. By 2,627, he was really struggling financially. By 3,727, Dyson’s wife was giving art lessons for some extra cash. Each failure brought him closer to solving the problem. It wasn’t the final prototype that made the struggle worth it. The 5,127th prototype worked and now the Dyson brand is one of the best-selling vacuum cleaners in the World.

Hope you enjoyed reading Six of the Best…Failures. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes of the moment :

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

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