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Being a leader - how to deliver bad news?

Earlier this week, I was asked to participate in a senior management VC of one of the industry’s leading organizations. The main issue on the virtual table was how to communicate impending disappointing news (layoffs, salary reductions, etc.) to their employees.  


As we all settled into the virtual conference room, one of the participants, who seemed a little agitated, spoke up:


“I might be preaching to the choir, but I really can’t stand those cliches that have been going around. You know, ‘every cloud has its silver lining,’ or ‘making lemonade out of lemons.’ Our employees deserve a heck of a lot more than that.”


I smiled and gave a big nod of approval. I took the floor.


“From my point of view, I don’t have an issue with what these kinds of sayings want to teach us. What I do have a problem with, though, is how they are used.”


“What do you mean, Etika,” another participant asked.


“Look, I am well-aware of the fact that delivering disappointing news to your employees is probably one of the most challenging and frustrating parts of being a leader. I’ve seen this played out many times, and it’s never pleasant, no matter how it’s packaged.”


I switched to gallery view on my VC software and saw all of the talking heads nod in agreement.


I continued, “But when you approach your employees with disappointing news, you have to put yourselves in their shoes first. This is definitely not the time to make things easy for yourselves. You’re the leaders here. You’re going to have to put yourselves out there so that they can feel how difficult it is for you to face them.”


I looked out at the Hollywood Squares and noticed a little confusion.


“I have a hunch that today many of you expected me to come with a written script to read to your employees, filled with wise advice,  brimming with optimism towards the future - sayings such as, ‘when one door closes, another opens.’” But that’s not going to happen today.


I looked at my screen. Silence. Was my laptop frozen? No, they were in shock.


“Now, please don’t get me wrong,” I continued. “Those of you who’ve worked with me over the years know that I’m the first person to try to turn a crisis into an opportunity. However, as I said before, you have to put ourselves in your employees’ shoes. And frankly, they’re just not ready to hear about the “day after.” They are worried about tomorrow.”


“In fact,” I said, “any talk of optimism will probably backfire.”


I peered into my screen, trying my best to read the body language of the other participants. I could see they were looking for answers.


“So here’s what I think would be an effective way to approach things. First, each part of the population needs to hear a specific message for their particular situation. This will require dividing employees into groups, such as those who are facing a salary reduction and those about to be laid off. Then, these groups need to be separated again according to level, such as middle managers and line employees. You will need to hold separate meetings with each subgroup.”


I continued, “Begin each meeting by genuinely showing both how uncomfortable you are with the situation as well as the personal sacrifices you are making to keep the organization going. This will help your employees begin to connect with you, at least on a basic level. Not only will they see that you’re also affected, they’ll also understand you’re doing your best to restore things for them as quickly as possible.”


“The next stage is very important,” I emphasized. “Here, you have to demonstrate that the organization wants to help them during this time of crisis. It’ll take some planning, but for example, you could provide guidance in managing finances or mini-courses in improving professional skills. I’m sure you have the in-house talents for all kinds of offerings. Under today’s circumstances, all it takes is a laptop and goodwill.” 


I conceded, “Of course, there’s no substitute for bringing back a full salary and stable job. But the feeling that the organization is trying, under these exceptional circumstances, to do what it can, will at least offer some encouragement to employees as they navigate this crisis.”


Many of the faces began to lighten up and I could sense wheels turning in the minds of most participants. They were formulating plans.


“I’ll leave you with this,” I said. “It’s crucial, especially since we can’t meet face-to-face, that our messages are both clear and sincere. This is the time, as a leader, to rise to this occasion. 


And always remember: 


Great managers are made. Not born.


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2022- A New Beginning

New beginnings always bring new opportunities - but it’s up to us to decide whether to make these opportunities our own - an important part of career goals for managers. Unfortunately, from my experience, very few of us take full advantage of new opportunities. This is usually attributed to what people mistakenly call a “realistic” view of such opportunities. They incorrectly overestimate the gap between where they are and where they could be. So they decide it’s not realistic to go for the opportunity - better to stay put. 

Others who understand the importance of career goals for managers realize that opportunities cannot be wasted. Yes, it takes work, but it’s not impossible. I hope you’re part of this second category of managers. It’s 2022 and you have a world of opportunities awaiting you. Here’s how to get going: 

First, it’s important to understand that seizing new opportunities means making some changes of your own. To do this, you’ll have to take an inventory of your current habits to see which ones might help or hinder your journey towards new opportunities. For example, when making decisions, do you often seek advice from everyone in your department? Perhaps such a habit has caused you to miss out on time sensitive deals. 

Once you’ve taken your habit inventory, follow these steps:


1.    Identify the habits you need to change.

2.    Reduce these habits so that you can control them. This means being able to take them out and put them away as needed. If you get this right, you’ll find that you’ve made room for desirable habits to take root and grow.

3.    Nourish and monitor your desirable habits. With persistence, they will become second nature and lead you towards success.

With this plan, you’ll seize the right opportunities in 2022 and before you know it, it’ll will be your year of success. During 2022, I’ll explore some of the topics I’ve touched on in more detail in the following posts:


1.    “Think big but start small: the #1 key to success”

2.    “Identify habits that are harming your career”

3.    “Reduce harmful habits: why and how?”

4.    “Find your untapped potential: why and how?”


Look out for this special 2022 series. And always remember: 

Great managers are made. Not born.


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My holiday wishes “may all your dreams come true”

At this time of year, as we gather with our loved ones to celebrate the holidays, we find ourselves reflecting on our lives - family, friends, and career. Often, we ask ourselves where we are in achieving our dreams. Are we completely satisfied? Are we possibly a little disappointed? This is probably why one of the most popular greetings during this time of year is “may all your dreams come true.” 


So what about your career dreams? Have you met your own expectations? To help you along, allow me to wish you 4 things this holiday season.


Holiday Wish #1: Unleash your dreams.

At this magical time of year, dare to dream what you’ve never dreamed before. Dreams allow us to think “out of the box” - to transcend the normal borders of our imagination - beyond how to measure success at work. Use your innate ability to dream about your dream career - especially if it seems to be “the impossible dream.” You see, such “impossibility” is actually the stuff dreams are made of...and facing impossibility in your dreams is the only way to overcome it in life. Here are four useful reminders that will hopefully get you dreaming:


Just as in fairy tales, in real life, dreams are meant to come true.

Every great thing we’ve ever known - ideas, inventions, cures - started with a dream. 

If you don’t have a dream, you can’t make it come true.


Holiday Wish #2: Visualize your success.

This holiday season, do overtime. No, not at work - visualizing. Clearly visualizing the results of your dreams is a crucial bridge towards making the impossible a reality and part of how to measure success at work. This is because of the simple fact that anything you can visualize, you can accomplish.


So start by visualizing yourself in your corner office. What does it look like? Where is your desk? What’s the view outside your window? Then visualize yourself in different situations in your new job. What’s it like to run a staff meeting? Give an important presentation? Determine a budget? Don’t worry if your visualizations are a little dull or blurred at the beginning. The more you visualize, the sharper and more detailed the images will become. And make sure that your other senses (hearing, smelling, feeling, maybe even tasting) get in on the act as well. The more senses you involve, the more you’ll actually really know what it’s like to have your dream job. So close your eyes and get to work.


Holiday Wish #3: Put your visualization into words.

After you’ve visualized your dream job in as much detail as possible, seize the opportunity to express it in words. When we put our dream job into words, we make it concrete so that we can set the goals needed to turn it into reality. When putting your visualization into words, here are some general questions you should answer:


1. What is your dream job?

2. When do you want to begin it?

3. What are some of the major milestones you’ll need to accomplish along the way?


So start putting things into words - whether you write them down or record them, now is the time. 


Holiday Wish #4: Plan it out.

If you’ve gotten this far (with or without the egg nog), consider how you’ll start realizing your dream as you begin the new year. Of course, this isn’t the time to make a very detailed plan, but while you’ve got things going, it would be a good idea to think about the following:


1. Break down your overall dream job goal into smaller, more manageable “mini-goals.”

2. Assign a rough due date for each of these mini-goals.

3. Keep your eyes on the ball. No backup plans.

4. And of course, believe in your dreams!


And finally, I’d like to wish you a very joyous holiday season, filled with love, happiness, and peace for all. 


Best wishes




P.S. And don’t forget. Great managers are made. Not born.


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Reversing today’s dizzying employee turnover


According to the U.S. Department of Labor, over 11 million people quit their jobs last quarter - and about 50% of workers are actively looking to make a change. No wonder HR folks are so busy chasing their tails to keep up with employee turnover.

But what if there was an alternative?  There is…and your organization already knows what to do.

Imagine if we replaced “high employee turnover” with “high customer turnover”. Your entire organization would high-tail it into red alert, mobilizing every possible resource to retain those customers. Why? Because everyone knows that acquiring new customers is much more expensive than retaining existing ones.

It’s the same with our valued employees. Replacing a mid-level manager costs organizations about $100,000!  So now’s the time to tap into your organization’s customer retention know-how and bring today’s dizzying - and expensive - employer turnover to a halt. 


And always remember: 


Great managers are made. Not born.

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Hybrid leadership coaching: the best of both worlds

Jill is a human resources executive at a large hi-tech company who’s recently been exploring digital solutions to help empower her organization’s mid-level leaders. We’ve been meeting the last few months to discuss the latest trends in executive coaching. 


After my last meeting with Jill, I received a notice about a digital learning fair taking place at the beginning of next month. Thinking that this would be a great opportunity to explore digital tools with Jill. I forwarded the invitation to her and wrote her a note inviting her for coffee at the conference center at the end of the day.


After a truly stimulating fair, with all kinds of innovative digital tools being presented and demonstrated by dozens of firms, I sat down in the break area and waited for Jill.


“Etika!” she shouted. “There you are. What an amazing day! I can’t believe all of the awesome innovations I’ve seen today. So many ideas. Such brilliance.”


I smiled. “I’m so happy you enjoyed the fair today, Jill.” I gave her a hug.


“I’m blown away, Etika. Now I’m starting to understand what you’ve been getting at all along,” said Jill. “Etika, you told me at our last meeting that you’ve also been developing something, right?”


I answered, “Well, it’s actually all developed...and in use. But it took me over five years until I felt I’d gotten it right.”


“Five years?” Jill was amazed. 


“And add to that the 35 years of experience and knowledge it’s based on,” Etika added. “But now it’s being successfully used by managers all over the world.”


Jill said, “Enough suspense, Etika. Tell me about it!”


“With pleasure,” I answered. “But first, do you remember from our last meeting what I’d said are the two main advantages of digital learning tools?”


“I certainly do,” Jill quickly responded. “I’m still a good student. The first is that because of the anytime/anywhere delivery, digital tools allow us to help many more leaders, especially those who might be too busy for face-to-face coaching.”


“You really are a good student,” I said. “Go on.”


“And the second one,” she said, “Is that we can offer a wider range of solutions, therefore ensuring that our organization’s leaders receive customized service.”


“Bravo!” I congratulated. “Well, these two principles guided me in my development of the Executive Mirror Program.”


“The Executive Mirror Program?” Jill repeated. “Tell me more.”


“The Executive Mirror Program, or EMP for short.” I continued, “It’s an online course for mid-level leaders who are stuck in their career. They feel as if they are never going to get promoted and have begun losing hope.”


“From what I’ve seen at my company,” Jill said, “I’ve noticed that this is a huge challenge and it keeps growing.”


“No doubt.” I explained, “It seems that with hypercompetitiveness, more leaders are fighting for their careers than in the past. In fact, 70% of mid-level leaders these days define themselves as stuck to some degree.” 


“That’s a huge number, Etika,” Jill responded. “So there’s your first principle, helping as many leaders as possible - wherever they are.”


“Bingo,” I answered. “With so many stuck leaders, all of the face-to-face hours in the world wouldn’t be able to help them all. That’s why the self-paced online EMP is a perfect solution for them.”


“It certainly is. And what about your second principle, Etika?” asked Jill.


“You mean customized learning, I assume. Well, thanks to sophisticated algorithms, the EMP is actually dynamically tailored for each and every client. No cookie-cutter programs,” I proudly stated.


“So organizations can actually provide a highly-customized solution to each of their leaders,” Jill added.


“Yes,” I said. “Something that would’ve been impossible without digital tools.”


“But what about the personal touch, Etika?” Jill asked. “Aren’t there managers out there who still want to talk to a live coach.”


“Of course, Jill,” I agreed. “And that’s why the EMP can be seamlessly combined with face-to-face coaching. In the digital learning world, we call this hybrid coaching.”


“I see,” Jill answered. “A hybrid between online and face-to-face.”


“Indeed,” I said. “And that’s why I’ve developed a certification course for coaches who’d like to integrate the EMP into a hybrid coaching program.”


“That’s really forward-thinking, Etika,” Jill said. “So the EMP can also be used as part of a live coaching program.”


“That’s right. Maximum flexibility in delivering a tailored experience,” I said. “This is a major advantage that digital learning tools can offer us.”


I added, “And don’t forget, Jill. Many leaders are already experiencing 24/7 learning online, whether it’s checking out a series of YouTubes on a subject or taking a full university course.”


“So you’re saying our organization’s leaders will come to expect digital learning tools?” Jill asked.


“No doubt,” I answered. “And if we want to remain at the forefront of our field, as you’ve done so far, Jill, we’ve got to meet their expectations.”


“Etika, I think that I now really understand where you’re coming from,” Jill said. “It’s amazing that you had the foresight to predict all of this five years ago. I feel like such a dinosaur.”


“Nonsense, Jill,” I answered. “Like the folks we help, we avoid change, so sometimes we don’t let ourselves see what’s really happening around us.”


“Well, you’ve certainly opened my eyes, Etika,” Jill admitted.


“I’m glad, Jill. That’s what being your mentor has always been about,” I responded.


“So when do I get to check out your EMP, Etika,” Jill asked.


“Why don’t you come by my office tomorrow at 9, Jill,” I offered. “I’ll show you a full demo. I’m sure you’ll find it both innovative and fascinating.”


“I’m sure of that, Etika. Looking forward,” Jill said.


With that, we got up, hugged as usual, and left the conference center, both of us contemplating our bright future with the help of digital learning tools. 


And always remember: 


Great managers are made. Not born.


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Are top leaders always good decision-makers ?

When I welcomed Mark, the CEO of a very successful hi-tech company into my office, I could see that he was less than enthusiastic to see me. 


As he sat down, he told me that he had come to me because his good friend Tim, another top hi-tech CEO, had hounded him so much that he finally agreed. I smiled to Mark and told him that Tim had pleaded with me as well to squeeze him in, as Mark was what he described as an urgent case. 


But after 35 years of practice, this scenario wasn’t new to me. Most successful CEOs are pretty sure they don’t have much to learn from leadership coaches like me - especially professional development goals for managers. 


“Well, Mark, now that we’ve both kept our promises to Tim, we can end things now and part as friends,” I said. I had decided to put the ball in Mark’s court.


Mark was completely taken off guard and even looked embarrassed. We remained silent for a few moments and then he began to speak.


“It’s not just a saying that it’s lonely at the top,” he uttered. 


“Everything is great when the company is running well. My employees are keen to share the credit for our successes, and of course, I’m more than happy to do so. But when things go wrong, it gets very cold and lonely,” he admitted. 


Mark told me that he had confided in Tim about a week ago, when he’d returned from a board meeting, completely disillusioned. His company had turned out very good quarterly results, yet the board had hoped for larger growth. 


Mark had explained that because of recent trade conflicts, it was taking longer than expected to produce certain components in Asia. As a result, there had been a delay in sales. 


“But the board wouldn’t accept this explanation,” he upsettingly said. 


“They were only interested in seeing a steeper growth graph.”


He continued: “And with all due respect, Etika, I’m really not sure what this has to do with you or how you can help...unless you can recommend some other factories.”


I told Mark that in terms of factories, he’d have to consult with someone else, but regarding his bigger question, every CEO needs and should engage in leadership coaching to promote professional development goals for managers like himself. 


“Mark, let me ask you a question. In the last month or so, how many times have you made a tough decision based on your experience, even your gut feelings?” I asked.


Mark gave a wry smile and answered, “Countless times, of course. That’s what’s expected of me - to use both my experience and intuition. That’s why things generally run pretty smoothly.”


“No doubt in my mind, Mark,” I replied. “By the way, do you have any idea what percentage of our decisions comes from habit versus actual processing,” I asked.


Mark shook his head.


“Research shows that about 40% of our daily decisions are automatic, while we only really think through the other 60%,” I said.


“Honestly, I didn’t know that,” Mark replied with interest. “Is this good or bad? Should I be doing something else?” he asked.


“Great question,” I said. “The good part of acting automatically 40% of the time is that it allows us to decide things quickly, thus increasing efficiency and saving us time,” I answered. 


“I see,” said Mark.


But then I continued: “The downside is that sometimes we react inappropriately to certain situations we think we’ve seen before.


 As experienced managers, we’re expected to think quickly on our feet. This sometimes comes at the expense of taking the time to analyze the situation and think things through.”


“Right, I can relate to that,” Mark admitted. “I’ve shot from the hip a few times - regretting it later.”


“Exactly,” I said with a smile. “Of course, automatic reactions are great for efficiency, but sometimes they need to be restrained. Such restraint allows you to stop and consider if your instincts should be acted upon for a particular situation. This is similar to counting to ten before reacting when you’re angry.”


“I see what you mean,” Mark said.


“And once you do learn to stop and think, you’ll find that you’ll actually develop and add new and improved automatic reactions to your repertoire, rather than sort of recycling yourself” I added.   


“Right,” Mark said interestingly.


“As I see things, this is the secret to real growth in managers...the ability to evolve even at the most senior levels,” I commented. “And this is also the place where many CEOs like yourself are lacking, which leads to the “lonely at the top” feeling you mentioned earlier,” I added.


“That makes some sense,” Mark said.


“But you have to want to grow, Mark, and that means regularly meeting with a leadership coach,” I asserted. 


Inside, I wasn’t sure whether Mark was convinced. I told him that our time was up and that if he wanted guidance in growing even further, I would be happy to take him on. 


Mark was a bit surprised by my abrupt ending, but again, I felt that putting the ball back in his court was the right thing to do.


Based on my experience, CEOs either exhaust themselves out and find another career or carry on trying to grow. It’ll be interesting to see what Mark decides to do.


 And always remember: 


Great managers are made. Not born.


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Supporting Middle Managers in Today’s Technological Revolution


A recent study in Harvard Business Review of 3000 global remote knowledge workers found that middle managers are 46% less satisfied with their work, compared to senior managers -  attributing this to a lack of a sense of belonging, pressure, and lower productivity.   


So what’s driving this disgruntlement? 


According to London Business School professor of management Lynda Gratton, the world is in the midst of a type of “industrial revolution,” except that this time around, it’s called the Technological Revolution. Before the Industrial Revolution, the economy was based on an apprenticeship model. Masters would teach their craft to apprentices, who went on to become masters themselves. This economic model worked well until the invention of machines, which quickly replaced both the masters and their apprentices. 


Today’s Technological Revolution seems to be following suit - but this time tech tools are replacing middle managers. Across industries, middle managers have always served as the interface between strategy and planning at the senior levels and execution at the lower levels. Traditionally, middle managers, armed with quarterly goals and KPIs, have been charged with checking output, providing corrective action, and reporting all of this (and more) to senior management. 


But anyone who’s been involved in project management recently can’t deny that technology can do all of the above - often more effectively than middle managers. So with the introduction of these tools, the classic middle manager R&Rs have gone by the wayside. 


What should organizations do?


It’s time to redefine the R&Rs of middle managers and the skills they’ll need to succeed. In terms of R&Rs, technology can’t choose itself (at least for now), so middle managers need to be skilled in identifying specific needs and selecting appropriate technologies that will eventually help them perform better. And tech tools are (still) lacking in team building and development - crucial “fuel” that keeps teams at their best. To do this well, middle managers need to train in soft skill areas such as creating a sense of belonging and encouraging effective communication among their team members. 


The middle management level has always been the backbone of organizations. The backbone remains, but its function has changed. It’s time to support middle managers to thrive in the Technological Revolution.

And always remember: 

Great managers are made. Not born.


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Make others see you through the image you created

There are many factors affecting career development that you have little control over. These might be the company’s willingness to expand or the repeated failure of projects that severely affect the company’s bottom line.

However, when it comes to you and how you are seen by others you have full control. I bet you are asking now, why does this matter? You do your job well and you are a valuable member of the team. 

What you might not realize is that one of the most important factors affecting career development is how differently other people might see you. This may have a negative impact on your career advancement as different people see a different side of your “working” personality. If they do, they will judge your ability to take on senior management roles in different ways.

Let’s take a look at all the different kinds of people you work with. There will be those under you, people in your team, your colleagues at a similar management level in your company, and of course, your bosses, those at a senior level you aspire to join. Each one sees you differently from each other, as well as, from how you see yourself.

Confusing, isn’t it? Well, it’s also quite a normal thing because we behave differently towards others we are in a senior position to than those who are senior to us. We might be more serious looking down the corporate ladder, and more appeasing looking up. We might be more fun and share jokes with our colleagues, and be more emotionally supportive to those on our team. If you take all of the different sides to your personality it goes to make up you as a whole.

The important thing to note here is whether you are hiding the important aspects of yourself and hurting your chances of promotion in the process.

If you are at an impasse in your career then it might be time to take a look at how others perceive you. You might be frustrated by seeing others promoted over you. You may feel that you are not being valued and should perhaps find employment with another company. This can take time and a great deal of effort so make sure it is what you want. Or could you simply change how others see you and stay in a job you enjoy?
What you should do is identify the things that people see in you that are positive and worthwhile to the company. You could create a file that lists the people you work with, and what they know and understand about you.

The next step is to use that information to influence your own view of yourself. This will help you build a better picture of who you are, and more importantly, what you have to offer the company. This will help you influence and change how others see you.

Getting to know yourself will always prove to be tricky so you might want to enlist the help of someone you trust at work. They might be able to show you how to adjust your personal and professional approach to ensure that you are seen in the very best light by each and every person you work with.

Getting that promotion you deserve and climbing the corporate ladder may seem easier for some than others. You might feel like you are missing out, and that is simply not fair. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Taking control and power over where you want to go is about seeing yourself more clearly. Understanding what changes you need to make to succeed and implementing those changes are the first steps to developing a successful career in management.


And always remember: 

Great managers are made. Not born.

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Your habits – the obstacles of your career?

You know it by now. You’re the result of your habits. 

But what you might not realize is that while certain habits might have gotten you to where you are on the career ladder, at some point, they have actually stopped your climb, despite your having aimed your best towards professional development goals for managers.

I’ll illustrate this with a story from my own everyday life. Usually, my daughter takes the school bus to school. But a few months ago, she had to bring in quite a few supplies for a school project, so she asked me to drive her to school, and of course I agreed. After my frantic morning routine of getting dressed, gulping down a cup of coffee and gathering my briefcase, we got into the car to head for her school. Or so I had intended. 

As I switched into the lane leading to the highway, my daughter yelled out, “Mom, where are you going? I’m going to be late for school!” Pretty confused, I slammed on the brakes and realized that I was driving towards my office. It seemed that my habit of driving to work had overtaken my intention to take my daughter to school. I made a u-turn and luckily got her to school on time. My habit of following a certain route to work had served me well - until this particular day. If you are conscious of your habits (unlike I was), then you become aware of when they are helpful and when they are not.

I’m sure you can recall a version of this story in your own life. Now let’s see how it all works.

Studies show that about 40% of your daily decisions are made automatically - without a second thought, so to speak. This allows the other 60% of your brain to take in and process new information. In order to maintain this ratio, your brain is constantly identifying repeated behaviors and turning them into automatic habits, through your brain’s natural compression mechanism. With this mechanism in place, you can actually learn to compress your unhelpful habits - allowing room for your potential habits to be discovered and developed. This should be a significant part of the professional development goals for managers.

At this point, you might be wondering if you have any unhelpful habits that need compressing. The answer is an unequivocal “yes.” I’ll explain.

As you already know, automatic habits are wonderful for getting things done quickly and efficiently, not requiring a minute’s thought. The downside, however, is when they take charge in situations in which they shouldn’t (like in my story above). Now let’s take a business example.

As a middle manager, you might be appreciated for knowing every detail of every project, poised to make quick and efficient decisions, thus driving projects ahead at the speed of light. However, what happens when moving up in the ranks of your company requires releasing some control and nurturing a team to take on responsibilities? Your natural instinct is to take over and decide for them, while what you really need to do is develop the ability to let your team come up with decisions, even if it means they might struggle a bit. As you can see, here you must hold back on your habit for quick, accurate decisionmaking and allow room for a less developed habit, nurturing your team. This is the process of “growing” as a manager, which will lead you to future career success. 

One word of warning: there are many programs out there that claim to have isolated the most needed habits for you to take on easily and painlessly. The sad result of such programs is that like everything else forced on you, you’ll probably drop such “cookie-cutter” habits as soon as you can (think of some of the fad diets out there). On the other hand, if you concentrate on discovering and developing your own innate habits, you’ll be working on something that comes naturally to you - and therefore much more likely to stick and serve you for years to come.


And always remember: 

Great managers are made. Not born.

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What do my competitors have that I don’t?

For those of you about to embark on a job interview, in seeking job promotion interview answers, you’ve no doubt noticed the endless supply of how-to books, informational websites, prep courses, and advice articles.  Of course, there’s a reason for this endless supply: endless demand. And what fuels this endless demand? Simply put: stress. 


Going for a job interview is probably one of the most stressful experiences as you make your way up the corporate ladder - whether inside or outside your current organization. And to try to combat this stress, everyone’s on the hunt for the magic formula that will lead them to the right job promotion interview answers. But even if you’re sure you’ve discovered the “right” way to approach an interview, does this mean you’ll beat out the other candidates? 


Based on my 35 years of experience, the answer is an absolute “no”. And it’s not because you didn’t find the right how-to book or didn’t follow the prep course instructions correctly. It’s because you didn’t answer these three crucial questions:


What do my competitors have that I don’t?

What do I have that my competitors don’t?

What added value can I bring to the organization?


Let’s examine each of these.


1. What do my competitors have that I don’t?

Whenever I ask a manager about to apply for a new job to find out what advantages their competitors have over them, I’m often met with the same response: “How should I know? I don’t even know who else is applying.” But that’s no excuse. Even in cases where you’re completely in the dark, you can always make one assumption: there are candidates out there that meet the job requirements in areas where you don’t. So armed with this assumption, your best bet is to first make a list of these areas. Once you have a list, see if you can brainstorm examples where you might partially meet some of the requirements. Remember, “partially” is better than “none” and will still make a case for your candidacy, especially when the organization takes into consideration other advantages your bring to the table. 


I’ll give you an example. You read in a job ad that at least five years of experience are needed in a certain area, yet you have only three years. You can assume that most (if not all) of your fellow applicants will have at least five years of experience. In this case, the best plan of action would be to demonstrate that your three years were jam packed with the exact kind of experience needed for the job at hand - so much that they’ve prepared you specifically for this new role. If you frame your three years in this way, they will be seen as an advantage over the others who might have five years of experience - but not necessarily as relevant as yours.


2. What do I have that my competitors don’t?


I hope you haven’t put away the list you prepared while answering the first question. Now, it’s time to examine your qualities that might actually exceed the job requirements - positioning  you above your fellow applicants. I call these qualities “surplus points”. Surplus points have to be kept close to your chest and revealed only as needed. Too much waving around of surplus points will flag you as overqualified and unsuitable for the job at hand. Instead, surplus points should be framed as extensions of the job’s core requirements.


For example, a job ad requires retail experience in a certain area such as supermarkets. You have this experience but you also have experience in wholesale. Such a surplus point should be communicated as an extension of the retail experience required by the organization. In other words, you don’t want to overwhelm the interviewer by touting that you can take on both retail and wholesale markets. Instead, you want to illustrate how your understanding of the wholesale markets will assist you in dealing with the retail markets - something other candidates can’t necessarily offer.


3. What added value can I bring to the organization?

Added value in this context means something that you bring to the job that’s not required by the company - but is of specific value to the company. This might sound a lot like the surplus points above, but added value is different. First of all, as I said before, surplus points run the risk of flagging overqualification. Added value, however, is always positive and is usually communicated as specific knowledge the organization would be happy to have. Therefore, your added value should be communicated in a way that results in a pleasant surprise for the interviewer - and sets you leagues above the other candidates. 


For example, you might know that the organization is currently trying to penetrate a specific market you know well. In fact, you have the knowledge to help the organization form its strategy, custom its product or service, and identifying key competitors. This is the added value you could bring to the organization that others cannot offer. It should be made clear in the interview, though brought up within the context of the organization’s current challenges in the new market. And don’t forget to include concrete evidence of your knowledge in that market.


The head of the pack

If you focus on any of the three questions above - or a combination of more than one - you’ll find yourself at the head of the pack when the organization shortlists the leading candidates. As you have seen, it takes some effort to answer these questions, but the payoff will be worth it.


Good luck!


And always remember: 


Great managers are made. Not born.

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