Manage your career like CEOs lead companies — with strong HR, Marketing, R&D and your own Board of advisers
Editor’s Note: It’s Graduation Week on Longitudes. With many college students set to take the plunge into the “real world,” we’ve put together a series of commentaries from senior UPS leaders aimed at making the transition a little easier. Even if you’re not a new graduate, these words of wisdom can help shape your professional journey — or maybe even change how you look at this fast-moving world.
I got my first sales job when I was 17, selling office supplies over the phone. I sold magazine subscriptions and software to help put myself through Georgetown. I started at Xerox as a 20-year-old intern and received my first sales territory at 21, right out of college.
I knocked on doors and cold called. I’d find a way to get past the front desk of an office building, often smooth talking my way in. I’d start on the top floor and work my way down.
I memorized demonstration scripts and learned about objection handling, making sales quotas and competing for sales incentives.
That’s how I grew up in business, and selling is still in my DNA. I’ve held bigger jobs and had fancier titles, but I believe once a salesman, always a salesman.
These days I’m selling a UPS Smart Logistics Network capable of delivering more than 20 million packages and documents a day in 220 countries and territories.
“We must acknowledge the need to continually invent a more capable version of ourselves.”
The Success Triangle
I mention my sales background because all those sales skills — communications, perseverance, dealing with rejection, relationship building, problem solving — are the ones that any of us needs to have to be successful, regardless of the nature of our business or the position we hold.
But as vital as they are, they’re still only the foundation to a successful career. In a world disrupted by changing technology and ever-increasing consumer expectations, a whole new set of rules now applies.
To get ahead in this game, we must learn to play by them, and that starts by acknowledging the need to continually invent a more capable version of ourselves.
One way to think about career development is with what I call the “Success Triangle.”
At the base of the triangle is performance. Results are the minimum qualifier, table stakes in the language of Las Vegas. If you fail to deliver results, the conversation ends.
The second component of success is what I call good behavior. Are you trustworthy and accountable? Are you able to handle ambiguity, embrace rivals and share in others’ success?
Are you a team player? All the strategy and product training is wasted if an organization and its people are not aligned with what they want to accomplish and why.
Third is competency development — a commitment to continuously raising your game. This involves intellectual curiosity and a belief that learning is infinite.
Are you a student of life, work, current and world events? Are you adaptable, acquiring expertise, knowledge, skills and abilities for today and tomorrow? If you’re not, you risk getting overrun.
The Success Triangle
The CEO of Me, Incorporated
These skills and values are ones we learn as salespeople when calling on customers and dealing with their requirements and objections.
Sales is the platform from which anyone can launch themselves to extraordinary heights, even to CEO. That’s because each of us is the CEO of our brand, “Me, Incorporated.”
“You must continually upgrade your abilities — be an iPhone 10, when everyone else is still an iPhone 9.”
Many of the things a CEO considers when leading a company and evaluating personnel are the same things we all need to think about when creating and strengthening our own brand. Those considerations start with delivering performance, which is your sales function.
I remember when I was starting in sales and heard a colleague say he was short of his sales goal for the quarter. But he rationalized the lack of performance by adding that he hit his numbers last quarter or last year.
Our boss had a favorite response to that kind of thinking: “I’m not a student of history,” he would say, “I’m a student of current events.”
Building your reputation is your marketing function. Are you being mindful of your brand and how you present yourself and articulate your ideas? Are you networking effectively?
Every business also needs a strategy team, those responsible for envisioning the future and making sure the business is making the right investments to reach its goals. To get ahead, you have to stay ahead.
You must continually upgrade your abilities — be an iPhone 10, when everyone else is still an iPhone 9.
And, of course, you can’t be an effective CEO of a successful company without a strong team.
As CEO of “Me, Incorporated,” you need a small group of trusted advisers: people who will tell you the truth, professional colleagues who can help you see where you need to grow and with whom you can confide when the going gets tough.
“As CEO of Me, Incorporated, you need a small group of trusted advisers.”
Finally, to stand out, you need to differentiate yourself. My first opportunity to do that was as an instructor in a sales training center at a time when digital technology was first coming onto the scene.
Of course, if I was going to teach a bunch of smart sales reps about digital technology, I was going to have to learn it first.
That experience allowed me to continue to grow and led to my most successful years as a manager and leader.
You may think your job as a researcher, accountant or communicator is as far removed from sales as possible.
But by honing the same skills as salespeople — communications, perseverance, dealing with rejection, relationship building and personal development — you can not only advance in your career, you can reach your full potential as CEO of “Me, Incorporated.”
This article was adapted from a speech given by UPS Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Warren at the Worldwide Express annual sales conference.
Top photo: Kevin Warren speaks at Worldwide Express’s annual sales conference.
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