Five Patterns of Extraordinary Careers
by James Citrin and Richard Smith
(These notes include content (in italics) from the book and the corresponding website http://www.5patterns.com)
Citrin and Smith based their book on a survey of 16,000 top executives. Therefore the authors’ points are often more believable since they are backed by statistics (“Extraordinarily successful executives lead careers that fully leverage both their strengths and their passions six times as often as the average employee.”) Their ideas helped me identify a few patterns in my career which have been both helpful and detrimental.
In general, I am surprised there aren’t more books written on this topic (Amazon suggests “Career Warfare”; one of my favorites “First 90 Days” is obviously more focused but a similar theme). The structure of the book might have been improved if they provided more than five principles from which the reader could have selected depending their type of career. The book does make a basic assumption that the reader is climbing the corporate ladder as opposed to being a small business owner, a teacher, etc.
While reading the book, I often thought the authors could have spent more time giving examples on how a principle was used by a more typical executive, instead of providing a longer narrative on how a principle was used by a super-successful CEO. However while reading this book, I mostly thought about how helpful it would have been if I had read it or a book like it earlier in my career; and that I need to make sure I keep this book and these type of ideas close in mind as my career progresses.
From the Inside Flap:
What is different about the careers of people like Lou Gerstner, the acclaimed, recently retired chairman and CEO of IBM? Or Senator Elizabeth Dole, Yahoo! COO Dan Rosensweig, and Tom Freston, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks?
Why did they ascend to the top and prosper? Why did they have extraordinary careers? While others equally talented never reached their potential or aspirations?
Jim Citrin and Rick Smith of Spencer Stuart, the world’s most influential executive search firm, set out to explore this question. The result based on in-depth, original research is sure to be the most important and useful book for anyone seeking to crack the code of how to build a rewarding, personally satisfying career.
Like weather systems and financial markets, careers contain patterns. What Citrin and Smith found from their research and extensive experience is that people with extraordinary careers are guided by five straightforward patterns that can be harnessed and used by everyone.
The Five Patterns of Extraordinary Careers are:
Understand the Value of You: People with extraordinary careers understand how value is created in the workplace, and translate that knowledge into action, building their personal value over each phase of their careers. Successful executives try to align their activities with how value is created by the organization
There are three phases of your value to an organization: the Potential phase, where employers hire you considering what you will be able to do, the Experiential phase, where employers hire you to put your previous successes to the test, and Harvest phase, where you are reaping the seeds of knowledge sewn in the years of past experience. (One of the suggestions during the Potential phase is “Go Blue Chip Early” both for the training and exposure and to get a brand name on your resume.) I think, however, that there is an underlying assumption that employers are hiring for the long term. Nonetheless, in the very least people hire you for what you have done (and can repeat) and less frequently what they think you can do but haven’t specifically done before. Therefore, you should consider what you have done before and can repeat for success inside a company (one friend suggested that these are the type of activities you should be focused on in the first six months of a new job so you can have early successes) and what activities will expand your career and increase the value you are providing to your company.
To understand your value in the market, you must consider:
• Demographics. You need to assess where you fit in the aggregate supply and demand of professional talent.• Market liquidity. Is your supply in demand? You need to gauge the number of professionals seeking positions versus the number of open positions seeking professionals.• Company volatility. You need to evaluate how fluctuations in corporate valuations enhance or diminish your value in the marketplace.• Intellectual capital. You need to consider how the financial markets value intangible assets, notably intellectual capital, relative to hard assets, or book value.
Practice Benevolent Leadership: Practice benevolent leadership by not clawing their way to the top but by being carried there. Great executives focus on the success of others. Behind every great executive there are great employees and great mentors. People are shown to define success as having both freedom in their job and recognition in the company and their industry which is helpful as you consider your own success and the success of others. Other factors people use to define success include family happiness, learning, health, helping others, net worth, choice of home/community, annual compensation, and time with family/friends.
Solve the Permission Paradox: People with extraordinary careers overcome one of the great Catch-22s of business: you can't get the job without experience and you can't get the experience without the job. Successful careers are built by people gaining experience by doing those things that they weren’t explicitly told they could do. They understand the difference between explicit permission versus implicit permission. However be careful with activities that have neither explicit or implicit permission as they can cause resentment in your organization and among your colleagues.
Differentiate using the 20/80 Principle of Performance: People with extraordinary careers do their defined jobs exceptionally well but don't stop there. They storm past pre-determined objectives to create breakthrough ideas and deliver unexpected impact. The extraordinary executive … consistently meets objectives …. and then uses precious remaining resources to impact the company in other ways with objectives he has created and in areas that generate the most value to the company.
Find the Right Fit (Strengths, Passions, and People): People with extraordinary careers make decisions with the long-term in mind. They willfully migrate towards positions that fit their natural strengths and passions and where they can work with people they like and respect. They don’t micromanage their careers (pick the job which pays $5000 more per year), but macromanage them by gravitating toward the things they are best at and have a passion for, and by working with people they like and respect. One should consider jobs that will lead to your next better job, that help you build your career in the direction you want to build it.
"...many people find, partway up the ascent, that their ladders were leaning against the wrong wall." The authors suggest that career decisions are based on job satisfaction, lifestyle, and compensation. (A richer value matrix of what an ideal job would provide is similar to the success criteria above and could include: learning, adventure, community impact, etc.). However a general point made in the book is that successful careers are managed; opportunities are created and actively sought after rather than passively waited for.
From the website:
Perhaps no lesson in The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers is more important than the power of career knowledge and action. Taking positive actions in a career really does result in positive impact, allowing the patterns of extraordinary careers to manifest themselves. But, as so many careers have shown, positive outcomes from positive actions are rarely immediate. This is an idea we call Detached Impact.In your career, if you create real value for your organization(s), you will almost always be rewarded for it, but not always immediately.
The journey of a successful career is similar to chopping down a great tree. You swing the ax countless times, noticing only minor progress – with many swings, none at all. In the end, there is only one swing that is successful in bringing down the tree, but it is the thousand prior swings that make the achievement possible. Every swing, no matter how immediately visible its impact, is important in the process.
As you change your thinking and begin to take action to implement the 5 Patterns, you may see little immediate impact. But, like each swing of the ax, this is not at all failure. In a career, success must be measured by the positive actions that are taken, not the immediate results. In the short term, rewards are not highly correlated with specific actions but over the long term, they are inseparable. Just as compound interest gains accelerating power over time, so too does the impact of following the success patterns.
Understanding the five patterns of extraordinary careers and tailoring them to you - your personality, aspirations, personal situation and strengths and weaknesses - is well worth it and will help you accomplish the ultimate payoff -- career success and satisfaction under your control and beyond your grandest expectations.
The book also has a section on the Extraordinary Organization (create a success culture, assess and reward performance, help employees achieve potential) enables these principles) and the Spencer Stuart Job (Change) Survival Guide, and how executive search works.