Nigel Dessau, author of Become A 21st Century Executive
Nigel Dessau is the creator behind the 3 Minute Mentor website, which provides significant career guidance in three minute videos. His new book Become a 21st Century Executive is based upon episodes and concepts found in the 3 Minute Mentor videos.
Q: What separates a successful executive from those that will never achieve true corporate success?
Nigel Dessau: To be truly successful you need be offered good opportunities and know how to take advantage of those opportunities when they are presented. There is not much you can do about the luck side of this but there is a lot you can do to prepare to take advantage of the luck when it comes your way.
In the book Become a 21st Century Executive, it is suggested that you focus on four different skill areas: Content, Approach, Networking and Presence. To put it another way: your career growth and development are based on what you know, how you use what you know, who knows it and how you are able to communicate all of this. If you work on those four elements as you move through your career and use these elements to evaluate different career opportunities, your chances of success will be much greater. The book covers more details on what each of these means
There is a fifth element too but it’s the hardest to explain or encourage people to explore. That element is ‘hunger.’ Are you the one who is willing to ‘take the bat’ when someone is needed or do you hold back? Are you willing to take the tough assignments or do you hold back fearing the risk?
If you have the hunger and the right skills then when opportunity comes knocking you will be ready and able to answer.
Q: How important is a mentor to one's career advancement? And how does one find the right mentor?
Nigel Dessau: Almost every successful person I know has multiple mentors. Sometimes they call them advisors and sometimes confidants. Either way, it’s someone to listen and advise. They are not coaches who will talk you through every move but trusted resources to help you understand why you do things and how to make better decisions.
Mentors come from every part of your life and finding them is about understanding what you need help with. Be clear about what areas of your career or skills set need work and seek out someone who knows about them. Maybe it’s a peer, a friend, a pastor or an old boss. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Do try and avoid asking the wrong type of mentor the wrong question.
For instance, I always advise a female leader to ensure they have at least one female mentor. No male mentor is ever going to understand all the things a female executive has to go through at work. Same will be true for many other areas of your life.
Q: There seems to be greater competition today for a smaller number of executive positions. How does one stand out from the field in order to get tapped for an executive job?
Nigel Dessau: Probably less than 5% of the workforce could be considered to be Executives. If you are one, you will know the jobs are hard, require dedication and often offer huge rewards. Preparing yourself to be an Executive is a critical element to becoming one.
For the would-be-executive, work life is sometimes like the videogames people play. At every level you need to acquire skills and resources or you can not move successfully to the next level. Being proactive in getting these skills and resources is the fastest way to accelerate you through the pack. People who don’t do this often ‘muddle through’ and don’t know how it will all work out in the long run. But people who are seen to solve problems, drive teams and make things happen always stand out.
Q: Your book claims there is no such thing as work-life balance, only work-life choices. Can you please explain what that means?
Nigel Dessau: The idea of work-life balance for most people is a myth. Sometimes you get some balance but it is often fleeting and you’ve lost it before you notice you had it. A much better way to approach this is ‘work-life choices.’ At every point in your career you will be faced with choices.
Faced with accepting a new role which would require him to move, a mentee of mine was ready to turn down the job because “the kids like the school they are in.” That is a perfectly acceptable solution, it is all about choices. Sometimes you need to prioritize work and sometimes you need to prioritize life. In this case life bested work.
The point here is that choices have implications and you have to learn to live with your decisions. You can always change your plans later but you probably can’t have it all.
Nigel Dessau is online at www.nigeldessau.com.