career two by four

Lately I’ve had occasion to give advice to a few people who are early in their careers.  I always find myself amusingly inept at this activity – the more actual experience I have, the more young people think I have something useful to tell them, but the further I am from the time when I was actually making the decisions they face, so the less accurate my recollection is, and the more my advice is colored by soft nostalgia rather than rooted in hard facts.  The wisdom of experience turns into the banality of platitudes.

Of course, none of this stops me from spouting on and on about how to manage your early career.  One set piece I often relate is that there are only four personal characteristics that can advance your success: Intelligence, Diligence, Personality and Mentality.  Many people get very far early on with just one of these characteristics, and so they begin to believe that this characteristic is the most important or even the only important one.  When they begin to fail, they double down on the characteristic that they believe in, which only deepens their failure.

To understand why this is true, consider the other side of this same advice, which applies to people just learning how to manage teams.  There are few things as destructive to a team as the person who has one of the characteristics in spades, but lacks any useful amount of the others.  The brilliant genius who can’t get along with others, the guy who works terribly hard but always on the wrong things, the “people person” who plays politics rather than solves problems, the hard charger who plays to win at any cost – these are all different forms of the same cancer, and they must be excised from the team as soon as they are identified.

So development of the four characteristics rules both sides of the management divide.  And on either side, you have to have great strength in more than one of these characteristics, and you have to understand how all of them contribute to success.

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