Are You Managing or Leading Your Career?

Management does not equal leadership. I think I heard this the first time from Seth Godin a few years ago and I could hardly agree more.

Since Seth expressed it so perfectly, I let him take the stage for a moment. Watch his definition here.


Career Management

This is a term that you hear a lot these days. I don’t think everybody affiliate the exact same thing with this term.

To me, career management means that you look out there in the market and see what is feasible for you to do.

Maybe you ask a few career experts who tell you what is possible and impossible in their opinion. Maybe you make your own assumptions about what you think is possible based on your previous experience.

Let’s say you have 20 years of experience in business development in the technology sector. Then you look at that and you base your assumptions of what’s possible in the future on that.

This is what I think when I hear career management and I think it mostly leads people into jobs where they have been before. In many cases, it leads people into jobs they don’t fully enjoy.


Career Leadership

This is a term that I have rarely heard (maybe I even made it up?). At least, when I Google it, a whole bunch of articles and information about career and leadership comes up. However, it does not look like it’s a term that exists yet in the way that I will describe it now.

To me, career leadership means that the future of your career completely depends on your decisions. It means that whatever you decide to do with your future is feasible without looking at the market first.

You create your own opportunities. You design your own path.

By leading your career, you gather other likeminded and passionate people around you and show them what future you want to create. You define what’s possible and you turn the impossible into the possible by creating opportunities.

It took me quite a while to understand that this is actually what I do every day with my coaching clients. I help them to create a career on their own terms.


How Benjamin Went Into Career Leadership Mode

Benjamin is originally from South Africa and I worked with him a while ago as part of my coaching program.

He has been a CFO for big corporations for many years and just finished his last project with a client. He was looking for his next gig but something did not feel right.

He realized that he was not really happy with what he did. Sure, he made a lot of money but what he was missing the most was peace of mind. He always felt that there was something wrong but buried that feeling in the day to day business.

Benjamin contacted me and we started working together on creating a brighter future.

Benjamin has many passions, none of them include being a CFO and none of them include the industry he was in.

He wanted to do something that had a social aspect, something where he can make a difference and something that has a connection to South Africa. Sounds simple, right?

After a few months, we met for lunch in Zurich when he just came back from a trip to South Africa. He was badly jet lagged after 2 hours of sleep and within the first few minutes at the lunch table, he could barely keep his eyes open.

He started telling me about his trip, where he has been and what happened over the past few weeks. Then, something amazing happened.

He suddenly seemed to have completely forgot his jet lag and the night with almost no sleep. His eyes opened up widely, his body posture changed completely to upright and he looked me straight in the eyes.

“Daniel, I had the most amazing experience during my trip to South Africa. I went for coffee with this guy who started a huge social project in South Africa. It fits perfectly into what I want to do.”

Something that Benjamin was always afraid of is that a social project or his passions in general will not be able to finance his lifestyle.

After all, he earned a lot of money in his CFO jobs. It’s not that he needed that much to live on but he also did not want to lower his standards.

So he continued telling me his story.

“Something else that fascinated me about this social project is that it is backed up with a solid business model that generates profit. That means, I could partner up with this guy and actually earn a real salary.”

Benjamin had no intention to go back to South Africa with his family, he wanted to stay in Switzerland. However, since he owns a hotel in South Africa, he travels there regularly anyway.

Also, since there is no physical labour involved in what he does, location is not an issue so he could easily stay in Switzerland with his family if he would get involved with this project.


How Carla Shifted from Career Management to Career Leadership

A few months ago, I started to coach & mentor Carla.

She is originally from Argentina but lived in Spain for the past years as she worked there. She has been working in finance for large pharmaceutical companies and that was what she thought she also wanted to do in Switzerland.

After the first few coaching sessions, it was clear that large companies would not make her very happy so she started to focus on medium sized ones and a few international corporations that were headquartered in Switzerland.

One of the things I always do with my coaching clients is building a network of likeminded and passionate people in Switzerland.

Over the weeks, she had the chance to talk to many people, first remotely from Spain and then face to face in Switzerland after she relocated to Switzerland.

One day, she met a corporate lawyer from one of the larger pharmaceutical companies and that was her wake up call. He told Carla that she was ways too smart to join a large corporation. He told her that she would waste her talent and her natural leadership abilities in a place where she just gets to do what she is told with very limited space for creativity.

The next time we talked, she told me the whole story and it was clear to me where she will be heading in the future. I knew that she had to hear it from the people within the companies, which she wanted to join, that she would be better off joining a startup

We talked about startups in the very beginning of the coaching but at that time she was very reluctant since the only thing she knew was the corporate culture.

Talking to many people who told her a similar story opened up her eyes that there must be more out there than the corporate rat race.

Within one week after changing her focus and truly believing that startups could be a great future for her, she got offered 4 incredibly exciting opportunities.

She met a startup founder and investor at a meetup and they clicked immediately. After meeting for coffee the next day, he offer her to either join him or to join one of the three startups he invested in.

By deliberately not walking the easiest path, Carla opened her eyes up for the abundance of opportunities and she simply had to pick the one that fit best for her.

In her last email, she wrote “My new challenge is to find the perfect fit by evaluating the opportunities tossed at me.”


It’s Your Choice

You always have a choice. Maybe you are currently in an unfulfilling job or maybe you want to relocate to Switzerland. Maybe, you just recently lost your job and are looking to get back to work.

You decide what happens with your career in the future. You decide if you join a company where your boss will tell you what to do.

Or maybe you pick the stony path. The path that has not been walked much yet and harvest all the fruits. It’s certainly not easy and that’s a good thing. If it would be easy, everybody would do it and there would not be much value in it.

Make sure you don’t regret your choice.