By Brian Mitchell
What is your vision? Such a reasonable question but one I’ve found many (most) people cannot clearly answer. As an Executive Recruiter for over a decade I’ve shared thousands of conversations with hiring execs and would-be candidate execs in search of ‘what they’re looking for’. In an effort to truly understand individual circumstance and scenarios with prospective candidates, it’s necessary for me to probe and qualify what an executive candidate desires in their future and why. I typically ask simple open-ended questions such as “what’s important to you?” or “what criteria are you using to discern a good opportunity from a mediocre opportunity?” or “where do you want your career to go?”. These are not overly analytical questions but require previous analytical thinking to generate a salient answer. Triggered responses around money or benefits or (perceived) security suggest you want a “job” but you are not managing a “career”. Maybe that’s exactly appropriate and you really need to prioritize home/work life balance for personal reasons but most of the time people respond with those statements because they simply haven’t thought about it deeply enough. This is your livelihood, your vocation. It deserves a thoughtful approach!
I also ask prospective executive candidates why they want to leave where they are now, why were you compelled to join XYZ Company, why was that decision in lockstep with your career. I often get responses such as “I was recruited” which has nothing to do with the why, it was merely a how mechanism. The logic behind the decision to move from one company to another is the why which dictates the vision the individual has for their career. Sometimes circumstances can’t be predicted and people find themselves between opportunities without their choosing – companies get bought or go bankrupt, your division has a RIF, your hiring manager gets fired and your new one is unbearable, your scope of responsibility has been changed or reduced, the product loses it’s competitive value, and a myriad of other scenarios impact your current situation. In this professional era, quality people sometimes get terminated through no fault of their own or leave companies they regret going to. Most employers recognize this current reality but will seek to understand any patterns of being fired or patterns of bad decision-making by the professional to go from one company to the next. If hiring executives are seeking patterns, why aren’t you introspectively seeking patterns in your path as well? Hindsight can sometimes be blindingly obvious and sometimes it’s still difficult to identify personal patterns especially when YOU are the common denominator and you’re analyzing your own situation(s) through your experiential lens. Difficult or not, each of must seek to identify our own situational patterns and track records if we are going to improve our professional (and personal) future. Past predicts the future so review yours, do it with an open-mind and self-awareness. If you’re not exactly where you’d like to be, welcome to the majority club, and scrutinize the steps that have gotten you ‘here’. These insights are the most critically useful information you could ever leverage to get back on track. Once introspectively educated, you can apply those insights to a designed plan to reach your goals. That is your vision.
And hiring CXO’s, you need to explain your vision as well. If you explain a “job” to your senior candidates, you’ll attract candidates who want a “job”. Is that what you want? It’s certainly not what the most marketable candidates desire because they can find solid employment at many places. The most capable and impactful hires don’t want “solid” – they need inspiration, they need a path, they need intellectual stimulation, they need a challenge. They need to know your vision! Don’t underestimate the power of a coherent vision when articulating your opportunity because your competitive suitors are courting the A-players (you want on your team) in no small part due to their plan and the forward vision they paint in the candidate’s mind. Know your vision.
So I’ve been fairly preachy in the last few paragraphs in offering my learned opinion on why you need to know your vision and be able to convey that vision. Well after 20+ years of highly relevant professional leadership experience, I recently had a humbling occurrence on this topic. Someone I respect asked me what my vision was and although I absolutely have one, I offered a 3-path scenario and I think it came across as if I didn’t have clarity. It forced me to reexamine some of my thoughts, tweak my forward framework, and re-document it in print. It was incredibly cathartic, clearing, and motivating. Alternative options and a level of some ambiguity should be an embraced reality but only if it’s identified after deliberate consideration and examination. Regardless, you and I need to identify our finish line first and build a working plan with milestones built in to get us there. Yeah yeah, I know you’re thinking “of course, that’s obvious” but it doesn’t matter how obvious it is unless you actually do something about it. Invest the time with yourself; identify what’s important to you and how you’re going to achieve it. It’s your vision to identify and actualize. Get it done.