September 2000
Volume VI Number 3    

“Choice or Chance:

Vacations as Career Builders”


Our theme for this year’s newsletters is Choice, as in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.”   We have reflected on the role of choice -- conscious or otherwise -- on career decisions, but I recently had an opportunity to make another choice, one which most of my readers also make -- where to go on vacation. 


As I thought about vacations we had taken over the years with our kids, I realized that we had often chosen places based on business reasons. That is, I had attended a convention or annual meeting in, for example, Denver, so we went to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons afterwards.  The secondary choice point had to do with our unstated -- at the time -- desire to broaden Elizabeth’s (now 25) and Jeffrey’s (22) experience of the world. Now, both of them are able to articulate how much those early experiences opened their minds to a willingness to explore and understand different cultures and ideas.


So, this year, with “the kids” out of the picture on their own journeys, Caren and I decided to go to the only state she had not been to -- Alaska. (I have not been to Mississippi, but it didn’t seem as interesting as Alaska.)


We talked with friends who had been there (good old networking) and did research about what the options were (an essential step in career transitions).  Then came the time planning, around both of our work schedules.  The first leg was to Fairbanks for a train ride through Denali National Park, by Mt. McKinley, the highest point in North America, and then on to Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, and finally to Seward to board the Dawn Princess for a week-long cruise, ending in Vancouver.


Everything people had told us about Alaska is true.  It really is “the last frontier,” as their license plates proclaim. I was glad we did the inland tour first, because the vastness is more awesome there.  The glacial fields in their primitive natural state and the small isolated towns on the Inland Passage are impressive,   but the vast space devoid of people most impacted me.  At night, looking out from the ship’s deck, we could see for fifty miles -- and not one light!


This trip did the most important thing that vacations are supposed to do -- it refreshed me. The opportunity to recharge away from people was great.  Other vacations, such as European trips, which I have described in earlier newsletters, had been driven by human interaction or the desire to see cultural things – “people” stuff.  This vacation was clearly different. 


Did we know that going into the experience? No. One of the fascinating things about life is how much better we can understand, vacations or job experiences, after we’ve moved on -- it’s that old “20-20 hindsight.”


Truth and the Perception of Truth


In an election year, we are being bombarded with a range of claims about the rationale for voting for one or another candidate.  Two recent incidents made me reflect on the issue of truth in job campaigns.


Martin, a G&S career transition candidate, had left his employer in February, but was receiving salary continuation.  On his resume, he had written this as “19xx to the Present.”  He was interviewed by a search consultant for an executive position with a major insurance company. The search professional discussed thoroughly the reasons why he left, and in his interview with the direct boss, and the boss’s boss, Martin was clear he was in transition.


However, when he went to corporate headquarters, for what was to be a “rubber stamp” meeting with the CEO, Martin was asked if he was still at the old employer.  Stunned, he said “No,” whereupon the CEO told Martin that it is improper to have “present” on your resume. It took three weeks of work by Martin’s boss and his superior to overcome the CEO’s view that Martin had been purposely  misleading, but Martin is now in the job and doing well.


Another new client, an investment banking managing director, told me he graduated in 1965 from undergraduate school and received an MBA in 1970 from Wharton.  I mentioned him to my wife, who is also Wharton ’70. Curious, she looked at her yearbook which had his birth date and undergraduate year  -- 1961. Larry was shaving off four years!  I gently confronted him (well, telling someone you know his birth date may not be so gentle…).  He was concerned with being seen as “too old” and felt it was justified.


Our position at G&S is that a resume is a marketing document, not a life history or curriculum vitae.  But, Larry, in my view, had gone too far in altering the truth. Martin had not. What do you think?


Graduates Make Choices


Over the summer, we have seen a number of recent college graduates -- children of G&S clients and friends -- who are making choices of their first jobs.  I was recently reminded of the difficulty many have with that choice. 


My nephew from Florida invited me to have lunch while he and his two law partners visited his college roommate, a fellow lawyer, in NYC.  Matt is 32, as are the other three, but their similarity ends there.  Gerry is a New York native who practices law in midtown.  Lee was born in Taiwan, and Todd is a fifth-generation native Alabaman.  Matt grew up in Nebraska and met Lee and Todd when they worked as public defenders in Orlando.  They all seemed to enjoy their work. 

What had made them decide to be lawyers, I asked.  Their answers were surprisingly similar.  Each knew a lawyer and respected that person. The other positive influence -- television!   They liked the public persona of Perry Mason.


The influence of friends and relatives is as significant as mass culture and the images it creates for most young entrants to the workplace. Yet, there are so many more career options, and it’s a shame we cannot communicate more of those options to enable a more informed first job choice.


In talking with recent graduates, we must focus on their core competencies and then explore the range of ways these can be used.  My discussion with the lawyers showed  me that the process of defining strengths is easier with some work experience.


Books I’d Recommend


“Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration” by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman, Perseus Books, 1997, $14.00.


I recently took a week-long seminar on Leadership with Warren Bennis.  Bennis, who is 75, has been writing on leadership for fifty years.  He is full of energy and openness to new ideas, and is an inspiration to those of us concerned about how we play “the back nine,” in Don Imus’ words.


This book argues Bennis’ view that leadership is best when collaborative sharing occurs. He uses six examples, from Disney animations to the Manhattan Project, to show the creative power of groups and the role of a strong leader.  He readily admits that his earlier research into business leaders assumed that there was “innate” character, which made “great men.”


Bennis writes: “The organizations of the future will increasingly depend on the creativity of their members to survive. And the leaders of these organizations will be those who find ways both to retain their talented and independent-minded staffs and to set them free to do their best, most imaginative work.” 


This is an easy-to-read, well-focused exploration of the differences between managing and leading, rooted in a classic American social construct -- the group.