Lessons Along the Road

A version of this post appeared on LinkedIn.

I was recently asked to talk about my own career path and achievements to marketing students, but there are few things I'd like to hear less than someone like me droning on about my accomplishments. Instead, I shared my story through a few lessons that I've learned along the way.

Have a Vision

When social media first emerged, I found it absolutely compelling. Its roots back in the mid-2000s — and the early business use-cases — centered around building communities and solving problems. I loved the idea that this two-way technology could help to narrow the gap between companies and their customers.

That became my passion. I didn’t want to just “do” this stuff, I wanted to be among the best in the world at it. For years I’d work a full day in the office, then go home, read up on trends for a couple of hours and then write for a couple more.

That vision drove me. As social media evolved, I found that my passion for that specific thing waned, but I still get excited about using data and technology to connect faceless corporations with the people who care about them, and in doing so make them more relevant. For the last few years, I’ve focused on evolving my team to addressing this challenge and finding creative solutions for it.

Find the vision that motivates you, and work relentlessly at achieving it.

Create Your Own Luck

I’ve used this quote so many times over the years that I’ve lost count: “I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.” ~ Coleman Cox

Nearly 100 years later, it has been the foundation of my career. The success I’ve had has come from hard work, from keeping my eye on the horizon and from recognizing opportunities as they arise. When social media was getting big, I was still working for the government, but I thought there was really interesting potential there, and I grabbed onto it.

Now, I take Coleman Cox’s comments with a pinch of salt. If you’re working 70 hours every week — and I’ve been there — it’s not good for you, your family or your colleagues. Don’t do that. But when you ARE working, be present. Be attentive, and focus. Your career will benefit from it. Leave your title at the door and come to every meeting with a learning attitude. Ask smart questions. Raise your hand for opportunities and earn a place at the table. When opportunities are offered to you, take them. Lean in.

Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates

Your career isn’t likely to be a straight line. I went through university sure that I would be a management consultant, which was “the thing to do” back then.

I joined Edelman in 2010 and that’s when things got really interesting. My eight years (so far) at Edelman have been a roller-coaster of change. Three months into my stint leading the Digital team in our Toronto office, I was asked to join an account full-time to help address some instability––which turned into another role, and then another, and eventually I found myself leading a global project on a high-profile tech product launch, with a team of 140 people. I didn't “sign up” for any of that when I joined Edelman, but when the opportunity arose I took it.

Don’t shy away from unexpected opportunities, and don’t shy away from challenges, either. You’ll be amazed at the opportunities that emerge when you throw yourself into being part of the solution, rather than dodging the problem.

Follow Leaders, Not Jobs

Over the course of your career, you will have a lot of career choices to make and — if you’re good — opportunities presented to you. Some may have big dollars or big titles attached to them. Some may be more high-profile.

I offer one piece of advice here: follow the leader. I have yet to regret following a strong leader, versus a shiny new role or a big paycheck. If you like and respect your leader, though, everything is different.

To this end, I have three final pointers for you:

  1. Constantly search out alternative points of view. Don’t just seek to validate your thinking.
  2. Hire people who are smarter than you to keep you on your toes, even if they make you uncomfortable. 
  3. Once you’re the boss, ask your team what they think is the right approach before you tell them what you think it is.

Lastly, I'll leave you with advice I consistently hear my friend and manager Tristan Roy give to teams at Edelman: “Work hard and be nice to people.”

Dave Fleet is an executive vice president and national practice lead, Digital, Canada.

Kerrie DeFelice

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