New York State of Mind

Last week I was in New York. I kicked my trip off with a meeting at the Fashion Institute of Technology; then a leisurely dinner with an old friend who was in my team, oh I don’t know how many moons ago. Then I went out to New Jersey to run a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop with the IABC NJ chapter.

In a couple of hours, I will board a Cathay Pacific flight (Isobel insists!) to Hong Kong where will be putting a few new ideas to the test in that important market. So I’m sitting here reflecting on meetings with old friends and new. Is there such a thing as a “New York state of mind?”. Or was Billy Joel completely wrong?

Of course there is the archetype of the typical New Yorker, but let us of focus on the “new”. Is there a mindset or an approach to life that can make a difference in your career? Can you be purposeful? I think the answer is ‘yes’. Let me give you two examples, without giving too much away.

Exhibit one: my ex-team member, Kelly Anson. Moved to NY after a failed marriage and wanted to rebuild her life. She took positive steps to fix a few things, and made it happen. Now she lives in a great house, with a great job, and a great family. She’s got it all! But only because she took some active steps to make changes. Yes, luck is important – or, for Isobel, cleromancy – but you do make your own. And she did in spades.

Exhibit two: a completely new friend, Casper Toms. He came to my workshop at the Vanderbilt residence (more on that later). As you know, our workshops are generally designed for people in comms who want to advance their career. Casper works at a wealth management company, having studied Economics and Sustainability in Europe. So why did he come to my workshop? He wanted to expand his horizons, play outside his comfort zone and meet new people.

This got me thinking. There was a lot of excitement for the IABC world conference in Vancouver last week. A lot of communicators I know where there. I couldn’t go, alas. But I couldn’t help but wonder, are comms professionals over excited about playing in their own professional sandbox? Or should we be more like Caspar and attend things outside our natural home … to learn more about business. Maybe we all need to be a ‘bit more Caspar’ and have a different state of mind when it comes to networking and professional development. After all, if a finance person can come to a comms event, why not the other way around? Dare to be new, I say.

Oh, I promised something about the Vanderbilts. We did our workshop in one of the rooms of their old house: Florham. About an hour west of NYC. An echo of a golden era – I was reminded of West Egg but of course it is really modelled on Hampton Court in London.  Now of course, the house is part of a University and is focused on creating intellectual wealth, not financial. And I bet you didn’t know this: there’s good evidence that Cornelius Vanderbilt started his life as a technical expert (ferry captain in New York) before becoming strategic adviser (to his business partner in the 1810s) and then … famously … business leader.

That, to me, is the true New York state of mind!

From May to June, of butterflies and caterpillars

In our Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders Workshops, we talk about this concept all the time: how do I transform myself from technical expert to strategic adviser? The underlying questions participants are trying to answer are: “How do I grow into my next self? How do I transform myself to the person I want to be?”

Today, let’s look at nature for the answer: the butterfly. That’s the goal. The majestic creature that inspires children and grown-ups alike, attracts all kinds of attention. She shows the way with panache, elegance and sometimes even a bit of whimsy. 

Yet, our imagination rarely focuses on what it takes to make a butterfly: the three stages before.

First, the egg. We are all this at the start of our careers: full of potential and often indistinguishable from our peers in terms of know-how and experience. The employee.

Next ….

Second, the caterpillar. She’s starting to develop a personality, so let’s call her June. She knows her task, she follows her plan, she executes. Think of her as the manager. The one that has spent time in perfecting his or her craft and is a true expert. She is hungry, ambitious and on a growth journey.

And then….

Third, the chrysalis. She stops. She reflects. She transforms herself. When ready to be a butterfly, she takes a step back and looks inward to build a new self. She forms herself into a pupa and, while it looks like nothing is happening internally, she is transforming. She is changing her motivations, her style and her approach to life.

Finally, she becomes…

Fourth, the butterfly. The leader. She’s made it and is the queen of all she surveys.

In this story, nature provides the chrysalis stage, the chance for metamorphosis. But in the real world, too often we see June the caterpillar-manager, jump straight into the butterfly-leader world and are disappointed to see that she hasn’t flourished. June goes about her business in the same way, with no pause and no transformation. And then, inevitably, the caterpillar who didn’t invest in becoming a butterfly fails at flying. Caterpillar behaviour is inappropriate in the butterfly world.

In nature this would make no sense, it does not exist. Transformation is required not only for success, but for survival. In business, we often forget the pause, the chrysalis stage, and then are surprised when the transformation does not occur.

In the UK today, we have watched another political leader fail because — although widely recognised as a pretty successful caterpillar — there was no transformational stage before she got picked to be a butterfly almost three years ago. Being a very hungry caterpillar brought her success. She built her craft, did the hard work. Succeeded where others had failed. But caterpillar behaviour doesn’t work in the butterfly world.

If you are ready to transform into a leader, recognise that a radical transformation is needed and that the unsung hero is the chrysalis stage. When the time comes, leave your craft, your hunger, your systems and approaches behind and embrace the journey of becoming a butterfly. 

This is how leaders flourish, and successful careers are built. One natural state at a time. If you try and ‘hack’ the chrysalis stage, others might not think you can hack leadership. Your colleagues will gang up on you and force you out of the corner office. 

With Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, we provide a fun, meaningful space for you to pause, learn and get the tools you need to transform yourself into the next version of you. If you want to find out more, drop us a line.