Yesterday I was doing a leadership workshop for a client, and someone asked me “How did you make the choice to leave your corporate career to become an entrepreneur?”
I get this question very regularly, so I thought I would finally write about it.
The choice point
I took a little bit of time off after being a CEO and after being the CMO of Siebel.
After a couple of months, I felt myself being drawn back to work. It surprised me frankly, because as a typically exhausted executive, I had thought it would have enjoyed taking a much longer break. What was it that was calling me back?
The key questions
Instead of just jumping back into another big corporate job, I took the time to really think about these 2 key questions:
1. What role do you need work to play in your life?
2. What are your strengths, and where do you get energy?
1. What role do you need work to play in your life?
The answer to this question changes throughout our lives. Early in our careers we need to explore and invest. We need to get traction on something.
Later, most of us as humans have a need to build success at something. What that IS, is different for everyone. The answer for me was in my corporate career.
What we all share at this point is that we are really investing. Investing in our careers and also in our lives and families. We need to earn and save money.
Building anything takes a big investment of time and energy, and most of us muscle through this phase and don’t really question it.
Then later, when we have achieved some of our key goals, the idea of work changes again. Or at least, it should.
I think it’s important every 5 or so years, not to forget to evaluate what role work needs to play in your life now, because it changes.
So if you reach a point where you don’t need to be investing as much if you are not still building, what should you be doing for work?
And more importantly, what should your work be doing for YOU?
Free webinar this month
By the way, there is a free webinar available for download this month called: Thinking Strategically about your Career, that talks more about this dynamic, and offers tools to help you think through your own career situation.
Ordinarily webinar downloads are only free to Members of Azzarello Group, but I thought that since it is near the end of the year, it was a good time to offer this webinar to everyone for awhile.
You can find and download it here on the member page.
What is work for now?
So as I explored this feeling of being drawn back to work,
I realized that at the core of it was that I have a very strong need to spend time with smart, interesting, challenging people to stimulate my own ideas and energy.
Until that point, I had found those people at work.
Once I realized that that was the core, I also realized that there were many other ways to get that, other than to take on another big corporate job.
That lead to the second question.
2. What are your strengths and where do you get the most energy?
I took myself through a process, which I now use with many of my clients who are trying to optimize their own career and life choices.
On a sheet of paper (I still like paper) I made 3 columns.
I thought about all the things that were required to be a technology business leader, and I sorted this list into these three columns. I wanted to get my head around what this job really took and how I truly felt about it.
In the first column I wrote down things that I am good at, and also enjoy doing — things that give me energy.
For example, in this first column I wrote things like:
- Leading people in organizations
- Building teams that can execute
- Putting strategy into action
- Helping people grow as leaders
- Helping people advance their careers
- Communicating to varied audiences
- Public speaking
- Helping customers improve how they do business
- Working with people from all over the world
In the second column I wrote down the things that I am really good at but don’t like doing.
For example in this second column I wrote things like:
Managing sales execution on a month to month, quarter to quarter basis. I’m actually really good at doing that, but it gives me absolutely no joy.
Also, I have a high competence at effectively running very large organizations, and though I don’t dislike that, it does not bring me great energy personally.
In the third column I wrote down the things that I suck at and/or hate doing. For example:
- Staying tightly tuned into technology evolution and market moves
- Traveling constantly
- Operating without enough sleep
- Working with people I don’t like or trust
When I looked at the whole list, I thought, “Yes, I could do all of this again, the good generally outweighs the bad, and there is a lot in there that I enjoy”.
But then I had an idea.
The scientist in my formed an experiment. The experiment was: Can I build a successful business only doing things from the first column?
I decided to give it a try, and if it worked, I’d see if I wanted to keep it going, and if it didn’t work, I’d go back to a corporate role.
Well, I’m celebrating my 10 year Anniversary of Azzarello Group this year!
Not only did it work, but because I am spending so much of my energy doing the things that I am naturally good at and give me energy, it feels great.
I get to help organizations execute their strategy and create more value
I get to help leaders become more effective and increase their confidence
I get to help executives advance their careers
I get to do a lot of speaking engagements
And I also get to feel that every week I am helping people and businesses get better at what they do, which results in the lives of those people also improving.
Do I miss corporate?
This is another questions I often get.
Yes, sometimes I miss leading a large organization, because there were many talented people who I interacted with every day, and there were lots of opportunities to make my world bigger by regularly traveling to and learning about other countries and their cultures. And the wins were big wins, because we were starting at a big scale. It was exciting.
But for me, at this point in my life, my work with Azzarello Group, allows me to work most of the time (in that first column) at my best, which feels great.
I definitely get plenty of interaction from smart, interesting, challenging people who stimulate my thinking.
And I still get to travel all over the world (just not every month!) speak to varied audiences, and meet many kind, interesting people for many different cultures. I also get to work with companies in many different industries which is fascinating for me.
The one thing that was a surprise to me is that I never knew during my corporate career is that I was a writer!
Now that I’ve written a blog article almost every week for almost a decade, and two books, writing has become another key area of work for me that I enjoy very much.
I am always saying that successful people figure out what they are really good at, and then find a way to spend most of their time doing that. I decided to take my own medicine! And it works.
What do you think?
Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)