How to Be Ahead of the Curve
Are you looking to succeed in business, exceed your goals and ambitions, and advance in your career? Well, you’re in the right place, and today, you’ll learn how staying ahead of the curve can set you apart, especially early on in your profession! In this episode, we welcome back returning guest Leon Brujis of Palladium Equity Partners, the oldest minority-owned private equity buyout firm in the industry with over $3 billion in assets under management. As you may recall, Leon is a repeat contributor to the Branch Out Podcast, and our conversations are always packed with wisdom and valuable insights to fuel your growth. In previous episodes, we spoke to him about stoicism, diversity, and more. In today’s discussion, Leon shares a series of lessons that he has learned throughout his career in investment banking and private equity, and you’ll hear his advice for junior professionals looking to get ahead of the curve. From understanding your role on the team to developing your ability to prioritize, there are a number of things you can do that will significantly impact your career progression.
Are you looking to succeed in business, exceed your goals and ambitions, and advance in your career? Well, you’re in the right place, and today, you’ll learn how staying ahead of the curve can set you apart, especially early on in your profession!
In this episode, we welcome back returning guest Leon Brujis of Palladium Equity Partners, the oldest minority-owned private equity buyout firm in the industry with over $3 billion in assets under management. As you may recall, Leon is a repeat contributor to the Branch Out Podcast, and our conversations are always packed with wisdom and valuable insights to fuel your growth. In previous episodes, we spoke to him about stoicism, diversity, and more.
In today’s discussion, Leon shares a series of lessons that he has learned throughout his career in investment banking and private equity, and you’ll hear his advice for junior professionals looking to get ahead of the curve. From understanding your role on the team to developing your ability to prioritize, there are a number of things you can do that will significantly impact your career progression.
Key Points From This Episode
- Some context for today’s conversation and a brief overview of Leon’s experience.
- Why it’s important that you get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
- Understanding your role on the team and how that can contribute to your progress.
- What Leon means when he says that you have to learn how to “play the game.”
- A practical look at why learning to prioritize can be a tremendous asset.
- Leon expands on the concepts of speed versus quality and the 80-20 rule.
- The three-point system Leon uses to check his work: check, check, and check again!
- Advice for how to take a step back and improve your attention to detail.
- Finance as an apprenticeship business and the value of finding mentors early on.
- Tips for finding mentors and building and maintaining those relationships.
- How you can benefit from requesting informal feedback regularly.
- Why your attitude and work ethic are the easiest ways to develop a good rapport.
- Developing a solution mindset, starting with the answer, and more!
[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builder’s podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[00:00:22] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Branch Out Podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today, we welcome returning guest, Leon Brujis, a partner of Palladium Equity Partners, which is the oldest minority owned private equity buyout firm in the industry with over $3 billion in assets under management. As many of you may already know, Leon is a repeat contributor to our podcast and our conversations are always packed with wisdom and valuable insights to fuel your growth. In today’s discussion, Leon shares a series of lessons he’s learned through his career in investment banking, in private equity, in his advice for junior professionals looking to be ahead of the curve. I hope you all enjoy.
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[00:01:08] AD: Leon, welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. Excited to have you back here for another episode.
[00:01:12] LB: Alex, I’m so excited to be back. I always enjoy our conversations.
[00:01:17] AD: I do as well, Leon. I want to talk to our listeners for a minute. I’m laughing a little bit here as we’re saying this. A couple things, for our listeners, if you’ve listened for a while, you know Leon’s been on here before and we always have great conversations. I’m very excited for this conversation today, because this is one that Leon and I have bounced around for a while, our thoughts, but maybe even more importantly, about a week ago today, we tried to record it and had a little bit of technical issues, so our recording ended up falling apart. So, we’re back here trying it again.
I’m excited for this conversation, because I have some ideas of where it’s going to go and some of the wisdom that’s going to come out of it and enjoy the context of it. With all that said, Leon, our title for today is How to Be Ahead of The Curve. Maybe it’s helpful for you just to share a little of the context and how you’ve thought about the lessons that we’re going to dive into today. Then, let’s start peeling them apart one-by-one.
[00:02:07] LB: Sure. Thank you. Obviously, this advice comes from my own meandering experience. It’s based on my experience as an investment banking analyst and private equity associate. So, take everything I say with a grain of salt, but I thought it would be helpful to provide some context ahead of this advice. Number one is that finance in general is an apprenticeship business. Part of what I’m going to talk about it delves into this deeper, but understanding that is very important in terms of how you approach the work.
I also think it’s important to understand that, from a mindset perspective, this is not a nine to five job. It’s hard work and it’s long hours. I think most people who are getting into this know that, but I think it’s important to say that. I also view this as one of those ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ moments. I think it’s a tremendous privilege that you get to participate in these very big decisions where a lot of capital and a lot of jobs are at stake. So, it’s a tremendous privilege to have this this job. The other thing is that you’re here to learn. Usually, the learning curve is very short, so your ability to learn and move with a steep learning curve is incredibly important.
Then lastly, I remember when I was interviewing for my investment banking jobs. One of the MDs that, they have dinners prior to the interviews and stuff and one of the MDs said, “By now you guys know that the world is not fair.” I think that’s also important to know, you can’t control which team or which group you’re going to be assigned to, which assignments you’re going to get to work in, but you do have control over how you react to that and your ability to do the best job, given what you’re given. I think that that will drive a lot of – I think that people don’t realize how much that will drive outcomes over the type of work that you’re given that you can control. So, hopefully, that’s a helpful context for our conversation and over to you.
[00:04:32] AD: I think it’s great context. The one note I want to add, and Leon, you’re coming at this all from your perspective and your experience in financial services, particularly investment banking, private equity, and the M&A deal world. I think that everything, obviously everything you’re sharing is going to be from your prism, through that lens, and that’s the tone of the conversation today. I’d say for anyone that’s listening that maybe works in some professional service that’s in or around that, but maybe not directly in those industries, I think a lot of this is still largely applicable.
I think your point of apprenticeship, again, investing is an apprenticeship. Learning to be a good deal attorney also has some apprenticeship baked into it, right? You don’t read the book, pass the technical exam, and you’re done. I just want to make that clear that these are, I think, very broadly applicable lessons to anyone who is a professional and working in today’s knowledge-based economy, if you will.
[00:05:28] LB: Absolutely. Let me just add, I think that there’s a lot of the concepts that we’re going to talk about how a universality to them that is applicable well beyond finance and whatnot, but I just wanted to clarify that it comes from Badlands, from my own experience.
[00:05:43] AD: I know, absolutely. That’s the best experience you can share. So, let’s start wherever you want to dive in, what’s our first lesson to be thinking about?
[00:05:50] LB: I think that the first lesson that we should talk about is this concept of being comfortable being uncomfortable. Okay. I think early on, you’re going to be thrown into these situations that you never encounter and you don’t know how to figure it out. I think you have to be relentless about learning. You’re always learning and, if you’re not learning, you’re not moving forward. You’re going to be given assignments, given work that you don’t know how to do it, you don’t know how to learn in time. It’s okay. It’s part of the process. It’s part of how it goes.
[00:06:34] AD: Being comfortable, being uncomfortable is it’s almost cliche at this point. It’s definitely said quite often.
[00:06:40] LB: Sure.
[00:06:41] AD: I think there’s a ton of real value. I think it’s a really powerful statement. When I heard you say, I thought it’s really neat there. It’s learning, really, that is what the uncomfort is, right? When we find ourselves in unfamiliar situations, those are the ones that tend to present learning opportunities, right? I think, by its very definition, if I already knew it, and there was nothing to learn, then I’m in a zone that I’m already comfortable in, because I’ve been there before, where what you’re describing is this idea that you’re going to be outside of your zone of what you know and therefore have an opportunity to learn, but when you’re in an area and doing something you haven’t done before, no matter what it is –
Leon, I mean, you’ve got a long career of experience here, I’m sure you still find yourself in uncomfortable unknown situations all the time, right? That becomes the nature of the career, the profession, I think, life in general, but in particular, in the context of this conversation, it is about knowing that if you really feel like you know it already, or you feel like you’re not, there’s nothing new, you’re probably not learning and you’re probably either thinking about it wrong or you’re in the wrong place, right?
[00:07:49] LB: I guess, I would add that it’s incumbent upon you to develop a process to when you are uncomfortable, figure out how you get from, okay, I recognize that I’m in a position that I don’t know what to do. Do I have a process to follow so that I can become comfortable?
[00:08:06] AD: It’s some self-awareness around it. Knowing when you’re uncomfortable, what’s causing the discomfort, and then how to– I’ll speak on my own experience from it and taking myself back to investment banking days. I can remember this clear as day. I was doing leveraged finance work in multi-site consumer retail, and then all of a sudden jumped into healthcare. We’re doing ophthalmology opportunity at the time. I was reading the high level materials and they had this thing that was called an Ambulatory Surgery Center, an ASC. I did not have a freaking clue what that was, nor anything else in there.
You want to talk about being uncomfortable. I’m sitting in this meeting, and I was, I think, a VP at the time, and I’m sitting in this meeting. They’re just saying this ASC and I’m like, ‘What the heck are you talking about? What is an ambulatory surgery center? What is the difference from another surgery center?” It was very uncomfortable, but I dove in, I read all the industry reports I could. I went deep down Google holes and Wikipedia holes. I emerged out of all of that not being an expert by any means, but by having a grip on it enough to start bringing context to the conversations and then just continued to learn. But I had to recognize that discomfort wasn’t my confidence in myself, it wasn’t confidence in my knowledge or my ability. It was just simply being in a dialogue or in a situation where I didn’t know the details, and I had to go invest time into learning that, right? I think, something you got to be aware of and spend the time doing.
[00:09:30] LB: Well said. I think that example it’s emblematic of what I’m trying to convey here. Shall we move on to the next?
[00:09:39] AD: Let’s jump to the next one.
[00:09:41] LB: The other one that I also like is, understanding your role in the team. When you are starting your job in finance or otherwise, particularly at the junior level, your job is to support the team with analysis and presentations and whatever else you are doing. I think one framework is that your job is to make your supervisor look good. She or he will have the most influence on your career progression early on. If you do a good job for her, that’s going to be the quickest way for you to progress and get better assignments, etc. so this is one of those, it’s not about you, it’s about them. People sometimes come into these jobs with expectations and wanting to build a resume, but I think that’s the wrong mindset. The mindset is your job is to make your supervisor look good, do good work for her, then that person will likely be a conduit to help you progress faster.
[00:10:52] AD: That’s excellent advice. As you’re saying it, I’m putting myself back into the call it the first year of my career. I definitely embrace the mindset of making whoever I was working for look good. I think that’s a very valuable mindset. It’s having the right expectations and it’s something that I’m proud of for myself, and I know it did help advance my career. You made the point that, especially early on, whoever you’re supporting has a major influence over what you’re going to get exposure to and what short term upward mobility opportunities you’re going to have, which will really springboard your career. It’s hyper important there.
Something I wasn’t so good at – I want to ask you how to think about this, maybe it’s just comes with maturity in some ways, but I pushed the bounds a lot. You said, know what your role is, know what your job is. I was a damn good analyst when I started, but I was also tiptoeing in the associate, maybe even times tiptoed into the VP space, because I felt like I was good at it. It was confidence and arrogance, if you will, at that point in my career, but what do you say to the young person who is just driven, motivated, showing up, and wants to be so good that they’re almost overstepping bounds, which can be a negative effect on them?
[00:12:03] LB: It’s actually a great segue to the next one I wanted to go to, which is, I call it play the game, okay. I think it’s not enough to be good, Alex. I think that every job has its politics, everyone has a personality. Learning the norms, the culture early on and understanding what’s rewarded, and what’s not rewarded, is incredibly important. So when you have that fire inside of you that you were just talking about, I think that it’s great to do it. People like people that are proactive and ambitious. You just have to play the game and do the right way, because I think there is space for that, okay? But you need to understand how to ring face that behavior so that you don’t step out of bounds.
[00:12:55] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builder’s podcast.
[00:13:02] AD: Politics is a good word. Politics sometimes gets a nasty rep, especially here in the States, but if you really – what is politics, it’s human nature, it’s the way decisions are made, it’s the way humans interact with each other within an organization. Your point of, you have to play the game. You have to understand how the game works and how to appropriately show up and play your role and do the things that are good to elevate through the organization, because you said so well, being good isn’t enough.
Again, speaking specifically to anyone working in a call high finance or high end professional services in the transaction deal world, everyone’s good. You wouldn’t be here, if you weren’t good, you burnt out and you’re gone, that’s the reality. Just because you’re good at what you do, and just because you think you might be better at what you do than someone else, that’s fine, but long term, what’s going to get you far, far more experience and far more growth in your personal, professional, in career life is playing the game and building the relationships, doing the right things, and building the trust and rapport across your team to move forward. I think that’s a really, it’s a good tie in for the previous one. Being good is not enough. You have to focus on that. I like that.
[00:14:22] LB: Thanks. Thanks. Moving on. I think one of the other skills that will be a tremendous asset if you’re able to develop it is learning to prioritize. In most cases, particularly in some of these jobs that require a lot of your time, your workload will exceed the time that you have to complete it. How do you prioritize and do what’s – I’ve developed a framework that I hopefully, I shouldn’t say I developed. I know of a framework that I think works well in this situation. Number one, and think about it on a consultant two by two matrix which has, on the X axis, importance and, on the Y axis, urgency.
First, do what’s important and urgent that should be at the top of your list. Second, if what’s urgent but not important is easy to do, do that. I think it’s very important to recognize that doing the things that are important but not urgent should be also prioritized, because generally speaking and in my experience, those the experiences where the real growth is. So, let me say that, again. Things that are important, but are urgent is generally where the real growth is. Lastly, things that are not important and not urgent, these ones are hard to identify, but they’re there. Those are the ones that you should either delegate in return, put off, or don’t do at all.
[00:16:02] AD: I believe that the matrix is called the Eisenhower Matrix and Stephen Covey popularized it, right? The time management index. The upper left is fire drills. The lower left are, what do they call it? Time wasters. They are the things like interrupting phone calls, things like that. Lower right is stuff that you should just totally eliminate if you can’t get. Value drive. The upper right is you have to prioritize it. I like to add in there, you have to schedule it. What gets scheduled tends to have a chance of getting done. It is. It’s the high growth things. It’s knowing that if you do those activities, and you have to put out fires, right? When fires are there, that urgent and important that you have to get out of the way.
The one thing I would add into what you’re saying I think people should keep in the back of their minds, just because there’s smoke doesn’t mean there’s fire. Especially as a younger professional, it’s all too easy to think everything’s a fire drill, and everything’s a fire drill and what that’s going to do is consume all of your capacity and bandwidth and you’re never going to find the time for everything else. That’s where you start scheduling, blocking time off for those not urgent, but important tasks. Then you have to look at the smoke and say, is that really a fire? Do I really need to go tackle that right now? Or can I just let that smolder for a little while and know that it’s okay. That’s a hard to differentiate at times.
[00:17:26] LB: I want to make a quick tie in to one of our first comments which was, being comfortable, being uncomfortable. That’s that, right? Knowing that not every note, every time there’s smoke there’s fire is sometimes you need to let it brew to see if it develops into a fire, that’s a tactic. Related to learning to prioritize there is another framework that I like, I actually told the folks who started our firm early on, is this concept of speed versus quality. I think it’s closely related to prioritizing. I want to be very careful with how I say this, because quality at the end of the day is the most important thing. I think that there is an exponential expectation as time goes by, an expectation on the quality of the product.
My view is that, whenever you’re given an assignment, do it as best as you can, as fast as you can, and get it to a point that is good enough and developed enough that you can show an earlier draft versus wanting to get it perfect and show it then. We might, folks that come into this industry might be perfectionist and might want to get it perfectly and take that extra time to develop the perfect product. I think that you do yourself a disservice, because earlier on, you still don’t know exactly what your supervisor wants and you don’t know everything you need to know, so show your work early, making sure you’re in the right direction is incredibly important and, if you do that, you have time to course correct and you’re not pressing against that deadline. What do you think?
[00:19:10] AD: I think it’s really good advice. There’s a saying that I’ve heard in a previous, I can’t remember I heard this from, but GETMO, good enough to move on and saying, recognizing to yourself. This is, I’m a perfectionist. I’ve worked with a lot of perfectionists in my time. I think many type A, high performers are perfectionists by nature. It’s really easy to spend three extra hours on something and add about three percent more value to the finished product and realize that the product that you had before, it might not have been perfect and there might have been a flaw in it, but it was likely okay and it would have gotten it done in those other three hours that you spent in it, would have been better getting feedback, testing it, or working on something new. This is slightly off topic, but very, very relevant.
Not necessarily to younger professionals. I think this is broadly speaking. I actually did a podcast a while back with Jeff Henningsen from Lockton. We talked about this idea of just go birth it. That you have to go birth it as an entrepreneur. I saw in my investment banking days, and anyone who’s in deal world probably feels the pain of this. Sometimes it took forever to birth the CIM. We would sit on the CIM, the confidential information memorandum, the offering memorandum that we’re going to market to bring to private equity investors to get them to invest.
Birthing a CIM was one of the hardest tasks our firm, our team ever did. Because we are all perfectionist and we wanted to just polish everything and you look back at it. Leon, how many CIMs have you looked at? I mean, you look through the CIM, but are you in there looking for perfection? You’re not. Just recognize that there’s a lot of work you probably do that is perfectionist style work that is driving you into extra work that isn’t probably the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, if you will in that.
[00:21:00] LB: Yeah. I actually did a podcast on a similar concept called, which is The Power of Distribution on the 80-20 rule. I think, basically, the gist of it is that, the 80-20 rule has is incredible prevalence in our lives. So this concept that I’m just talking about is 80% of the work will usually take you take you 20% of the time, that’s a good time to stop and make sure you’re on the right track because, in order to get it to 100%, that’s going to take you 80% of the time, and it’s not worth it unless you know you’re doing it right.
[00:21:38] AD: You’re also, I think, making the point to younger professionals. I’m sure you’ve seen this before where someone will, they’ll go so deep into building a model and making sure that model is perfect. Then they show it to you and they’ve thought about it wrong. The analysis was thought about wrong. All of the work that they put into it is effectively useless and they’re starting over and there goes their entire night that they spent modeling on it, right?
[00:22:01] LB: That’s right.
[00:22:02] AD: Anyone who has lived through that, right? We’ve all lived through it. Sometimes you have to learn those lessons, but the point you’re making is get it to a point where before polishing it out, get it to a point and say, “Hey, is this right? Am I on the right track? Am I thinking about this right?” Because you will save yourself a lot of headache on getting things done and wasting time.
[00:22:20] LB: I agree 100%. Just following on this same vein, I think something that I cannot stress enough is checking your work. So I call this one is a three point system, which is check, check and check again. You have to develop a habit to obsess over checking your work. This is just so important. I would say 80% of analysts starting their jobs, in their annual review, they get the attention to detail comment. I got it back in the day. Developing this habit of being able to look at your work and check it and make sure that it’s right and avoiding – the worst mistakes are the stupid mistakes, right? Avoiding those mistakes is incredibly important.
[00:23:12] AD: When we talked about this one before you had mentioned this idea of taking a step back along with that. It is important to not miss things. We all know that. I think that younger, less experienced folks may not put that front of mine, so it may be haphazard, not thinking through it, but there are the next evolution of that individual says, “Well, I know attention to detail is important, but I just miss things. I try, but I miss things.” Right? That’s always at least a lot of the younger folks I’ve worked with and even myself at one point that was the challenge. They weren’t trying to be reckless and miss these things, but they were missing things that you or I can look and be like, “Well, how are you missing this detail?”
I actually very often think that this step back that you’re too deep in the weeds thing. I’ll use an email as a really easy example. I still, to this day, I sent one email out as an associate where I had a spelling error that made me just look a total clown, and I’ve never forgotten it. So I reread emails a lot now, to make sure that I try my best to perfect emails, but I’ll write one and I’ll leave it in my drafts and come back to it 20 minutes later, whether I’m stepping away from the computer or doing something else, and then just reread it with a fresh set of eyes. It’s wild, some of the little things you’ll catch off that.
I think, oftentimes, for someone that’s elevated their thinking to say, attention to detail is important that the next real step there is recognizing the importance of stepping out of the weeds for a minute, before actually trying to check the work, because trying to check something as you’re finishing it up and you’ve been in the weeds for two hours working on it, you’re never going to see the errors. If you would have seen them, you would have fixed them in the two hours you are deep doing it.
[00:24:50] LB: Thanks for pointing it out. I think learning to step back it is one of my points of advice. Let’s spend a little bit more time on this, because it is important. Voltaire said that common sense is not that common. I think that you have to recognize that when you’re working on this analysis or presentations, you may not be calling the big shots, the big decisions, but you’re making a ton, hundreds, maybe even thousands of little decisions that all together aggregate to a very big decision. You have to understand the importance of what you’re doing.
Pragmatically, what I think the way to address what you said, which happens to everyone, which is you’re in the weeds, and it’s hard to step back, one of the things that – I have two pieces of advice that might be helpful. Number one, if you can step away from the work and do something else and then look at it versus going into it right away, I think that that is usually helpful to change your mindset and being able to take a step back.
The second piece of advice that I have is if you can look at it in a different way. So can you print the analysis? Can you PDF it? Can you look at it in the phone instead of in the computer, or whatever? That is going to make change your mind and look at it with a different pair of eyes than the eyes that have been in the weeds. I guess, I’ll add a bonus one, which is, you will have a bias to think that what you did is right. Recognize that you have a bias and actively look for potential mistakes.
[00:26:33] AD: The last point is really important. If you thought, I don’t think it’s human nature to intentionally do something wrong, right? You’ve done it in a way that you think is right already. You’re looking at it in different formats, great advice, too. I try to be, I’m pretty digital. I try to be environmentally friendly, but I print a lot of stuff at times. It is exactly for what you just said. It’s having it in a different format to look at it, can give you a totally different perspective, especially if you’re doing anything presentation wise. It’s just it’s hard to see it in PowerPoint, as you’ve been building the deck versus when you all of a sudden see it on paper, it has a whole new life to it, so that great advice there.
[00:27:09] LB: Shifting gears a little bit and going back to the earlier comment about finance being an apprenticeship business. I think that one of the things that will help you tremendously in your early years and, honestly, throughout your whole career, is having mentors. I think you should look for multiple mentors. Some folks talk about having a bit of, just like companies have boards, having an advisory board for your own career, your own life. The reason I say multiple is because different people can help you on different things. Early on, when you are in that uncomfortable or you’re getting comfortable, being uncomfortable, and you’re thrown into assignments that you don’t know how to do. More experienced analysts and associates are great mentors to teach you some of the basics on how to do whatever assignment you’re being given to do and learning those norms about how people like to do things. That’s incredibly important.
Also, I think you should look for more senior mentors, managing directors, etc. Those can give you a very different perspective. Usually, advice that will carry over longer is less tactical and more how to think many years ahead and look at your career many years ahead. I have found, in my own career, having those mentors, having people to bounce things off of is incredibly helpful, incredibly important. It’s really the only way I have found that I’ve been able to progress and grow my career, is by relying on those folks for advice and having someone take you under their wing and move you forward.
[00:29:04] AD: Let me ask you this, Leon. How did you find or how would you recommend someone find mentors and then build and maintain the relationship with a mentor?
[00:29:12] LB: Yeah. It’s a great question. I think, let me start by saying you should try to be selective about who you select as your mentors. Not everyone is going to be a good mentor. Not everyone has good advice. So, that comes from observing and whatnot. One thing – so once you recognize a person, I would usually just barge into their office. Okay, is this a good time? Then say, “I’d love to go for coffee or for lunch and just hear about your experience. What’s your advice?” It’s pretty direct.
I think that goes back to the one about playing the game. I think that understanding the norms. I actually think that, ironically, people that are more distant from you or are more approachable for that type of thing, because they’re expecting it. Having some of your peers or people that are closer to you take away time of their own busy schedule to help you order a new assignment. Looking back at those times is the thing that I thought was a little harder. So that’s where being liked is important. I want to help Alex. I’m going to take more time. I’m going to take the time to explain how to do that model.
[00:30:30] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle market professionals.
[00:30:38] AD: We could probably do an entire episode on mentors, but what you said that stood out to me and what my own experience has taught me is, there’s different types of mentor relationships, some are more formal than others, recognize that it’s on you. If you want to get mentorship, it’s on you to pursue it, to put the time in and put the effort in and put that foot forward to build the relationship. It’s, oftentimes, nothing more than you really just asking advice and questions.
Again, whether you’re asking it and you’re creating more of a formal, ongoing mentor-mentee relationship, or you’re just finding someone a more seasoned, more experienced individual that you’re making a habit of having coffee or lunch with once a month or once a quarter and going into it with an open mind of just asking questions, that in its own, provides a lot of value. I would also encourage folks – we’re targeting some of the younger folks in this content, but be a mentor yourself. You can learn just as much oftentimes in that setting, but it also helps you get better at understanding how to be a good mentee. I’ve mentored people that ghost me, if you will. Then, I don’t want to waste my time on that. You just learn little things like that, that help you be better at what you’re doing, but I do, it’s so important having a mentor.
[00:31:54] LB: I guess, something came into my mind as you’re talking. One thing that I would encourage folks to do is finding mentors within their team or group, particularly because those mentors are the ones that can have a big impact in your career progression. I mean, that’s how it’s been for me in my own experience. Having someone that you work with or you work for, that is also your mentor. That relationship, usually, one, it’s much more pleasant to work with someone you deem to be a mentor as you feel you’re learning. Also, if the relationship is working that person will take care of you and will promote you and give you good bonuses, etc.
[00:32:37] AD: It goes back to understanding your role, playing the game, having the right expectations for how you’re showing up. I think if you do those things and you do them right and put forth the effort mentorships, again, whether formal or informal, can tend to form and, again, in my experience, relatively easily. I don’t want to discount the effort it takes to show up as the motivated, driven person and to put the effort into building it, but it comes down a lot more to your own mindset, your own expectations and your own behavior than it does anything else to really make that successful.
[00:33:10] AD: That’s right. A related topic, which I think it’s also incredibly important and it’s difficult to do is to request feedback often and informally. People don’t usually like to hear the areas of improvement or they’re not doing a good job, or they messed up on a certain thing, but this is in the spirit of this mindset that we’re trying to convey to junior folks. I think that that piece of advice is usually the best thing you can get it to know, early on, that you’re doing something that you either you could be better or you’re doing something wrong, because if you think about it, if you’re doing something wrong and no one has the courage to tell you that you’re doing something wrong and that becomes a habit, then they’re doing a disservice to you and you are doing a disservice to yourself by not tackling that often.
Also, I have this philosophy that you shouldn’t get to your annual performance review and be surprised. I think you should have requested feedback throughout the year often so that you know what are the areas that you need to work. I heard this forecast where there’s two quips that I’d like to convey on this topic. One is that directness is kindness. So, think about that for a moment. Number two is, I think that people, I believe, that I hire, people like to know the truth. I think we should have the courage to tell people the truth. Obviously this doesn’t mean that there’s ways of telling the truth and there’s kind ways of telling the truth, so that the way you say it is very important, as important as what you say, by requesting this feedback early, often, informally, I think, will significantly improve your standing at the firm.
[00:35:09] AD: I would echo that. I would encourage listeners to think about when it comes to feedback. It’s a mindset as much as anything, right? Part of it is the action of saying, “Hey, Leon, can you give me some feedback on this?” Right? That’s an element of it, but real successful feedback loops have as much to do with your interpretation and your willingness to hear and listen to what they’re saying. I’ve done some content around this and use the analogy. If I had a piece of cheese stuck on my face from eating lunch, and I said, “Hey, Leon. Do I have anything on my face?” You knew, if you said anything to me, I was going to get mad at you for telling me that was on there or I was going to defend, “Well, no, that’s supposed to be there. That cheese meant to be.” Right?
Those are defensive mindsets that you can go into. Well, then if I did that, you would never want to tell me that cheese is on there. No different than if you were sitting on the other side saying, “Well, I don’t want to make them feel bad. I’m not going to tell you about the cheese. I’m not going to say anything.” When everyone, myself, I want the cheese gone. I don’t want the cheese hanging on my face, but in general feedback and, obviously, it’s an easy example, I think, we can at least envision in our minds this idea of having something on you that you wish someone just told you about. Feedbacks the same way, work performance is the exact same way.
Meaning that, if I go to you and I ask for something, but you tell me it and I defend it, and I try to tell you what you’re telling me he’s wrong, all I’m doing is shutting down what’s being said or I’m the inverse, if you’re giving the feedback and not telling me the directness of it, I’m not hearing what I need to hear. It has so much to do with the mindset and the willingness to open, hear, listen, and learn. At least my own advice and experience around this, take feedback, always listen to feedback, you don’t have to act on all the feedback you get. You’re going to get bad feedback. It’s your choice to decide how to internalize and how to act on it, but be open minded, listen to it, understand what’s being said, because if you start defending it, whether internally or externally, you lose any chance of actually being able to see what the underlying lesson is.
[00:37:10] LB: Yeah. I agree with that wholeheartedly. I think we’re coming down to the last few. They are not less important, though. One that I think is closely tied to playing the game is this concept that I always say, which is, we don’t teach attitude. I think attitude and work ethic are the easiest ways to develop a good rapport with the people that you’re working with. I think that you should have a general framework to this is that you should not have any chips on your shoulder. Nothing is beneath you in terms of the work that you’re that you’re given. This usually goes a long way.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to be a yes man. I think managing upwards is incredibly important, an incredibly important skill to learn, but having a good attitude and understanding the difference between saying ‘yes’ to everything and just being a good person to work with is incredibly important. Like we said earlier, being good is not enough. Even if you’re great, but you’re a pain to work with, you’re not going to be asked to work on assignments because people just don’t enjoy the experience. So an attitude is something that is very hard to teach. It’s something that you have to be yourself. You can’t have a mentor to teach you attitude.
[00:38:34] AD: Attitudes are one we could do an entire podcast around. The quick thought I will say around it is attitude is the outward expression of our inward thoughts. Meaning that if people – humans are bad actors, we think we’re better than we are. If inside, you’re saying one thing and you’re trying to present differently outside, that’s when your attitude problems start to shine. If you really want to have the right attitude, it all comes down to internal dialogue. It comes down everything we’ve talked through here, the mindsets, the expectation, ways of thinking.
If you get those right in your mind, your attitude, and people have up and down days. We have emotional ups and downs. We have there’s all sorts of stuff that being human causes, but at the end of the day, it has everything to do with, in my experience, the inward thoughts that you’re having and making sure those are in alignment with the mindsets for success that we’ve described for all of us.
[00:39:24] LB: I love what you said. I’m going to steal it for myself. That was great. The other thing, I think, we have two or three more to go. The other thing is developing a solution mindset. I think that just like we said earlier, being good is not enough. Identifying a problem or an issue is also not enough. I think is incredibly important is necessary, but try to come to your supervisor or your team, not just with the issue that you found, but a way one or two way is to solve it.
I think that goes a great deal, because before the podcast, you and I were talking about deep work and making decisions. It’s so exhausting when people come to you with problems and you have to use your mental energy to develop a solution. I value a lot when someone tells me a problem and say, “But I know how to solve it. This is how I think we should do it.” So, that developing that solution mindset, I think, is incredibly important.
[00:40:31] AD: If you don’t bring the solutions, remember that all you’re doing is bringing people problems. Think about how you feel if someone just keeps bringing problems, right? Sooner or later that person becomes a nap that you don’t want to deal with. This goes back a little to your very first one being comfortable being uncomfortable. You might not know the answer, and you might not have a freaking clue, but come with some idea. Come with some –
[00:40:52] LB: Yeah. Come with ideas.
[00:40:53] AD: Yeah. Because it even back to the attitude and the mindset. If I come to you, “Hey, Leon. This is an issue.” Versus “Hey, Leon. This is an issue. I’m not really sure how to solve it, but here’s a couple of things I figured out. Do you have any thoughts around it?” Totally different way of thinking and totally different way of saying the same thing, but are you just showing up and dumping the problem on their doorstep? Are you showing up and saying, “Hey, there is a problem, but here’s what I think we can do to fix it.” You don’t have to know the answer. You know the solution? Excellent. That’s great, but even if you just have some thoughts, or some ideas or some feedback around. It can go a long way to not just making it someone else’s problem.
[00:41:32] LB: Just to conclude our session. I think I want to end with the following, which is answer first, okay. I think there is a common – in a spirit of trying to show how much you know and to show, to try to interpret what people are saying, when someone asks you a question. You’re like, oh, he really means this or let me show how much you know and you’d go into a whole monologue. That’s not the right thing to do. About – sorry, and also to add. We also come with this movie mindset that you leave the punchline to the end, start with the punchline, okay? If it’s a yes or no answer, start with yes or no. Allow the person to peel the onion instead of peeling it for themselves. Try to control the anxiety of wanting to show how much you know and start with the answer, keep it short, keep it succinct, draw the person into the conversation by letting them process the answer and ask you more questions.
[00:42:34] AD: Don’t beat around the bush and remember that whether you like it or not, people’s attention spans are pretty short. If you try to go on a five minute monologue to give an answer to a question, I can assure you that person has thought about 15 other things during it and probably only heard about a third of what you’ve said. They don’t really understand everything you’re describing anyway. If you start with the answer, it gives them something to hang on to, something to look at, and something to analyze what you’re saying to them through that lens, versus – I love the onion idea. Tell them and then let them peel the onion as you go through it. Instead of saying, “Let me slowly peel it for you. I’ll tell you when we get there.” Rip the band aid off. Don’t beat around the bush. Whatever way you want to look at it, but get to that answer. I think that’s powerful advice.
Leon, with all that said, we got through some awesome advice, awesome topics here to help people get ahead of the curve and help them advance their careers. As always appreciate you coming on here sharing your wisdom, your insights and contributing to the content here in the Branch Out Podcast. For our listeners, how can they get in touch with you?
[00:43:37] LB: I’m very active on LinkedIn. You can find me there. I would love to engage and continue the conversation if anyone listening is interested.
[00:43:46] AD: Awesome. Well, as always, Leon, thank you a ton for coming on here and I appreciate your time and contribution today.
[00:43:52] LB: Thank you so much for having me.
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