Picking the Right Job?: Add Thought Leadership to the Mix

A past client of mine called me this week because she was trying to decide between two good job options – one at a large company where she’d been consulting part-time for the last year and one with a new start-up. Like most job seekers, she was more excited about one option than the other, but her spouse was urging her to think about the choices more methodically and to be sure she was making the right decision.

To help her think through her options, I urged her to create a Job Evaluation spreadsheet. I asked her to label the spreadsheet “What’s Important to You?” and then down the left hand side we put items  she was looking for in a job.  We created four categories based on these questions:

  1. How do you want to feel on the job?
  2. When do you know a company is a culture fit for you?
  3. What are you looking for in a boss?
  4. What other job/company qualities are important?

Under the first category, she put items like engaged and energized. Under the second, she highlighted that the culture needed to be collaborative (rather than working in silos), she was looking for a challenging environment (rather than complacent), one that was working at the edge of change and a place where excellence matters. As a former wellness coach, she is also looking for a flexible environment that values the whole person. For her boss, she is looking for someone who is more skilled than she is in certain areas, someone who will be a sponsor (championing her within the organization) more than a mentor, and someone who can be a ‘thought partner’ – who can show her how to do new things but also let her do her job – encourage her to stretch and grow.

When we got to other job/company qualities, she listed pay and stability as well as career advancement opportunities as of primary importance. Then I suggested that two additional criteria: will the role position her for thought leadership – give her the opportunity to develop a niche where she can be one of the few playing in that intersection. And, most importantly, will the company encourage and support her in becoming a well-respected thought leader in that niche. Will they pay for her to attend industry conferences? Will they give her time to write or speak on topics of importance to both the company and her own thought leadership development.

Those were the last two items we added to the spreadsheet, but they turned out to be pivotal to her eventual decision.

Now that we had all the categories, I encouraged her to take the next step and rank each of item on a scale of 1 to 10. It’s important to do this step prior to evaluating a particular opportunity because it is not the number of attributes that a particular job has that matters, its whether the job has the attributes that matter to you.

Depending on where you are in your career, different criteria will be more or less important. In the case of my client, who is in her late-40’s, it turned out that the two thought leadership criterion had become critical (she ranked them both a 10). After an eclectic career path that included roles in technology, user-interface design, wellness and consulting, she knew that if she didn’t identify a niche now and become the go-to person in that niche, she would have lost a real chance to assure her career future. As a respected thought leader with a clearly defined ‘thought leadership intersection point’, she’d have the pick of opportunities going forward. Without that stature and eminence, she would always be just another employee and not someone who was making a real difference in an arena she cared about.

After the rankings were all in place, I encouraged her to evaluate Jobs A and B against each of her original criteria – ignoring the rankings for a moment. Obviously, she couldn’t yet know everything about each job, boss or company, but she could make educated guesses on most attributes. Did the large company culture feel welcoming? Did the start-up have a culture where excellence matters? She could either choose a yes/no on those questions or give each job a rating in each category.

After the ratings were complete, the final step was to look at the items that had the highest value to her – those she had originally ranked a 7-10 and then look at which job had more of those highly ranked items. The outcome? The startup job came out the clear winner. Not because it paid more (it didn’t) and not because the job hours were more flexible (both jobs ranked equally on that very important criteria). It turned out that the start-up gave my client a far clearer path to becoming a thought leader in a new and highly attractive niche. That made all the difference.

When you face your own job option dilemma (and I hope you will, often), I urge you to add thought leadership as a category in your own Job Evaluation spreadsheet. And be sure to ask up front what the company’s policy is as far as encouraging and rewarding employee’s thought leadership efforts.

  • Do they expect their executives to be thought leaders but give them no training or encouragement in how to reach that designation? Or do they actively work as am executive team to craft thought leadership messaging that each can take out to their respective social networks?
  • Do they mouth the rhetoric that thought leadership is important, but then limit the budgets for professional development and conference attendance?
  • Do they crack down on or even forbid their employees from blogging or speaking, or do they add these activities to your job description – and then actually give you time to do both?
  • Do they value the quality of the thought leadership against a set of well-defined criteria or is it just quantity that counts?

Weigh in below and let me know what other criteria you look for as an aspiring or established thought leader when you join a new company. I’d love to hear from you.




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