Taking the Next Step...in Work and Life

June 15, 2017

Taking the Next Step...in Work and Life

It’s graduation season, a time to reflect on accomplishments, changes, and new beginnings. As a grandfather, I get the pleasure of reflecting on three different cycles of change—my own, my children’s and, my grandchildren’s. Of course, personal changes and transitions are an important part of work life as well, as many thoughtful writers have commented. These work transitions often get operationalized in such processes as succession plans, career development assignments, leadership pipelines, readiness criteria, breakeven points, and proficiency curves. Two of my favorite reads on this are:

  • What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith, in which the author explains why the skills that made you successful in the past will not prepare you for new roles in the future. Further, not only will these past skills not be useful at the next level, in many cases, they will also impede progress by getting in the way, and so must be unlearned and replaced with new skills and mindsets.


    A developmental mindset and learning agility are not just nice qualities, but rather essential ones that need to be present throughout every transition; otherwise we stagnate and cease to be relevant.

  • Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth’s, is a practical, insightful book that plays well for both work and life, explaining the value of continuous learning, perseverance, and passion.

When people—recent graduates or experienced professionals—take the next step in their educational, professional, and life journeys—whether to a higher level of school or in transitioning to a new job, it is not just a right-of-passage, but also a step into the unknown. As with any transition, these are new and uncertain waters, and we tend to over-intellectualize and underappreciate the emotional aspects of committing to a different future.

Little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big ones right.

During these time, platitudes seem abundant, yet hollow. Most graduation speeches offer fleeting advice. With two graduates in my family this spring, I decided to give three types of gifts: utilitarian (gift cards or money), practical (tools to help pursue a passion or interest), and thoughtful (books). Naturally, the utilitarian gifts were the immediate favorite, but there is hope for the thoughtful.

The two books that I chose to give this, and that hold value even for seasoned leaders, were Admiral William McRaven’s Make Your Bed and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Coach Wooden and Me.

McRaven’s book includes a transcript of the commencement address he gave at the University of Texas, which he now heads after 37 years as a Navy Seal. In the speech (viewed online by more than 10 million people), McRaven recounts 10 lessons he learned during Seal training that have endured throughout his life and distinguished career.

Tip: Turn to the back of the book (page 105) and read his graduation speech first

Insight: Little things in life matter If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big ones right.

Coach Wooden and me is the story of a 50-year friendship between two people who could not seem to be more different—in height, generation, religion, background, and upbringing. The front and back cover of the book are powerful emotive precursors of what is to come. Abdul-Jabbar weaves his story of their relationship in thoughtful and respectful terms, while not backing away from discussions of race and the political turbulence of the times.

Some of the stories are familiar to sports fans—such as Wooden’s first practice with perhaps the best college basketball players of all time in which he tells them (to their amazement) how to put on their socks and shoes—but others are less well known. As this five-decade long story continues, it is clear that through their professional relationship they reaped many personal benefits. Perhaps ironic, Abdul-Jabbar and Wooden have become very similar people: thoughtful, respectful, spiritual, loyal, reflective, principled, and well-read. And both have received the nation’s highest civilian honor: The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Tip: Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Insight: Be open to all types of friendships. Values count. Preparation and practice lead to success. Look to those you admire for inspiration. True friendship is one of the greatest gifts.

The best of luck in helping the people in your personal and professional spaces take their next steps. It is not easy to make connections that influence people to aspire to their best, but we cannot stop trying.

The Authors: 

David Forman is president of Sage Learning Systems and former chief learning officer at the Human Capital Institute. The courses he has developed and taught for HCI have been taken by thousands of HR professionals around the world. Dave has spent more than 25 years in the training industry, working with large global organizations to improve the knowledge, skills, and performance of their people. Major clients include FedEx, IBM, DuPont, Microsoft, SAP, American Express, PwC, Ford, Prudential, Apple, Scripps Healthcare, and Allstate. He has written more than 40 articles on talent management, analytics, strategic human resources, learning systems, high-performance cultures, and leadership. He has also spoken at a variety of national and global tale and leadership conferences. David is the author of Fearless HR: Driving Business Results. He can be reached at dforman1@cox.net.