Mastering soft skills is critical to your career advancement. Louis Johnston, one of our executive authors, agrees. He shared in this interview how mastering certain soft skills helped him skyrocket his career and quadruple his compensation.
Louis started as an Online Marketing Associate, 10 years ago. He has since been promoted to Manager, Director, Senior Director, and now Head of Growth. This may sound like a straight-forward success story. It is not. He didn’t just happen to become super successful by working hard or hitting all his marketing numbers. On the contrary, he was hitting his numbers, but not getting much credit for it. Louis was stuck at the same level for awhile.
It was only when Louis decided to take massive action to develop key soft skills and do the opposite of what he usually did that led to his success today. This was not easy or comfortable for Louis but necessary to put his career on a faster trajectory.
I want to share Louis’ story because I also want to inspire you to take massive action.
- Action that takes you out of your comfort zone
- Action that takes determination and practice over time
- Action that develops critical soft skills
- Action that will lead to habit and therefore transform your career trajectory
In this interview, I focused on asking Louis
- What were the tipping points that helped him take drastic action to develop and practice his soft skills?
- What soft skills did he focus on developing and why?
- What did he learn about how career advancement worked once he took these drastic actions?
You can also read the audio transcription below.
To accelerate your career advancement, ask yourself these questions
- Do I know what soft skills to develop to change my career advancement trajectory?
- Do I know key tips and insights that would help me develop these soft skills?
- Am I dedicating time and effort to practice these soft skills consistently?
- If not, what is stopping me from taking any real action at work?
- Lastly, what are the tipping points I need to reach before I will take any action?
Your comments: Has Louis’ story helped you rethink how you are approaching your career? Do you have any question for Louis or me? We look forward to your comments.
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New to my site? Then start here: Soft Skills – How to Succeed Like an Executive
Best wishes to your career success. I am always in your corner
Audio Transcription of this Interview – Louis’ Tipping Points to Career Advancement
Lei: Louis, thanks for joining me today. I really appreciate your time. I wanna focus today’s discussion on the tipping point of when you decided from wanting to make a change for my career to actually putting a lot of action towards making a change.
I wanna explain why. I’ve seen your career skyrocket in the last ten years and we’ve been talking from a coaching relationship. What I struggle with when I look at the website and how we’re helping people is, there’s a lot of people who wanna make changes. They read articles, and think “These tips are great. I wish I would apply them” But then there’s an inertia. A lot of people hit that inertia and don’t act. They don’t actually do anything about it. Because it is uncomfortable to learn new skills.
From looking at your career, which has really skyrocketed, you have decided to take some action in the midst of these ten years and they have really paid off. You’ve learned some amazing soft skills. So what I wanted to talk to you about is your mindset. What really drove you from, hey these are something I wanna do, to I absolutely have to do something now. And then you did it. So talk to us a little bit about, are there several tipping points to motivate you to change?
Louis: I think this is a great question because there were several micro tipping points if you will, but I think they were so subtle that I wasn’t noticing it. What I did notice is, there was a consistency of feedback I was getting from managers at the time.
Lei: What kind of feedback?
Louis: So the feedback was that, well let me explain what I do. So what I do is performance marketing. And what I do is I grow business, the user bases for businesses, for companies. Especially in software companies and things of the nature. For me that, that was a very black and white thing to do. Input is you have this much money, you grow the business, output is this, right? And I always understood that if I hit a KPI, for key performance indicator, a metric or whatever it is, I would do well.
Lei: Did that happen?
Louis: It did not happen. So I found myself hitting the numbers but stagnating in terms of my position.
Lei: Not being recognized for actually hitting the numbers?
Louis: Yeah, I felt that was because many people didn’t have visibility into what I was doing. There was things about me being a little bit isolated. It was interesting, right? I thought I could just do what I do in isolation.
Lei: And the numbers will speak for themselves for you.
Louis: That’s exactly what it was. Right. Yeah.
Lei: Okay. So there’s, if I could interpret a little bit. Some of the stuff we talk about on the website, one of the things around soft skills is about self promotion. So in terms of actually tooting your own horns but not in a direct way, but actually sharing what you’re doing with a lot of different people and letting them know where things are going. I’m hearing that you noticed that you weren’t doing that, you just thought hey, if I hit the numbers and share the numbers. That that would give me the credibility that I deserve and the credit that I need.
Louis: Correct. And that was very far from what the reality was for me. At least that was my take away from it. And what, one of the things I did differently, because I started noticing at three different jobs this type of feedback. So I basically took some of the feedback that you have given me, and I believe there was two main things. One is giving visibility very early into what I was doing upwards to my manager. The second thing was giving very early plan to them so that they can at least see the layout. And one of the inputs you had given me into that was that a manager wants to be included in the journey of what you’re doing, right? Makes them feel nice. It’s a warm and fuzzy, makes them feel good. They don’t feel like they’re out in the dark and it builds a trust factor.
Lei: Well on top of that I think, some of the things we’ve talked about is, sometimes people who manage, do not understand the level of complexity and details in getting to the results they expect you to achieve. And so if you don’t share the steps it took to get there, sometimes a result seems like oh, they might take it for granted, like that might’ve been pretty easy. Which is why they might not appreciate what you’ve done.
Louis: So one of the key realizations I had, and this came later when I started, and this is what it ladders up into is when I started leading, say is that what I didn’t realize is that my boss has to report to someone else. So I’ll go one step further. Not only is it, do you have to give the visibility early, but you also have to understand how to package that information properly so that they can communicate it upwards themselves. The more you can do that clearer, concisely, or the way they, the best way they can convey their plan upwards, you make them look better. And what happens is, they look, always make your boss look like the smartest person. And that was something that I did not realize later. If I had known that ten years ago, I think it would’ve definitely advanced me earlier. And I remember you giving me the visibility piece and the planning piece and things like that to communicate early. I wasn’t really in tune with it because I didn’t really understand it. And I didn’t understand the need of it quite frankly.
Lei: Or why tell people.
Louis: And what it is is that I was very much a black and white person, once again. The thing that is uncomfortable is that unknown. Meaning soft skills is a very, it’s very fluid I’ll say. I don’t know how else to describe it. There’s some best practices or guides that you can really follow, but you also have to develop your feeling around it.
Lei: Your own style.
Louis: Your style of it, right?
Lei: And it works differently with different execs.
Louis: I think the key piece is getting their input early. One of the things that I noticed you did as a consultant was early on, one of the, what I was hearing, the question that kept coming up when you were talking to people early was that, what’s your style of communication you prefer. And I started doing things like that and I started understanding that when you do that, you start building this rapport with your boss. And what I found is that people who are higher up as execs, at least this is just my observation, is when they notice you take consideration into those details, they look at you as a more strategic person I think. This is just my feeling or my belief, right? And they start respecting you and looking at you in a different way. And that’s when you start making advances is when you move out of a tactical bucket into the strategic bucket. And that’s when I started really realizing. And what that ends up leading to is that’s your path towards leadership. When you start understanding those subtleties, at least in my opinion, you start forging a pathway to how to lead. So now it becomes.
Lei: Because you now understand how your boss or your manager, your executives, what kind of information they need.
Louis: You understand their pain. And you’re helping.
Lei: Or you’re showing that you understand their pain.
Louis: You wanna understand their pain also because one of the things that will give you insight into, is that those will be your pains when you start leading. And the way you move up is regardless, you can get all the numbers you want. There will be a time to, you will hit a ceiling that you need to start building your organization or you need to lead people or manage people, which takes leadership. And as you build that out, that’s just how you advance.
Lei: Let me shift gears a little bit, because that’s a great story about you seeing a repeated feedback and then realizing that it’s something you need to take action on. And you realize what the action is, which is managing upward. Tell us a little bit about how you, did you just instantly become good at those, or how.
Louis: No. Not at all.
Lei: What did you, how did you get over the, I’m not even sure what to do there and how to keep learning this new set of upward communication skills, also managing upward skills.
Louis: Let me tell you something funny. And it was, if everyone is familiar with George, I mean with George Costanza on the Seinfeld show, and if people aren’t, it was this guy who was a bumbling idiot, who basically was a loser who kept doing the wrong things. He went to ask this girl for a date and the got shy and then he realized, I’m gonna do everything the opposite today. So he told the girl the truth and she completely said yes, I’ll go out with you. And the reason why that was important is because one day I just told myself in a new job, I said you know what? I’m completely gonna do the opposite of what I usually do. And a couple of those things were, I’m going to make a plan early. I’m gonna reach out and proactively tell my boss, I’m gonna schedule with them and tell them in two weeks you will have this plan. It’ll be a 30-60-90 day plan. I’ll lay it out for you and I’ll walk you through it. And then this is what it’s gonna look like. And generally that’s not the way I used to do things. I would just start executing. I think about what I wanna do and then I’d execute. Anyway, there’s a lot of intricacies into it, but what it did say, the main thing there was proactively doing it. Now, was it instant? No, it was not. It was, it’s an iterative process. It’ll always be an iterative process. And what happens is, you’re going to get out there, you’re gonna do some stuff. You’re gonna not get some things right; you’re gonna get some other things right. But you’re gonna learn as you go. It’s a test fast, fail fast mentality for me. And that’s because of my profession.
Lei: Well and I think you probably also saw some positive signs of doing the opposite. Even if you didn’t do everything “right”, there were positive feedback or motivation coming from your boss.
Louis: Yeah, and I can tell you that just from the changes I made, I can definitely tell you it led to having more confidence. Being able to lead more so, and monetizing it, quite frankly, more. If I were to put a number on it, I’d say I probably gained another 40% in my pay, just because of simply being able to communicate better. It was amazing. Yeah, it was a big jump. And to be honest, it’s only 40% because I’ve chosen to keep it at that level and lead a very balanced life, because of my family and this and that. But it could easily have gotten up to probably 50 or 60% more.
Louis: In my estimate.
Lei: Well, thanks for your time today. This was really, really helpful.
Louis: Well thank you. I hope it helps.