June 30, 2022

83. Career Excellence

In this episode of The Universal Man podcast, Grego and Pricey discuss what career excellence actually means and why it is different from what people usually equate with success.

In this episode we talk about:

  • What is career excellence exactly? What is mastery? Are the two linked?
  • Reframing that feeling of imposter syndrome to propel your career trajectory and ensure you are a better partner and parent.
  • Why building your network will allow you to achieve excellence.
  • What to do when you hit a career crossroads.


“Any people you live with, partner and/or kids, are 80% more likely to be thriving if you like your job and you are thriving, and the opposite is true if you hate your job.”


What does excellence mean professionally?

Often we use a negative to define the positive. The negative is you get to work and you don’t really feel any flow. It’s hard. You don’t get asked questions by senior members of staff. People don’t trust you. You don’t get the interesting projects. You don’t get promoted. You get average wage. You’re just floating at best. You often get moved sideways because you’re not mastering any sort of craft. So career excellence for me is not being the CEO, because only a very small percentage of people ever get to that level. It is mastering your craft, your profession, and doing a role that really suits your life and your chapter in life.

How do you become a master of your field?

In your particular profession, ask yourself, who’s the best in the company at what you do? That at least it’s not a ridiculously high standard it’s least the person in your company, because if you can be the best coder or engineer or salesperson in your company, then you’re demonstrating a level of mastery.

Now, what’s great about achieving a level of mastery is you go to work and you get a bit more excited. Mastery is about breaking down your profession and saying, “Well, I might be a yellow belt or even a red belt. How do I get to black belt?” But it means you’ve got an incredible level of base skill with experience over the top of that, and as a result, you are valuable and sought after, and your career is that much more enjoyable.

We talk about Brotherhood at U-Man. What is the professional equivalent?

Your network of brothers and sisters. One key pillar of career excellence is nurturing your network. Because you can be an absolute master sitting by yourself from the corner. And nobody has any idea who the hell you are. If you haven’t been giving value to the people around you, and that’s our core philosophy is just give and give and give and you will get and probably get back with interest. That feeling of reciprocity, because you keep delivering value to the people you work with. I think it was Einstein that said, “Stop trying to be a man of success and just focus on being a man of value.” And that’s a recipe for career success, rather, career excellence if you just did that.

What is imposter syndrome?

This is the set of voices that go from your head that you don’t deserve to be where you are, that everyone’s going to find out in a minute that I’m a fraud. When I was a young guy coming up through the levels of an organisation, I used to look at the top of an organisation, think, wow, they’re all knowing, all smart. And then I got in those rooms and I sat in those boardrooms and went, “Not at all, not even remotely the case.” And then years later I started coaching those individuals.

And then as a coach and you know this through your own work as well, you get this privileged position where you really get to understand what is going on within a leader’s mind. And they’re constantly questioning themselves. There is that seat of doubt because it comes, I think with the pressure of a lot of senior positions is. Am I the person do this? What if I make a mistake? Now over time, they learn to back themselves and you learn that. But my sense is that we question ourselves way too much for far too long and we’re ready for the next leap well before we even think we are. But I would say this, the one thing that is critical is at every level you set yourself an intent to learn.

The reason a lot of careers stall is because what got us to the last job, as far as experience expertise, knowledge, network, track record, all of that essentially gets wiped clean when you go to the next level. You’ve got to do it all over again. You’ve got to rebuild your skill set. Because now you’re probably in more of a leadership role. You might have more department supporting to you. Or if you’re just focusing on maybe becoming technical expertise, there’s more things you can become a technical expert in, new fields of knowledge.

What is true mastery?

We know a lot of people that are in the top 10% of their profession, and it is a wonderful place to be. You probably are on a good package. Your life’s pretty good. The difference between that and someone who’s in the top 5% is actually not that much. It’s a bit more training and a bit more experience and a bit more focus and commitment. So we must become masters at a whole range of things. One is that rhythm and routine and personal habit and routine looking after our network, growing our assets and our skills and our experience and building a track record at every level.

Next is having an acute awareness of your particular gift or your particular charisma or your particular skill. One of the things that I think is common by a lot of senior executives I meet or senior professionals like that this might be the best doctor or best engineer you meet is they’re definitely the best in the room at one particular technical thing. And they bring that with a real strength. They don’t discount it. So we need to think that our strengths are really important to the team and lean on that as a point of expertise.

What do you do in a career crossroads?

Throughout your career, you come to these points where you’ve got to say, it’s a number of a few things. One, I’m not going anywhere here. This isn’t working. My boss is either an asshole or giving me nothing, or I’m not even here, I’m not winning or I’ve just run out of steam. So the job is, you’re just looking going, that’s not it.

The second one is yes, maybe you’re in a job that’s reasonable and you quite like it. And then an offer comes across your table and you think, “Oh wow, that’s interesting.”

The third is you’re going away in a job and it’s all going well, but there’s this signalling away to you that you want to get out and start something on your own. And so that’s three. That might make sense.

And the answer at the very beginning, is go back to some of the stuff we teach with universal man, particularly around uniqueness and your action plan. Get close to your values is number one. If you don’t have a clearance, any of your hierarchy of values.

Number two, let’s look at your chapters in life. Do you have a vision? Do we know what we’re just even where you want to be in your career in five to 10 years from now? If I know that you want to be in a particular role, that’s two steps up from where you are or running a dream business in eight years time, then we know what the next chapter looks like. And the one after that. So we can close this one if necessary, or maybe we need to keep this one open a bit longer while we get some more skills and experience and track record.

Can you give some examples?

What we tend to do is we sit in a job and someone, maybe an offer comes across our table or we decide to go and apply for something. And what we do is we go, okay, how much money is it?. And it might be, 100, 120 grand or whatever the difference is. Well, there’s an upside on one job, not the other. Okay, now what’s the job title and what’s the responsibility? And we still, at this point have not really considered values. And I think that’s really important because when we’re making these decisions in isolation, we can make some fundamentally poor decisions. So I think that the best thing to do is to really step back, get clearer new values, get clear on the chapters of the next two or three chapters for you.

And then the assessment that you might do or the diagnosis might be, what these particular options I’ve got, how do they serve my values? How do they align to future chapters? And is there anything right now that must be done? Am I fundamentally unhappy? Am I fundamentally not earning enough money to serve my family or the lifestyle that I want to live?

What is a career generalist?

So if you are a master of nothing, but you’re a generalist that can do everything, you’re a Jack of all trades, that can be alright if you become the master of general management. It’s totally okay to not know how to do amazing coding, but if you can lead coders, so your mastery then has to be leadership. If you want to take your career to the next level, which is very often the case.

How do you know you’re ready for a new challenge?

I imagine you get to a space where you look back and you go, that’s been awesome, but I’ve got nothing more I want to give in the space. And you begin to get a restlessness. It’s a professional restlessness that says, “That’s been good. I’ve done that well, I’ve stretched myself, but I’m ready for something more.”

It happens all the time. I think the average tenure in, I think even a C-suite role now is under three years, which is really short. I’ve observed a number of times where leaders get restless too early. They think the job is done. Their boss doesn’t think it’s done. Their peers don’t think it’s done, but they’ve convinced themselves because they’re just ready for the next shiny thing. So I suspect that for a lot of people in those moments, that the wisdom is don’t just jump ship just yet. I really want you to drive this to the finish line for another 12 months dot the Is cross the Ts, realise the benefits, make the real change happen and enjoy that part of the process.

Number two, I suspect when we get restless, it can affect our reputation quickly if we’re not careful, because we might start dabbling in shit that no one else wants us to dabble in. So if you’re starting to get restless, talk to your boss and say, “Hey, listen, I feel like I’m on top of this. I’m not going to leave it. I’m going to finish it. Do you have something extra that I could support you in that’s an important project for you just to help stretch me, make me think a bit more?” Because this is a bit of a strategy for getting promoted, because a lot of leadership teams generally turn over pretty quickly. About every three years, most leadership teams are probably nearly half renewed. It takes about, there’s a change at the top. They change half the team. There’s a new team together. If you can go through two cycles of that, you’re probably box seated for the promotion to the big job.

And also, the leader might say, “Hey, maybe you need to grow somewhere else. Maybe you need to go sideways so you can go higher, and sideways and keep doing your skill work as you do it.”

And the end of this particular journey, I would imagine is, it’s like everything within life. You get to a time towards the end of your life, whether it be personally or in this case, in a professional career thing and you look back and you say, “Sure, there were some difficult times, but by go, I’ve climbed a few fantastic mountains. I’ve seen vistas I would never have seen.”

What if I don’t want to get promoted?

That’s fine. You’re taking the technical pathway, become the master of your technical area. And if that fits with your values and your life plan, that’s that’s career excellence right there.

I think if you’ve never loved your work and you never feeling great, we now know that flows through to home.

So here’s a statistic that will blow some people away. If you are thriving at work and in life, there’s this flow statistic that counts five different elements of thriving. If you are in four or five, out of those shooting the lights out, you are a family. So any person you live with, partner and, or kids are 80% more likely to be thriving as well. If you don’t like your job and you are not thriving, the people that live with you and the people that report to you, if that’s the case are 80% more likely to also not be thriving. So that is enough to tell you there should be no other statistic I can give you, and I’ve got plenty to say why getting to work and loving a job is important.

Wouldn’t it be great if at the end of a working day, we all walked through the front door or out of the home office, whatever it is, and out to see our loved ones with a sense of pride about the work we do and how we conduct ourselves. And if you can do that yeah, and you get to the weekend or and you’re at a barbecue and someone asks, what kind of work do you do? And you don’t mumble away or, “I just work for a bank,” or whatever it is you. They look at you and go, “That person’s not proud of their work. Christ, if you are not proud, then go and do something about it, because you want to talk with that level of real satisfaction about yourself and the work you’re doing. And it’s got to match the period of life you’re in and the work you’re doing.


Stay legendary,

Grego and Pricey