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Advice From Two Tech Executives On How To Set The Right Trajectory For Your Career

Advice From Two Tech Executives On How To Set The Right Trajectory For Your Career

Young and ambitious technical professionals have the C-Suite in sight. They’re hungry for the increased compensation, responsibility, and authority that come with a CIO, CTO, or VP of technology role. To be successful in their goals, they need advice from seasoned technical professionals who have climbed the long arduous path from the bottom to the top.

This article has been written by two such professionals. Jaimie Cole is the VP of Technology at iCardiac, a relatively new biomedical research company, and Colin Rhodes is the CTO/CIO of eHealth Technologies, a midsize medical records clearinghouse located in Upstate New York. Both Jaimie and Colin have extensive experience in technology and have spent a combined fifty years in the industry.

While there is no prescription for how to get into the C-Suite, some basic approaches will significantly improve your chances of getting there. In this article, we’ll focus on five areas you should put into your five-year plan.

  • Building Relationships
  • Building Skills and Education
  • Building Great Teams
  • Building Great Strategy with Others
  • Contributing to the Community

Build Relationships

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    Many technical people find building strong professional relationships outside their immediate work environment to be a challenge. After all, if you spend your entire day with technical people, you’ll be immersed in their culture and world.

    Venturing out to see the rest of the company is equally important. Studies have shown that people with deep networks are promoted more frequently and are seen as higher achievers, largely because of their ability to build relationships.

    Deep relationships don’t consist of going out for lunch or knowing each other’s children’s names. The best relationships are built on mutual respect and trust forged in joint projects where you’ve had a chance to show you have each other’s back.

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    Strong performers work on both vertical and horizontal relationships and understand their peers’, managers’, and subordinates’ needs. When you look around you at the people you work with, ask yourself if they trust you and if you trust them. This is a good measure of where you stand in the organization, but be careful not to confuse trusting someone with liking them, as these are two different concepts. Trust is the confidence you have in someone’s competence and character. Competence is demonstrated by consistently delivering quality results in a timely manner. Character is demonstrated by making decisions with integrity, being inclusive, staying away from the politically correct solution that may be entirely incorrect. Be viewed as one that gets to the right answer independently, even though it may be counter to the prevailing political winds. But do it in a way that does not sacrifice anyone’s career or credibility—having each other’s back, so to speak.

    The further up the management chain that you go, the more relationships matter. This is especially true when dealing with outside suppliers. Remember, a true win is when you both can work together with as little friction as possible, anticipating each other’s moves, and helping each other get over the finish line.

    The easiest way to build relationships is to treat others with respect and dignity. Don’t bother stroking egos or playing games, just be authentic, real, and sometimes even a little vulnerable. Other people trust those who trust them enough to let them in, and all the bluster and bravado in the world can’t replace this simple act. One of the best ways to build rapport in your relationships is to schedule one-on-one conversations. Conversations are different when they are one-on-one versus in a larger group. You are more likely to get to know the character of the other person in these one-on-one meetings.

    Build Skills and Education

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      What’s your five-year plan for your education? You’re going to be working with some very bright people, and you’d better have a desire to engage in lifelong learning if you plan to keep up.

      There is a growing movement in tech against going out and taking an MBA to supplement your technical skills. Much of what you need to know can be learned on the job or through self-study. If you take online courses and show initiative by learning something new every day, that’s enough for me. People with these characteristics always do well.

      Remember to balance hard and soft skills. Great senior technical managers are multi-faceted. They write articulately, communicate with others, and can still configure machines, write code, and inspire the troops by showing they haven’t lost their edge. There is always an element of the generalist in such people, but they have deep pillars of supporting skills built over many years of hard work.

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      Research and explore seminars, webinars, lunch-and-learn sessions, local networking learning sessions that are offered over breakfast or lunch. Ask others what books they have read recently that have helped them look at their work or career from a new perspective.

      Build Great Teams

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        If you get the opportunity to build your own team, hire for attitude and train for skill. Enthusiasm, self-initiation, and self-motivation are difficult, if not impossible, skills to train. They are skills that should be intrinsic to you and to those that you hire. In Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, he talks about “getting the right people on the bus” and “getting the wrong people off the bus.” This is a key insight; people fit together in teams like jigsaw puzzles and no amount of pushing will fit the wrong piece into the open space.

        If you become the manager of the team, realize that it takes time to manage people. They need direction, objectives, coaching, and correction. Setting up tasks and expectations for your team takes time. Find an experienced manager outside of your direct reporting relationship and ask if they can be your mentor while you cut your teeth on this new responsibility. Experienced managers make it look easy—it’s not.

        Managing teams is hard because people are involved. Sometimes people are unpredictable. Sometimes you have to remove a great person who unfortunately is in the wrong role. This adds stress to your own job and responsibilities.

        Build Great Strategy with Others

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          There’s a reason why it often takes so long to become a general in the army; strategy is serious business and you are taking the lives of others into your hands when you play at it. If you choose right, your company bursts into flower, and if you choose wrong, well, the flower withers and dies.

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          Fortunately, you will rarely be developing strategy on your own. A well-developed technology strategy is a series of concepts that have been agreed to by the business owners, product line managers, and other constituents, including your own C-level team. It should show a logical progression from the current state to some desired future state in alignment with the goals and financial means of the corporation.

          Building great strategy is hard. It takes a team of executives who can bring different skills to the task, and a fine CEO who can articulate your strategy to investors and shareholders as part of the wider corporate plan. Sometimes you’ll be planning for growth and looking ahead, and other times your mission may to be consolidate your gains or decline gracefully for a period to regroup.

          If you are in an early-phase company, breakneck growth is usually the name of the game. You need to know your systems; how they scale, what might break, and what investments are critical. Budgets are tight and highly dependent on revenue coming in the door, so you may have to bide your time for that next big systems changeover. Plans are often short term and the desire for longer-term strategy is often low as the company pivots its way into a market. Don’t let that dissuade you from having something ready to go in your back pocket. You’ll need it eventually.

          Middle-phase companies turn to strategy development as a way to overcome some of the gaps left by the frenetic motion of the early phase. The investments needed to scale at this lifecycle point are larger, and the implementation of projects is considerably more complex. It takes considerable time, thought, and the cooperation of others to build out the strategy of a midsize firm. At this point in the company’s development, it might make most sense to outsource some of the implementation of the strategy, but be sure to stay closely involved.

          Contribute to Your Community

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            We all hear the phrase “giving back to community,” but how many busy managers have the time to do it? Here’s some great advice that you will never forget: make the time to support your local community. There are so many ways to give back.

            Volunteering gives you a chance to network with other people working in different fields and walks of life who you might not come across otherwise. Pick an activity out of your comfort zone that will stretch your skills, such as Habitat for Humanity, reading at the local library, or helping out at an animal shelter. You are only limited by your imagination!

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            Connect with alumni at the university you attended. Consider presenting yourself and your company in front of a group of students. Maybe think about being an adjunct professor or co-teaching with a professor already on staff. Many university departments look for industry advisers to be part of reviewing and designing curriculum for future students. Your perspective is valuable and can have significant impact on the academic environment.

            “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” — Benjamin Franklin

            Who are we?

            As the CIO and CTO at eHealth Technologies, Colin is responsible for an innovative organization focused on medical records and imaging in Health Information Exchanges. Colin is also an active published author who contributes to a wide range of periodicals including LifeHack.org, Western New York Physician, Corporate IT Magazine, and Autism Parenting Magazine on a regular basis. In 2015, he was rated number 44 on the top 100 HCIT list for his continuing contributions to social media (http://healthcareit.me) and the BlogSphere as @CTOAndITGuy.

            As VP of Technology at iCardiac Technologies, Jaimie leads the development of software and technology to help the pharmaceutical industry. He is a passionate proponent of agile/lean software development and rapid prototyping and design. He is also an adjunct lecturer at his alma mater, Rochester Institute of Technology, in the Computer Engineering department.

            Featured photo credit: PicJumbo via picjumbo.com

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            Colin Rhodes

            Chief Technology Officer

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            Published on November 14, 2018

            Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

            Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

            With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

            For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

            In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

            Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

            Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

            It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

            For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

            Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

            Symptoms of Fatigue

            Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

            • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
            • mental blocks
            • lack of motivation
            • headache
            • dizziness
            • muscle weakness
            • slowed reflexes and responses
            • impaired decision-making and judgement
            • moodiness, such as irritability
            • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
            • reduced immune system function
            • blurry vision
            • short-term memory problems
            • poor concentration
            • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

            Causes of Fatigue

            The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

            • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
            • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
            • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
            • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

            Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

            Medical Causes of Fatigue

            If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

            Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

            Anemia

            Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

            Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

            There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

            Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

            Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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            This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

            Diabetes

            Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

            Sleep Apnea

            Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

            Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

            Thyroid disease

            An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

            Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

            • Lack of sleep
            • Too much sleep 
            • Alcohol and drugs 
            • Sleep disturbances 
            • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
            • Poor diet 

            Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

            • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
            • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
            • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
            • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

            Psychological Causes of Fatigue

            Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

            • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
            • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
            • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

            How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

            Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

            1. Tell The Truth

            Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

            To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

            Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

            The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

            One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

            • How you feel
            • What time of day it is
            • What may have contributed to your fatigue
            • How your mind and body reacts

            This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

            2. Reduce Your Commitments

            When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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            If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

            When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

            Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

            3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

            If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

            Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

            If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

            Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

            Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

            4. Express More Gratitude

            Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

            It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

            Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

            5. Focus On Yourself

            Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

            There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

            But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

            We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

            6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

            Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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            Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

            The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

            Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

            7. Take a Power Nap

            When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

            Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

            This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

            8. Take More Exercise

            The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

            Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

            The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

            You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

            9. Get More Quality Sleep

            To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

            Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

            My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

            10. Improve Your Diet

            Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

            Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

            On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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            To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

            Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

            Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

            11. Manage Your Stress Levels

            Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

            When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

            Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

            My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

            12. Get Hydrated

            Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

            Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

            If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

            The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

            The Bottom Line

            These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

            If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

            Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

            Reference

            [1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
            [2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
            [3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
            [4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
            [5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
            [6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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