Building Your Career the Hard Way with CEO and Author, Steven L. Blue

Building Your Career the Hard Way with, Steven L. Blue

Hi everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall, the host of Crestcom’s, The Leadership Habit Podcast. I am so excited for this week’s episode, where I sit down with Steven L. Blue and talk about building your career— the hard way! Trust me, it’s a concept that many of us may not have thought about or want to embrace, but there’s a real benefit when we can adjust our mindset.

First—What’s Happening at Crestcom?

But before we get into the show, and I tell you a little bit more about Steven Blue, let me tell you about what’s coming epic Crestcom. Every single month, we offer a complimentary webinar that is open to the public. And this month, our topic is New Year, New Mindset, Develop a Growth Mindset for a Successful 2023. This webinar is free, open to the public, and done virtually, and you can register by going to and going into our resources tab. The event date is January 26th, and the time is 10:00 AM Eastern or 8:00 AM Mountain. I would love to see you there. Now, let’s get into this show.

I want to tell you a little more about Steven Blue because he and I had a great conversation about building your career the hard way. So here goes, it’s a little more about Steven, with more than 40 years of management, executive consulting and speaking experience worldwide. Miller Ingenuity President and CEO Steven L. Blue is a leading mid-market CEO and a globally regarded business growth authority who has transformed companies into industry giants and enthralled audiences with his dynamic keynotes. He’s the author of five highly acclaimed books, including Metamorphosis from Rust Belt to High Tech in a 21st Century World. I hope you enjoy our conversation as Steven and I discuss building your career the hard way.

Full Transcript Below

Jenn DeWall: Wow, Steven Blue, we are here to talk about building your career the hard way. I love that people might be thinking, what do you mean? I’m waiting for that quick fix, like that anecdote that skyrockets my career success. And here you are, building a podcast episode around building it the hard way. What’s wrong with you? But before you drop off, I want to introduce you to today’s guest, Steven Blue, because he is our expert today that’s going to be helping and sharing examples and stories of why we need to look at our career growth and development in a different way. Steven, we are so happy to have you on the Leadership Podcast. Thank you so much for joining us. Welcome to the show.

Steven L. Blue: Well, it’s my pleasure to be here, Jenn. Thank you for inviting me.

Meet Steven L. Blue — CEO, Best-Selling Author, and Keynote Speaker

Jenn DeWall: Oh, yes, I love it. And I love this topic because I think if I go back 15 years in my career, I can think of all the times that I just thought success was supposed to happen yesterday. That’s the first thing, right? Like, oh, because I worked, I deserved this promotion. I definitely lacked a lot of emo emotional intelligence, but yet I had the ambition of wanting to be the CEO without any business of being a CEO, yet I forgot about all the growth that has to happen in each of those positions because I got too excited. And so I had pain with going about it. I got frustrated. But you know what, bringing it back to it, building your career the hard way, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Life is hard. But let’s go ahead. Before we jump into this show, Steven, I would love could you go ahead and just introduce yourself to your audience, share your background and tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Steven L. Blue:  Yeah. I I grew up in a blue collar family. My mother was a waitress and my father was a truck driver. They couldn’t afford to send me to college, so I joined the Navy and I spent four years in the Navy. And while I was in the Navy, I took a lot of co courses that were accredited that it’s called the United States Armed Forces Institute. And then when I got out of the Navy, I still couldn’t afford to go to college. And so I went to night school for I don’t know how many years, Jenn, but I didn’t get my bachelor’s degree until I was 40.

Jenn DeWall:  Hey, congratulations on that accomplishment too. And for those listening, we can do it. We just have to make it happen.

Steven L. Blue:  You just gotta work at it. And then I didn’t get my MBA until I was 52. And so I sort of took the, you know, long, long approach and but you know, I was working for employers that would pay for that. But it’s tough going to night school and working a full-time job and all that. And the thing I learned, people ask me this all the time, Jenn, is, you know, what do you value more of the educational credentials or the work credentials? And I say the answer to that is both. I had a fortunate experience in that I was able to meld both of them together. So I’m in night school and they’re, especially in my MBA program, they’re telling me, here’s how business works and here’s what you, and here’s how it is. And I’m thinking, no, not really.

You know, that’s really not how it goes. Not to take anything away from higher education. I happen to be the CEO in residence for the Winona State University. So I’m pretty deep into higher ed. But y and, and whenever they bring me in to talk to a group of students, the professors are always like this, nodding their heads and saying, yeah, yeah, that’s right. It’s what I’ve been telling ’em all along, and I’m glad you’re here. So I, I went the hard way at that. And when I started in industrial leadership, if you will, I started off as a lowly factory supervisor, right at the bottom of supervision. And over the years, and this is sort of the point of the podcast, Jenn, over the years, I started taking on every tough assignment that I could find, all the toxic wasteland places that nobody wanted to go to.

And in fact, early in my career, the only reason I got sent to do these things is because nobody else wanted, wanted the job. So I took it. And over the years I ended up being in every department in an organization and several organizations. So, you know, I was in marketing, I was in sales, I was in factory supervision, inventory control. And so I got to learn the ins and outs at the bottom-level of every organization. And then as I, you know, moved up in leadership positions in the middle management, and then C-suite and, and so forth. And I tell people all the time, you know, people love lists, you know and, and I have lists too, right? The seven most things this, the six most things that, and people want this is to your point or earlier in the show, people want a simple way sure-fire way, do these seven things, check it off the box, and you’re done.

Moving From Industrial Leadership to Authorship

Steven L. Blue:  And, you know, life, it doesn’t work that way. And about the time I was in lower senior management, I’ve, I’ll never forget this, Jenn, I’m sitting in my family room and I’m on my laptop and I’m writing my first book, and my wife comes down, she says, what the heck are you doing? And I said, well, I’m writing a book. She goes, you don’t know anything about writing a book and you don’t know anything to write a book about. I said, well, you know, sort of, I do. And then I’ve done five of ’em. One was a bestseller with Jack Canfield. Then I started doing speeches. I thought I’d like to share my knowledge and, you know, sort of my experience with other people in, in speaking. And I started off the usual way first. There was, you know, the local Kiwanis Club. They, they’ll, they’ll take anybody to make a speech. And I was horrible at it. I was just really awful about it. And then over time I sort of honed my speaking career. And these days I do speeches at United Nations, Carnegie Hall, Harvard Business School. And so I’ve, I’ve kind of reached the, the top echelon of speaking, but I, but I really like it because I get the chance to share my experience with, cause I’ve, I’m a been there, done that CEO I’m not an academic, although I do that in part, I I have real life and real-world experience to share in that.

The Problem with Building Your Career the Fast Way

Steven L. Blue:  So I’ve built the career the hard way. I don’t know what the easy way is. You know, I don’t know. You walk into an organization and they like you and they promote you and they promote you and they promote. I’m, I’m not sure that even exists, but that didn’t happen for me.

Jenn DeWall:  Right. I think it exists. I think that when it might happen that easy, and it’s based on maybe more of sometimes those personal relationships, we might get promoted too fast. Yeah. Cause we’re well liked. Yeah. And then we might miss critical opportunities for growth. So then there might be that point. I think you and I talked about that on the pre-call. Yeah. That I, I had worked with someone that, you know, flew up the ranks and then, and it was based on that he had great executive and leadership presence. He had a great ability to manage up. He was very well respected and liked, but they moved him so quickly up the ladder that there was a point then when he was in a visible position and everyone could kind of see he didn’t necessarily know what he was doing. Yep.

It was kind of like he was set up to fail because people didn’t stop and say, well, we like you, but did we do our due diligence to set you up to succeed? Yep. But I know it’s a balance, right? Because there’s that piece that you just shared. You were willing, you had the attitude of like, I’ll try anything. Like I’ll say yes to the opportunity, even if I don’t know it yet, I’ll figure it out. I don’t have to be the expert. Yeah. But no, for those that are sitting here listening– the hard way, think about the consequences sometimes when you think it’s so easy for some people, think about maybe potential obstacles that might happen when we rush ourselves through our growth, because we miss those opportunities for learning that really help everything click and connect. Yep. Oh my gosh, Steven, I love this.

I love just your knowledge. And honestly, me as a new speaker that’s starting so small that’s trying to do all the things, I sit here and I’m like, how in the heck did you get there? Will that ever happen? I don’t even know all the imposter syndrome. And, you know, self-doubt that I think people are thinking about when they think about where do I go next in my career? So I’m just gonna be loving this conversation. So let’s talk about building your career the hard way, because again, I hope you’ve got a little bit of counterpoints. You’ve heard from Steven about his success that he is had by being willing and open to opportunities no matter what. But where, Steven, from your perspective, where do people get it wrong? Where do people get their career development

What People Get Wrong about Career Development

Steven L. Blue:  Wrong? Well, in a couple of places. That’s a good question, Jenn. First of all, they they look for the glamorous and easy assignments. The ones that they’re guaranteed for success and they know they can do. You know you wanna grab onto the assignments that you don’t know that you can do it. You’ve never done it before because that’s how you grow, right? I go into, used to go into, especially in the beginning, I’d go into these places and they were just wrecks. I mean, it was just absolute wrecks. Everything was messed up, everything was wrong. I’d go into there and I’d go, I have no idea how to do this. I have no idea how to fix this, but I do do know I need to do it. So I would just sort of dig in and, you know, you start learning from the bottom of an organization how an organization works.

And I, I just did a, wrote a piece for industry week the other day. A lot of CEOs, you know, when you look at CEO progression, it’s usually up through sales usually. Okay. Maybe 60% of the time. It might be up through marketing, maybe 20% of the time, very seldom. But occasionally finance or engineering. The problem with that is they, they’ve grown up in silos, and that’s the only silo they know. So it’s like, you know, if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So when they become CEOs and there’s an issue in the organization, or there’s an opportunity that the organization can’t seem to take advantage of, they think, okay, it’s a sales thing. I, I know this, I’ll dig down. It’s a sales problem. But they, they ignore the fact that it might be an engineering problem, a marketing problem, customer service problem.

I don’t know. A whole myriad of things. And the problem with a lot of people when they get up that high, you just mentioned it, they really don’t know what to do because they’ve never had the experience of having to do it. And you know, I told somebody the other day, I said, the reason I know so much is not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I’m so old. <Laugh>. I’ve been around a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things. And so I, I tell CEOs all the time, Jenn, you don’t have a problem that I haven’t seen. And in fact, you don’t have a problem that I haven’t already solved. And that comes from depth and breadth of experience in an organization. But most people don’t want to do that. They want the fast track. You know, you know how it is with the organization, especially big companies.

Is Being Labeled a High-Potential Employee Actually Bad for Your Career?

Steven L. Blue:  They have, what do they call ’em, the high performers, right? The worst thing that could happen to you is to be identified as a high performer, a high potential, excuse me, high potential employee. Because then your head just explodes and you’ve got, you know, a maniacal ego. But you’re totally insecure. And and that’s just the worst thing that happen because then you start thinking, I can do no wrong. And when people or organizations think they can do no wrong, then they do wrong. Because they, they, they never considered the possibility that I could be wrong about something.

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my gosh. Or even like, that honestly just reminds me of being in my twenties. I had fast growth, I was well respected, my first position, get promoted, second position, get promoted, get promoted to the third position with this, within this company to a pretty visible position. I, I beat out a lot of people. I had high ego, right? People would be like, oh my gosh, Jenn, you’re on the fast track. And then all of a sudden I got accepted into their MBA program promoted to this really visible position. I definitely had that puffed up ego. And fast forward to a year, oh wait, two years. Oh wait, three years. Yeah. I never got promoted again. You know what, because what got me there did not work there. No. And I didn’t have, because of my ego and lack of emotional intelligence at that time, I did not have that perspective. So that rings so true. And it was painful. <Laugh>,

The Hidden Value in a Career Setback

Steven L. Blue: There’s nothing like a good setback, Jenn, to give you humility and perspective. I remember one time I was sure I was gonna get this particular promotion. I mean, it was in the bag. I was a high performance person and it had to be mine, and it went to somebody else. I was devastated. I I almost quit. Which would’ve been dumb because I’m thinking, how could that possibly happen? I was the best person for the job. Doesn’t matter if you’re the best person for a job in a big company or not, you know that Yeah. It, a lot of things matter. And, and that gave me perspective, caused me to sit back and really think about, well, why didn’t I get that promotion? And maybe I wasn’t, you know, you, if you get a promotion, what do they call it? The Peter Principal, then you get fired Right? When you can’t do it. So the worst thing that happened is you get in a job you can’t do and you get fired, then there’s no coming back from that. Right. You don’t go to your next employer and say, well, you know, I was sort of of, okay, and then I got this promotion, I get fired, but I’m okay. You can, you should still hire me.

Jenn DeWall:  <Laugh>. I love that perspective though. Think about what’s the consequence. I mean, because there’s, you can talk about imposter syndrome, you know, like that’s fine. We can have a little bit of that, but we sometimes have to check our ego and say, can I honestly, am I prepared for this? Yep. Because the consequence of not having the skillset or the experience or desire, and I just want people to think I’m great, is that I could end up on the other side of that. Yeah. I, I love because you said it in there and I know that was one of your next points too, of like, you wanted to quit when you didn’t have that. And so where else do people get career development wrong? Is it just walking out the door? Is that they just give up at the point of, well, this didn’t go as planned, so I’m outta here.

Experience and Learning will Build Your Career Over Time

Steven L. Blue:  Yeah, well that’s part of it. But you know, the other part of it is you have to do a lot of soul searching. If you don’t get a promotion is a good example. You have to really examine. People usually don’t wanna do this. Get a look deep inside you and say, okay, what skills and experience do I not have that I really need? Most people, they want to, they want to just assume that somebody will figure that out for ’em. Have to figure it out for yourself. When I, I worked for Alan Bradley 35, or maybe even 40 years ago now, now they’re owned by Rockwall. Alan Bradley had the most advanced and special and terrific leadership training programs on the planet. And they knew how to treat people well, I’ll give you an example. Harry Bradley, who founded the company, for those of you that aren’t familiar with Alan Bradley when it got bought by Rockwell, it got bought for one point some odd billion dollars and it was privately held and had no debt and it had no outside capital.

Okay. So that’s a pretty terrific company, right? Yeah. Harry Bradley, who was one of the founders of the company, lived in the top floor of the factory in Milwaukee and on the midnight shift, he’d walk around the factory and he wasn’t walking around the factory to make sure people were working. He was walking around the factory to make sure they felt good, they felt respected, they were treated well. And, and he would come down on you if you were a supervisor or a manager or a leader or a vice chairman or whatever that didn’t treat people well, he’d just fire you. And that was the statement that Alan Bradley made you treat people well or you can’t work here. And I was fortunate early in my career to get the best leadership training I could have ever had. Yeah. But anyway, so one of the things

Jenn DeWall:  I just, I mean, before you go into that, that is profound. If we could all have those expectations, if you don’t treat people well, you’re outta here. Think about how great our cultures can be. That is profound. Sorry to interrupt you, but like, that is beautiful,

Steven L. Blue:  But you have to act it out. I’ll give you an example. And while I was working at Allen Bradley I took one of these crummy assignments at a little dinky plant in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They lived in Cleveland at the time, Ohio. So I moved, my wife and I, we didn’t have kids in, we moved to Ann Arbor and I was sort of sent there to find out what was going wrong. And the plant manager ran the place like a plantation. He was a complete, I won’t say what on a podcast. Complete jerk that treated people badly. And so I reported all this back to headquarters and they promptly fired him. They just fired him because they didn’t tolerate that kind of treatment of people. And when you, when you take action like that, Jenn it sends a profound message to the rest of the organization.

Jenn DeWall:  Wow. That’s gonna make me, I mean I, I lived in Milwaukee for eight years. I’m familiar with the Bradley Clock tower,

Steven L. Blue:  You know? Yeah. Oh yeah. The full Senate clock tower.

Jenn DeWall:  Now that just makes me, it gives a different meaning to that.

Steven L. Blue:  It was a pretty amazing place.

Learning to Treat People Well Will Improve Your Career

Jenn DeWall:  Well, yeah, because I, you just, there are so many, I think, and you’ve obviously seen this in your work of so many organizations that are reluctant to reprimand bad behavior, to set what they’re gonna expect because they think they might lose a top performer. They don’t think about everything else. Right? I mean, gosh, from your perspective, what do, how do you take that? Because I’m sure you’ve seen it too, with other organizations where they tolerate not great leadership or not great people skills.

Steven L. Blue:  No, no. It’s, and it’s it’s a cultural killer. Typically, you know, if you’re a sales guy, you can get away with murder because, you know, they’re afraid. Oh my God, if I take this guy out, you know, I’ll lose all the business. None of that is true. None of it is true. I’ve taken out probably more sales guys than any other leadership position in, in my whole career. because sales guys tend to have big eagles. And they tend to believe that because of the customer relationship, they, they’re untouchable. And then people look at that and they go, that’s wrong. The way he treats people is wrong. But because he’s a superstar, Bill O’Reilly is a good example of that. Right. He was a superstar at Fox News and they finally took him out. They probably should have taken him out before they did for bad behavior. We don’t need to go into what it was, but they should have take, I wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal about that. They should have taken him out long ago because yeah, he’s a superstar, but the damage that a superstar like him can do in your organization is just unbelievable. Yeah. Then it rubs off on people.

Jenn DeWall:  Yes. But I think you also provided the solution within that, you know, of to avoid the individuals like that, that are the office jerks. The ones that we don’t wanna work with. This is, if you don’t wanna be that person, this is why you also wanna slow down Yep. To observe and learn. And I know we’re gonna go into now how to actually build your career the hard way. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, any last comments that you would share about where people get career development

Steven L. Blue:  Wrong? Yeah. Well, when I was at Allen Bradley, the, we had a place, we, we used to call it charm school. And it was actually the Center for Creative Leadership. I think it was in Greensboro, North Carolina. You may might be familiar with it. Uhhuh, <affirmative>. And before you went that you went, you’d spend, spend a week in charter school with a bunch of shrinks. Right? And before you went there, you would take all kinds of psychological assessments, the MMPi, you know, all the personality assessment, and then everybody that worked underneath you and everybody you worked for and everybody you worked with would do assessments about what they think about you. Right. And so then you’re with the shrinks for the entire week. And, and the last day is when you get the whole data dump on what everybody thinks about you, what the shrinks think about you, what your boss thinks.

Steven L. Blue:  And it’s all anonymous. You don’t know who said what, you know. And it’s terrifying because oh my God, I’m finally gonna get a complete 360 view of what people think about me, how I’m perceived, and how you’re perceived to dictates everything in terms of how successful you can be. And that wasn’t just a profound experience for me. And I would recommend that kind of if you, I don’t know, I didn’t even know if they’re still wrong. They probably are. If you get down to the Center for Creative Leadership, it’s not cheap. It’s probably $10,000, I would guess. Now maybe more. Go down and get it and you’ll get the best view of who you are and what your weaknesses are. And I tell CEOs all the time, the strengths of your company will never put you out of business. So don’t worry about that. Don’t even talk about that. Don’t even think about that. Think about what the weaknesses are.

Perception is Reality When You are Building Your Career

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. I like, well, and I like the important piece you said in terms of where do people get career development wrong? You don’t realize that perception is reality. Yeah. That how people think of you is going to determine that. And that’s where I think the ego place, like I did not have the emotional intelligence or the self-awareness to realize that. Yeah. And I think for me, I got that piece of feedback, Hey Jenn, we need you to do X, Y, Z. And I was like, what? What do you mean I was so successful these past few times? I don’t understand. Well, they don’t perceive you to be, you know, concerned about the business. If they see you laughing, they don’t perceive you to be. And I could go in and argue why I may not agree with that,

Steven L. Blue:  It doesn’t matter.

Jenn DeWall:  But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. <Laugh> like, doesn’t matter.

Steven L. Blue:  It’s reality.

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. And it’s a hard pill to swallow, but instead of being afraid of it, we can also think, how can I control the narrative?

A Message from Crestcom

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Building Your Career the Hard Way is the Only Way

Jenn DeWall:  So how can you control the narrative? How can you set yourself up for success for being the leader that you want to be? How can you build your career the hard way? Here we go, Steven. So how can we do it?

Steven L. Blue:  The hard way is the only way, I mean the easy way is how you flame out, how you burn out, how you get sidetracked, how you get fired. And so I, I would never and the hard way is, is in a nutshell, Jenn, is take on the hard, hard, hard, hard assignments. Learn everything you can about an organization. Don’t worry about getting promoted. Okay? Too many people think, how do I get the next promotion? How do, and in part that’s the pay system, right? Incentive system and incentivize bigger, you know, there’s bigger levels in the yard. They use the hay, whatever it’s called now, they incentivize you for, you know, how if you have more people working for you, you make more money and all that kind of stuff. And so you, you shouldn’t worry about, you know, getting promoted. What you should worry about is adding the most value that you can in the place that you’re at while you’re at it.

Steven L. Blue:  And if you do that, and if you get known as a problem solver, I guarantee you that promotions will come. I had all kinds of crap assignments and hole in the wall places before I was promoted. Then, then, then the general managers of different divisions go, Hey, can I borrow blue for a month or two months or six months to have ’em fix something? And then once that started happening, then I got recognized as somebody that was worth worthy of promotion as opposed to someone who thinks they’re worthy of promotion and goes, me, me, me, me, me, promote me. I, I’m ready for it. That’s kind of how it happens.

Jenn DeWall:  Oh, I love that. Well, and it’s, that’s a tactic, right? And of itself be the problem solver. Yeah. It’s be this problem solver. Look at the, look at your team, look at your organization. What problem are you facing and how can you solve it? And don’t, I mean, I guess within that, did you have, it sounds like if they asked you, you took the opportunity to solve the problem, but would you also just jump into it and be like, there’s a problem here. I bet I could be curious and try to figure out how to solve that. Would you just naturally, you know, follow a

Learning to Solve Problems Comes with Experience

Steven L. Blue:  That’s a good, that’s a good comment question, Jenn, because I went I went to, I would solve problems that I wasn’t even asked to. I’d see a problem, it might be in another department, it might be in another area. No one asked me to solve. And I’d go, this isn’t right, so I’m just gonna go and solve it. And then I, people started noticing me, they go, no, I didn’t ask him. The guy in charge or the, the person, woman in charge say I didn’t ask him do that. But boy, I sure am glad he did. That’s a problem that’s been festering for a long time. Nobody has tackled it music because because it was toxic and not very sexy and all that. I would just go grab problems. And, and you know that part of the mechanics of problem solving is the more you do it, the better you get at it. The more you’re intuitive and your analytical skills get sharpened for the next problem.

Jenn DeWall:  Well, and you are so right. I would by nature not describe myself as an analytical person. I am a much more expressive and big person. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. But it’s because of those opportunities working with organizations and curiosity to want to solve problems that I feel like I’ve kind of addressed my blind spot and developed that skill. It’s still not my strength. I, I’m not gonna say I’m the best problem solver, but I definitely have a more analytical mind just by being willing to attempt it. Yeah. Well, but how do you, ok so tell me this because I guarantee this happened to you and I know it probably happened to someone else. So let’s say that they find themselves the boss or you know, someone comes up and asks a request, Hey, would you like to do this project? And in your head you’re like, okay, Steven just gave me that advice that I’m supposed to do it, but what if I don’t feel like I can do it? What if I actually, you know, think I’m a moron or don’t think I’m good enough or think I can’t figure it out? because I know that we all have those moments of insecurity. That’s why we wouldn’t want to do that. What would be your advice for the person in that, in that shoes, that’s all right. I’m gonna take Stevens advice, but holy cow, I have to get through this mindset stuff here. What advice would you have for them?

Embracing a Growth Mindset to Find Opportunities to Learn

Steven L. Blue:  You know, that that mindset’s the problem that everybody has in every day of their life for everything that they do. Unless they’ve done it a million times before. I don’t care if you’re a a, a, a husband or if you’re a wife or you’re a business person, it’s like, I’m, I’m not good enough for this. Whatever it is that’s just sort of human nature that you have to sort of get her out. And the thing that people have to realize is, before you do something like this, take on a problem that you haven’t solved before. There are no answers. Y you’re not gonna have the answer. If anybody had an answer for that, they’d have fixed it by now. And so you got just as good a shot as anybody else to fix it. And I’ll tell you what, what doesn’t happen is if you plunge into a problem, especially if you volunteer for one and you can’t fix it, they’re not gonna fire you for that. They’re gonna, they’re gonna cheer you on and say, well thank you so much for trying that. Maybe you want to try something else. And the, the, the world is full of risk takers and the world is full of risk. Avoiders don’t be a risk avoider because you can’t, you can’t build a career that way. The other thing I would say is don’t expect or ask for a promotion after you’ve done something. Just go do it. Don’t brag about it. Don’t advertise it. The word will get around.

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my gosh, I think that’s a really important piece that I’ll speak for myself, but I I’m gonna go with people maybe earlier on in the career. This is a really valuable piece. Just because you’ve also done the basics of your job doesn’t mean that you’re ready to get promoted again. I get it. Cause I was absolutely an overzealous millennial coming in and feeling like, well I know I’m doing a good job so I guess I deserve this. I made all of those mistakes. So I am am not judging you if you find yourself in that position. But note that there is a piece where we’ve got to show more intrinsic value beyond just the scope of what we were initially hired for to say, yes, I’m ready for the next challenge. Because they already made the, the first promotion that was the job offer. We trust that you can do these basic responsibilities. Right. The next one comes when they say, oh wow, you’ve exceeded these responsibilities. Right. That’s exactly, I think people miss that.

It’s Not About What You Deserve

Steven L. Blue:  And you know what the world doesn’t care what you deserve or anybody else, you know, they don’t care. The bosses and business, they don’t care what you think you deserve. They don’t, they don’t even wanna know about it. What you deserve is completely irrelevant. What you can satisfy in terms of problem solving. The world needs problem solvers. And I don’t, and every business and every time, you know, you’ve got millennials now and you’ve got, you know, the quiet quitting and all that stuff going on. Every business in the world, every family in the world, every organization in the world has problems and they all need them solved. So if you’re good at problem solving, then you’re golden.

Jenn DeWall:  And I love it. You hit on just that basic accountability. It is on you. It is not on someone to be, I’ve, I’ve heard it described as the knight and shining armor that comes on a horse and rescues you and says, oh, I’m here to give you all of your career dreams.

Steven L. Blue:  Doesn’t happen. Doesn’t happen. It

Jenn DeWall:  Doesn’t happen like that. And even if it does for one promotion, just like it did for me, it doesn’t mean it’s always gonna happen like that.

Steven L. Blue:  No, no. That that’s exactly right, <laugh>. That’s exactly right. And I, and I tell people also, when you, when you, when you, when you dive in and wade into the problem solving world, you’re gonna get a lot of pushback. You’re gonna get a lot of resistance. You’re gonna get, because people are worried that they’ll get flagged as the person that caused the problem. Whatever. You’re gonna get a lot of obstacles in your career. I’ve had bricks thrown through my window. I’ve had death threats. I’ve had attempted blackmails, you name it, I’ve had, I had a high risk security detail one time to guard my family. When you wait into the world of problem solving and you’re good at it, the bosses above love it. But all the people that are involved in the problem, they hate it.

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my, I I won’t ask, I’m sure you probably can’t go into detail, but like, so how do, because you clearly have overcome some adversity as a result of people maybe not wanting to change, not wanting to see it. Yeah. And I think this is a struggle for a lot of people, regardless of how many years, if they haven’t seen that problem before, how do you deal with that when you’re seeing and you’re promoting something that isn’t going to be well liked? What would be advice for someone in that perspective?

Steven L. Blue:  Well, first of all, I have to strap on your flack jacket and get ready for incoming because it’s coming <laugh>. Yeah. Now, no, after all these years, Jenn, it doesn’t surprise me. I know it’s coming. I, I watch for it. I’m ready for it when it comes. And you sort of have to be part cheerleader, part bully, part magician. And you sort of have to cajole. And sometimes you have to take people out. If there are people that are really against the initiative, you do your best to try to convince them why it’s righteous and all that. But if they don’t come along, you just have to get rid of them because then they start infecting the rest of the organization. If you don’t but you sort of have to put on your flack jacket and, and go, oh yeah, well I I figured I’d probably get a death threat over this one. Or I figured I’d get a brick through the window over this one. And the bigger the challenge and the bigger the problem, the bigger the resistance you’re gonna get. But you gotta muscle your way through that.

Jenn DeWall:  Well, and what I hear you say is you have to accept that it’s going to be there. Yeah. And not dive into that resistance. Know that that is a part of it. It’s not saying, Jenn, you are a horrible person that’s never gonna do well or do blank. That is actually a part of the work that you’re doing. It’s not a personal characteristic of who you are or will be.

Steven L. Blue:  It’s a big part of it. And after a while you go, okay, yep. Been there, been there, done that. Here comes the resistance. I was ready for it. Here comes the sabotage. Here comes the threats, here comes the passive resistance. You name it, I I’ve seen it all and I’ve been able to work my through way through all. But in the beginning I’d go, oh my God, I thought everybody had loved me for doing this. No, people don’t love you for solving problems, at least not your peers because then they look bad because you solve something they should have.

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. Oh my gosh. Yeah. Knowing that it’s that you might, if you’re well into solving a problem that people might get triggered. I mean, you can think about it in the basic level. If I think about oh gosh, like right now I, I work with a company and like there’s limitations due to a software or I was just coaching someone. Here’s a perfect example. I was just coaching someone on a presentation that they were building and what they are going to present is an opportunity to improve the automation of one of their processes. And they’re a major tech company and they, you know, he’s like, I’m really nervous about bringing this up because I know that the second I talk about our gaps, that there are going to be people in the room that are like, no, no, no, you can absolutely see all this. Don’t you see it? Yep. And, and that’s why it’s so important to think about that finesse of like how we are bringing these problems to light too. Because I know some are going to call for a very direct, this is what the problem is, but sometimes we have to be a little bit more creative about how we’re presenting it to be mindful of that response. Or Wait, what’s your take on that? Do you, would you just like say it and get to the point or would you soften it?

Steven L. Blue:  Well that depends. When I’m a CEO I get the right to put it right to the point. Like can muscle my way through anything when I wasn’t a CEO. And even sometimes as a CEO you have to finesse your way around things. And if you understand people that I, that I do very well. And if you understand organization dynamics, which is tricky in any organization, the bigger organizations there are, the more organization dynamics there are. And if you understand those dynamics, you can sort of move the chess pieces around the board a little bit. You can influence here, you can push a little bit there. You can you know, cajole over here. And it’s, it’s not, like I said at the beginning of this, people like the five things I have to do to be a successful CEO, I’m sorry. There are no five things. It takes, you know, high finesse, high eq, it takes high experience and organization dynamics and they’re all kind of the same. Jenn generally organization dynamics. They may be more pronounced the bigger an organization is, but they’re all pretty much the same. They’re not that hard to figure out.

Incentives and Rewards Aren’t Just for People Managers

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. I wanna ask, what’s your perspective, because I think we’re seeing a shift right now where hopefully I know the incentive and reward system for people as it relates to career development is to follow the money, which is following a title, which is typically then going into people management because not a lot of organizations are set up to maybe reward the technical leaders. Right? What would be your advice to someone that is looking at this and they’re like, I love solving problems, but I feel like the only way I can do it is to be a people leader and I don’t wanna be a people leader. Or how would you help people discern that and accept the fact that even if you’re not a people leader, it doesn’t mean you don’t add value, but you have to know, are you a person that wants to work with people because it’s, it’s hard when you’re leading people. That’s challenging. I know I kind of said a lot there, but really what I’m trying to understand is like what, how would you help people understand that it doesn’t have to just be a people leadership path. Like there’s a technical path. You don’t have to just be a people leadership path. Be open to finding different opportunities. You don’t have to just be a leader.

Steven L. Blue:  People leader. The pro, the problem with most of the organizations that they used to call it the hay system, I don’t know what they call it now cause I I don’t use it anymore. It basically rewards you for more people responsibility, more people that are underneath you and all that kind of stuff. And then they guys, and that, that’s really kind of bad because you’re just asking people to amass a bunch of people behind them and underneath them that they may not need. And, and so then they got smart and they did what they called the dual technical career ladder for what you just talked about. People who are really, you know, normally the people that get promoted into supervisory, excuse me, supervisory positions are the ones that are the best at what they do. And then, then they’re usually horrible at people leadership.

And so they created the dual track. So if you’re really good at what you do, a hay system or whatever the compensation system of, of these days can reward you at higher levels of compensation along the way for technical contributions. But I just have to say though, while we’re on the subject, that most companies, especially the big companies, they got the compensation thing all wrong. They got the incentive thing all wrong. And I’ll tell you how it, why, why I mean that every department and most organizations has their goals, right? And they get compensated based on achieving the goals, right. Incentive to hit their goals. Right? So I’ll give you not an extreme example because I’ve seen this and I’ve I’ve been there and done that. The manufacturing guy’s goal is to shove everything out the back door that he can’t, right?

If he does that, he hits his goal. The quality guy’s goal is to make sure nothing gets out the back door that has any possibility of a defect. So those two are at odds with each other, right? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> and in my company, what I advise CEOs, okay, departments have to have their goals. I get that. But unless the company hits its profit goal, nobody gets anything. And now all of a sudden everybody, you know, they may have their own goals, they’re not conflicting with each other. Everybody knows that if we hit the profit goal and we should work toward that, we get the goodies. If we don’t hit the profit goal, nobody gets the goodies. And that’s how you eliminate all this nonsense that happens in organizations and the infighting and the, the conflicting goals. I actually had a manufacturing guy, didn’t work for me, worked was one of my peers on the last day of the month, he’d load up a bunch of tractor trailers for with products that we had no orders for because he got paid when it went out the back door. So he’d ship all these truck trailers around and they’d drive around the city, then come back on the first of the month and he’d put it all back in inventory and he hit his goal. He hit his incentive. How insane is that?

Jenn DeWall:  That’s insane. What a loophole to work through

Steven L. Blue:  <Laugh>. I know, I know. This was a big company. He was doing this and everybody knew it. Everybody knew it because then he shouldn’t have had that goal. He should have had the company profitability goal then he wouldn’t be doing that nonsense.

Lateral Moves Can Also Help Build Your Career

Jenn DeWall:  I love that. Well, and you’re right. You’re so right. There are so many organizations where we just compete for our own goals and motivations. We don’t collaborate well together, right? It’s always a me instead of a we. And we’re not, I think that’s a really profound way of saying it because I think even in terms of how we understand the priority of other people’s challenges, if we just look at our own agenda, then we don’t give respect for other people’s time and where they need to focus it based on those goals. And they’re all goals. We’re all in this together. I love that Steven so much. Trying to think of what I wanted to add. Either like, the last thing that we didn’t even talk about, which I think you see a lot with younger generations and then we’re gonna wrap up. But curious your perspective on lateral moves, the ones that people don’t want because it doesn’t necessarily come with the title change or the fancy title and they don’t get the glory of saying, now I moved up, up, up that hierarchy. But yet lateral moves are the most underrated career opportunity out there.

Steven L. Blue:  Absolutely right. I made, I can’t remember how many lateral moves I made, you know, in from production into marketing, into sales and equality, all lateral moves. And again, I wasn’t trying to get a promotion. I was trying to get experience and I was trying to get a reputation as somebody who could make things happen. Promotions always come later. If you’re any good, you don’t have to ask for ’em. You don’t have, and if they don’t come later or Jenn, you’re in the wrong company, go find another company that will reward you for what you do. And so, I, I can’t remember, I I would encourage lateral moves because it increases your depth and your experience and your ability to be promoted later on.

Jenn DeWall:  Yes. I love that. I mean, and I think you even hit a very strong closing pause, right? Don’t just go for the promotion, go for the experience. Yep. Go for the reputation. Go for the knowledge. That’s where the growth is. That’s

Steven L. Blue:  Actually most will come later. Everything will come later. If it doesn’t after a reasonable amount of time, change companies, that’s all. But most companies and most people are in charge of these companies, they’ll recognize that and they’ll reward you for it because they want you to do more of it.

Where to Find More From Steven L. Blue

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. They need that attitude. So be that person. Yeah. Steven, I have loved our conversation. I either wanna have you back to talk about culture or the other thing, which I know we talked about in the pre-call because I, I just really value your insights. The other thing I also wanna hear is resilience. because I feel like you have got heck of stories on resilience. Just, you know, based that on some of the things that you went through in your career and how you were still able to say, you know what, I’m gonna figure it out because many of us kind of suffer or think that we’re stuck or limited. And I think there’s so much there. But Steven, we’re gonna have you back. I really want to have you back. Good. I’d love to. But Steven, how can our audience get in touch with you?

Steven L. Blue:  Well with, that’s my company website or That’s my personal website. Honestly, I don’t remember. I’d have to ask my my publicist what my LinkedIn is. I’ve got a link. But if you hit any one one of those you can find, you know, my social media and then you can basically get me that way.

Jenn DeWall: That’s Oh, awesome. Well, Steven, like your insights, your knowledge, and again, I will say this, my grandpa always said this to me, and I love this quote, and he always said this as a wiser peer, right? With someone with life experience. He’s not peer. Jenny, I have a million dollars worth of advice to you, but to you it means nothing. And that means that we have to get our own experience. So going back to your thing, like there’s not a five tips for it, it’s getting the experience. Nope. Chase the experience. Steven, thank you so much for being on the show and thank you so much for the impact that you had today. I know that someone’s gonna walk away feeling empowered to approach their, their career in a different way. So thank you.

Steven L. Blue:  My pleasure.

Jenn DeWall:  Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of the Leadership Habit Podcast. I loved my conversation. It gave me inspiration to look at the problems, the challenges as opportunities for growth. Now if you want to connect with Steven and learn a little bit more about him, there are two different websites you can connect with. You can head on over to, the link is in our show notes and also There you can find any additional information about Steven, his speaking services, as well as additional resources that he provides.

Don’t Forget to Register for Our Next Crestcom Webinar!

Now in closing, I want to remind you, I would love to see you at this month’s webinar, New Year, New Mindset, Develop a Growth Mindset for a Successful 2023.. So if you can make it, I hope to see you there on January 26th. And hey, if you enjoyed this conversation or if you know someone that’s struggling with their own career, share this with them, spread the wealth. And of course, if you love this episode, don’t forget to leave us a review on your favorite podcast streaming platform. Until next time.