Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

Blog Update

Three Ways to Influence Others

Today’s guest post comes from Ben Magee, the Wake Forest Fellow who has worked with the Office of Personal and Career Development this past year.  I asked him to share things he has learned in his first year after college for the benefit of our current graduating seniors and their parents.

Many recent graduates will go to work in jobs that require them to work on teams. What I have learned this year through being a member of a team is that working together with others is more than providing your technical skills or defined expertise to complete assigned tasks. Teamwork also involves influence and getting others to rally behind your ideas and recommendations; which is more challenging that you may think. Listed below are three ways that I’ve found helpful when attempting to influence those around me this year.

1.    Listen

Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of High Effective People, recommends that we seek first to understand others and be understood second. The times I have truly listened to my coworkers before diving into what I think is the solution to a problem has proven to be the most fruitful in terms of my influence. I was eager to get things done when I first started. I mistakenly thought that if others would listen to me first, we could get our problems solved quickly. I have now come to understand that when I listen well, my co-workers may have already come with a solution, and even if my original view has not changed (I am not sure what this means or if it’s necessary here), my coworkers are much more willing to collaborate with me to accomplish the task at hand.

2.    Use relevant language

People want to help you once they understand how the work or idea you have relates to their work and goals. I am the type of person who did a lot of math in my head as a kid, so I rarely wrote down my methodology to get the right answer. At work, I notice the more I can share the logic behind my ideas, the more I am able to help others understand my approach and garner their support. Using relevant language to demonstrate how an idea is connected to the office’s mission and goals or my colleagues goals or challenges is imperative to influence others.

3.    Be flexible

I have learned that I use my preferences as a default for interacting with others. At times, this has inhibited my influence as my coworkers did not receive and think about the information the same way I did. A good skill to learn is how to adapt to the style of others. If someone always responds to emails within 24 hours, is 10 minutes early to every meeting, and is very formal in their interactions, I realized that they would appreciate my doing the same when I interacted with them. I also learned to find out how someone wants information reported. Do they care about the numbers? Do they like charts and tables or bullet point statements or is a lengthy written paragraph more appropriate? It is OK to ask about your coworkers style and you can learn much through observation too. The key is to know your own style and be willing to adapt to others.

Dealing with Failure

Today’s guest post comes from Ben Magee, the Wake Forest Fellow who has worked with the Office of Personal and Career Development this past year.  I asked him to share things he has learned in his first year after college for the benefit of our current graduating seniors and their parents.

Social commentators often talk about how this generation of students has grown up receiving gold stars and trophies for everything – even when their little league teams had losing seasons.  The truth is that many of them may have never encountered “real” failure until after college. Personally speaking, I hate failure. Most people do. I’ve come to realize; however, that dealing with failure is an invaluable skill and important for achieving success.

While in high school, I learned a great deal when competing in front of crowds of over 3,000 people.  However, the failures I experienced still felt avoidable. This philosophy transferred to all areas of my life and my goal was to learn in order to avoid mistakes. I focused my energy on reading “self-help” books and sought the advice of folks who were older and wiser. I thought I could learn from their failures and avoid having to experience it on my own. I see now that much of my drive for personal development through reading books and asking questions (while it still has many benefits) was a cop-out to avoid taking risks and making mistakes. What is clear now is that the office I work in does not teach personal and career development so students can avoid mistakes, but rather it teaches how students to expand their horizons and experiences, to take risks, and learn from those experiences to continue to dare greatly in our endeavors.

What I have learned this year as a Fellow in the OPCD is how valuable failure is for growth and success. For instance, under a tight deadline, I was asked to put together a budget proposal for a potential academic minor. I was distressed because I didn’t have a clue how to create a budget or all the pricing schemes and departmental rules. I didn’t know how to create the correct model in Excel. I reached out to get clarity and help on it, but not early enough to get full instructions. In the end, I delivered something that was not useful.

As much as I hated turning in a useless budget, I did learn a great deal about the topic in a short amount of time. I received specific feedback on how to improve. Further, I learned that sometimes there aren’t clear “right ways” for completing a task. I realized that others expected me to look beyond my inexperience and reach out to co-workers for guidance. Asking questions and turning in an early draft to receive feedback was a very important lesson.

As helpful as books and trainings are, they can’t replace experience.  The valuable knowledge gained from class or books cannot be fully understood without the practical real-life application. There are many successful people who never read any “self-help” books. They just lived their life and actively sought to improve each day – with an attitude of humility and a willingness to learn. That said, I encourage us all to take risks and not fear failure. It’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them quickly. I firmly believe we’re better people because of them.

New Types of Feedback

Today’s post is written by Ben Magee, the Presidential Fellow in the Office of Personal and Career Development. He shares some insights gained in his first job after graduating from college. 

As a Wake Forest Presidential Fellow, I’ve learned many lessons in my first year working as a full time administrator for the university. One of the starkest changes coming from undergrad is the loss of immediate feedback. I didn’t realize that the immediate feedback of grades on tests and papers was something that I actually desired – or maybe I just got used to it. Some of my co-workers say that my generation generally wants to know that we are succeeding, and we want to know right now. However, the world of work is much more nuanced and while I have received feedback, it is must less frequent and comes in various shades of grey when compared to test grades and my academic GPA.

At a recent luncheon, a senior administrator explained to me that most of the recent graduates she interacts with make a similar incorrect assumption. They assume that the professional world will be strictly competency or merit-based – meaning our ability to perform our job function will determine how our coworkers evaluate us. However in many professional domains, it is only half the picture. You may be hired for your competency, but you keep that job and move up the corporate ladder based on both your competency and your chemistry. In other words, your ability to work well with and be liked by others can also dictate much of your success. This line of thinking follows “the plane test”. The premise of the plane test is, “If your co-worker and you were on business travel but were delayed at the airport for the day, would you enjoy each other’s company?”

If you want the answer to be yes, then learning how to make working alongside your coworkers enjoyable is a process of continual feedback- but in a different way. It is not grades, but rather observing and gathering informal feedback about the work habits and styles that your co-workers most appreciate. During exams, you’re not supposed to ask for the answers from the teacher. In the workplace, asking your coworkers for feedback after a meeting or project makes them feel honored that you value their input. My experience is that co-workers don’t expect perfection, but they value people who are competent and who seek personal improvement and progress. The real key in obtaining feedback is to display a sincere and authentic attitude in seeking improvement and then rapidly implementing the feedback.  After all, who doesn’t like that kind of person?

The Gift of Reading

Our Wake Forest Fellow, Ben Magee, wrote the following post.  I’d like to share it with you…

I recently heard one freshman student tell how their father gave them a stack of eight books before leaving for college. These were not all books regarding professional life, but rather were books that the father had found provided him significant life direction and meaning.

Conversely, in an NPR interview, Lynn Neary and Eric Weiner assert that many students today don’t enjoy reading for pleasure. Although students may be reading more than ever through articles, chapters from textbooks or novels, or even social media outlets, the amount of reading for pleasure has declined. College students are overwhelmed by their schedules and activities striving to excel both in and outside the classroom. Under such demands, something must give, and so many students do not read for pleasure.

Reading for pleasure provides opportunities for reflection, stimulating imagination, sparking interests, and realizing important life lessons. Additionally, today’s overwhelmed student may find relaxation by reading for pleasure. Importantly, the habits we form in early adulthood transition into our future life.

At Wake Forest, the OPCD staff has partnered with Wake Forest’s ZSR library to share their recommended readings for personal and career development.  These “OPCD Staff Picks” are available in the students study space in the library. As our students embark on their journey of personal and professional discovery, these books can provide guidance and inspiration.

Here are a few great books that Andy has recommended for my consideration and are definitely books worth sharing:

1. Nobodies to Somebodies: How 100 Great Careers Got Their Start by Peter Han

2. This I Believe II: more personal philosophies of remarkable men and women – Jay Allison and Dan Gediman

3. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl

4. Authentic Happiness – Martin Seligman

5. Roadtrip Nation: A guide to discovering your path in life – Nathan Geghard, Joanne Gordon and Mike Marriner

The entire “OPCD Staff Picks” list of books can be found here.

Career Trek Insights – A Student’s Perspective

The Office of Personal and Career Development has organized this year’s “Career Exploration Trek” to the Big Apple, New York City where Wake Forest students head a major city to learn about interesting careers, companies and industries from alumni during a few jam packed days.  I have long believed in the value of experiential learning and enjoy the teachable moments that come with it. It’s one thing to talk about networking, but to actually do it can ignite students’ interests and open their minds to fully understanding the true power and importance of the concept.

One surprising aspect of the Career Trek is that our staff also benefits from the experience. The one-on-one off-campus exposure with students enables us to learn how students really think and address many of their misconceptions. One of our current seniors, Alex Tulowieki, attended one of last year’s Career Treks and he shared his experience with us.

Students can represent themselves as professionals. “Those papers and projects I worked on during college have value and are real work. Speaking with professionals, they do value that if you open up. A lot of students were intimidated to network at first, because it felt like we were going into the conversation empty-handed. When we accept that we have been producing work, regardless if it has only been in academic setting, it gives you confidence to not be so shy and talk about shared interests with that professional”.

Networking is much more than small talk and is conversation-oriented. “No one asked for my resume before we started talking”. He also noted that the students who were most driven to getting a job seemed to have the worse luck. People appreciate talking to someone who is just interested in what they do rather than just interested in getting a job.

Networking is much more of a round-about process. It’s neither wise, nor realistic, to go into a conversation with someone who you’re meeting for the first tie with the hope that a job offer will result.  It is better to have conversations about your interests and curiosities and to take genuine interest in people who have experience in your field of interest. The person you are speaking with may not be able to help you directly, but they may have other connections that could be helpful to you.

Chemistry is as important as competency. Alex noted that most college students have the misconception that work is all about competency. This is partly due to the fact that most grades awarded are based upon how well students demonstrate knowledge through taking tests and writing papers. Chemistry, in the sense of how we mesh with those we work with, is equally important.

What Alex discovered is that the Plane Rule. While competency is a major factor in any work setting, employers are also evaluating if a candidate is the type of person they would enjoy spending time with while on a cross-country flight or delayed for hours at the airport.  As our students engage in experiential learning activities and professional settings like the Career Trek, they, like Alex, will release their misconceptions and be more prepared for a successful personal and career development journey.

For more info on the OPCD Career Trek, click here.

Andy – where are you?

If you’ve subscribed to my blog or just checked it out recently, you’re probably asking this question, “Hello, Andy – where are you?”  I have not been ill (although the North Carolina pollen has been tough for me), nor have I been in an accident.

I have been on the road speaking with alumni, parents and the press about our vision for personal and career development at Wake Forest University.  Over the last two months, I have visited New York City and the S.F. Bay Area three times each, Washington, D.C. twice, Philadelphia and Atlanta.  It’s been great as everyone is enthusiastic and supportive of our efforts.  Many of these connections have also offered internship and job opportunities for our students.

I have posted thoughts and comments to my Facebook fan page, LinkedIn and Twitter, so if you use those communication channels, you’ve received some of my thoughts as well as news and activities.

But I admit that I have not been focused on my blog.  I have dozens of notes that I have saved hoping to post to my blog for you to read.  I now realize that this approach isn’t going to work.  I keep thinking that I’ll have time to write a “perfect” blog entry.  That perfectionist mind-set is keeping me from writing anything at all.

I am going to try something new and blog more regularly – even if it means that my post is not “perfect”.  Please feel free to ask me questions and I’ll give you my opinion.  I’ll be here… and I hope you will be too.


Today we held a session called “Reflections” for the graduating class of 2009. It had a more special meaning than in other years for me, since I am leaving the Stanford Graduate School of Business at the end of June (click here for more on my new gig).

Here are some reflections from my eight years at the GSB…

Teams – the CMC staff is one of the most amazing teams I have ever worked with. They are compassionate and competent. They deliver world class service and results. And they are like a loving, supportive family. I LOVE them!

Insights – I found out that I love teaching, advising and working with students (I actually returned from London to Stanford this morning to lead the Reflections session this afternoon!). If I had stayed in the corporate world, I may have never discovered this passion.

Challenges – My first year at the GSB was a little rocky as I didn’t really understand the students or faculty, nor did I know how to best communicate with them. I am glad that I figured it out, or else I would never have made it.

Future – My new opportunity offers me incredible alignment and coherence on the following dimensions: career, personal, family, financial and spiritual. A unique door has been opened for me and my family, one that we didn’t even know was available to us. I truly feel called to enter this new door and wholeheartedly embrace the uncertainty and unknown.

Friends – I am very thankful for the many friends I have made at the business school, staff, alumni and students.

With a sense of expectation and adventure, I go forth in faith and confidence that inspiring, meaningful days are ahead. As you leave this wonderful place, as graduates or just for the summer, I hope that you will do the same. I bid you farewell and pray that you experience much love, joy and passion throughout your lives.

Your fellow “graduate” from the class of 2009,

The Chanster