Barbara. Career Milestones and Roadblocks

posted April 22nd, 2010 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Barbara to tell me about her career and the milestones which stand out when she looks back.  She said the first milestone would be getting a CA. She said: “Obviously, it was a lot of studying and I was working at the same time and trying to study, so there was a lot of discipline, organization and time management required.” 


She said the second milestone would be becoming a CFO.  She said before that she had held a lot of different positions and she had learned many different skills but being a CFO brought it all together. She says the CFO role is a fairly broad role because you’re involved in everything from financing to acquisitions to accounting and cash management. You get involved from a strategic point of view in pretty much all aspects of the business.  She said there were some areas that she didn’t have any experience in, so she was learning how to build skills in areas where she didn’t necessarily have all the knowledge but part of the learning was relying on people that did have the skills and knowledge. She said for these reasons this role was a major milestone in her career. 


Before taking on the CFO role, Barbara said she thought getting to the point where she could actually manage people was important because in her first few positions, she really didn’t manage people.  She thinks managing people is a totally different skill set because you’re trying to complete many tasks and also manage people. It’s a skill set which most people don’t have a lot of training in early on in their careers. It’s something learned on the job.  She thinks that was a milestone for her, simply learning how to motivate and get the most out of the people that worked for her as well as doing her own work.  She says that’s when she first had to learn how to multi-task and focus on a lot of things at once, handle a lot of balls in the air at the same time. She says prior to that she tended to be in positions where she was very focused and could just do her own work. She says that was easier because although you are getting into a lot more detail, you can be focused on the task at hand. Management requires you to switch from one thing to another quickly.


I asked Barbara to tell me about the major obstacles, difficulties and road blocks she faced in terms of her career and what she did when she faced them, where she turned for support and what she learned from the experience.


She said in terms of difficulties probably the biggest thing would be working in difficult and demanding, male-oriented and male-dominated environments, in terms of working a lot and being able to get along in those environments. She said: “I worked at one where everybody worked seven days a week and most evenings and the expectations around the amount of work that people were going to do were pretty significant and so I was working for people who were unrealistic in terms of their expectations and very demanding.  When you are faced with this type of difficult situation, you can learn from it. If you’re confident in your abilities, you can learn from the situation. You may never please certain individuals because they are simply difficult to please and very unrealistic in terms of their expectations, however, as long as you feel like you’re doing the best you can do and that’s really all you can do, you can survive the situation by focusing on that.” 


Barbara continued: “In some cases, if the environment isn’t right, you have to move on, that’s the thing that I learned from those situations. Nobody wants to quit but sometimes a certain environment isn’t the best and if that happens you learn as much as you can from the environment and take away a lot of experience but you simply have to move on to something else.  As you become more experienced, you understand that’s the really important piece of the puzzle. To perform at your best, you need to be in an environment that feels comfortable and that you’re motivated by.  I’ve been lucky to have experienced some really great working environments, so I know when an environment isn’t great.  It’s important not to be afraid to make a move and to realize that there are a lot of other opportunities out there and there are a lot of people that you would want to work for and there are others that you wouldn’t.  It’s a lot like relationships in that way.” 


I asked Barbara where she turned for support in those circumstances.  She said: “I turned to friends and other colleagues that I’ve worked with over the years that I have good relationships with. There are probably a handful of people that I feel comfortable that I could talk to about a certain situation.  Sometimes, it is just to bounce ideas off them and to make sure that they have the same take as I do and that I’m not over-reacting or just throwing in the towel too soon.  I find when you talk to somebody that you trust and that you’re comfortable talking to, someone who is going to be honest with you, it’s very helpful because they can either support what you’re thinking or give you a different perspective. From my own perspective, if there’s something about somebody I’m working with or a situation which is troubling me, another perspective is very helpful.” 


Barbara says a difficulty she has faced which she is sure other people have faced is working for somebody who is putting pressure on you to do something that you just don’t think is right. She says that can be really tough and when it’s your boss it can be fairly intimidating but she says she has always felt that you have to do the right thing and if others can’t live with that then so be it but she has always believed that people will ultimately respect you for being honest about a situation.  She says: “The one thing I’ve learned is that taking a tough stand or a firm stand on something is not the end of your career or the end of your relationship with somebody because ultimately they’ll respect that you’re taking that position.  What I’ve often found is when I’ve had a lot of push back from a boss on a particular issue while it can be difficult and uncomfortable and you worry about what the impact is going to be, in most cases they understand it.  To some extent, they want to test how strongly you feel about a situation. I’ve learned not to take those things really personally and not to worry about the fact that I’m going against what they want to do or their position.  I’ve learned over the years to speak my mind on things and not worry as much about what the ramifications might be or whether something might be a career-limiting move. Hopefully, the person will respect me because of it and if not so be it.  There are many other jobs out there, so if you really have a fundamentally different view on something you probably will end up leaving because you are likely very different in terms of your value system or the way you look at things.”


What Strikes Me?


Managing people requires a totally different skill set because you’re trying complete your own work and manage other people at the same time.


People management is a skill which is often learned on the job.


Management requires you to switch from one thing to another quickly.


Nobody wants to quit but sometimes an environment isn’t the best for you and if that happens you try to learn as much as you can and take away the experience and move on to something else. 


To perform at your best, you need to be in an environment that feels comfortable and that you’re motivated by.


Don’t be afraid to make a move.


There are a lot of opportunities out there.


There are a lot of people you would want to work with and there are others that you would not.   


Another perspective is always helpful.


Always do the right thing, despite the pressure.


What Strikes You?


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