Your Career: 4 Questions for 2012

Retiring IBM CEO Sam Palmisano, who steered a big firm nimbly by focusing on four key questions, has a gift for you; the same type of criteria-led thinking he used to make the firm a winner apply to you.

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Some find the kind of constant ho-hum success that Palmaisano had boring. We should all be so lucky. While no one individual is the behemoth that’s IBM, the lessons gained running a large firm bound by a certain sense of inertia in its trajectory (“What? I couldn’t do that, could I?”) apply to people like you (and me) as well.

Here’s Palmisano’s four questions repurposed to apply for you. Answer them well for your career and you’ll do great in 2012.

  • “Why would someone spend their money on you — what is unique about you?”
  • “Why would somebody work for you?”
  • “Why would society allow you to operate in their community – what makes you special for places that can be choosy and may have values that are different than yours?”
  • “And why would somebody invest their money in your future?”

Successful careers have lots of different ingredients; hard work, luck, timing, grit, using multiple strategies, anticipation, and sweat and sacrifice all come to mind. Palmisano’s 4 questions add one more to the list; vision.

The hardest thing is answering those four questions,” Mr. Palmisano says. “You’ve got to answer all four and work at answering all four to really execute with excellence.

At a time where every job is a temporary job, being clear about what makes you unique and special is one of the things that separates the folks who do well from the folks who don’t.

A clear sense of direction – gained by knowing yourself – is like a lighthouse steering you in the misty fog; it provides one of the best ways to cut through the clutter of choices and opportunities as you manage your career to a more successful 2012.


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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