If you were an early to mid-career professional and had the chance to spend time with a respected senior leader, what would you want to ask them about the executive life? You probably want to know how they got noticed for their first senior position, how they transition from a tactical to a strategic mindset, and how they kept advancing their career up the corporate ladder. You’d also want to know how to manage the way others perceive you and how to emulate the behaviors, skills, and attitudes of leadership that led to a successful, enjoyable career. Finally, you’d want their advice to be clear and actionable, free of platitudes, geeky HR speak, and confusing diagrams. You’d love to hear a few stories and observations about what worked and what didn’t along the way.
In a brief and lively read, your afternoon mentor offers all this and more. This is The Author Hour Podcast, and I’m your host, Frank Garza. Today, I’m joined by Kevin Salcido, author of a brand new book, Your Afternoon Mentor: Real World, Real Clear Advice on Landing and Leading a Life in Senior Leadership.
Kevin, welcome to the show.
Kevin Salcido: Thanks, Frank. I’m very happy to be here, and I’m looking forward to spending time with you.
Frank Garza: Thanks, me too. To start, I’d love to just hear a little bit about your background and how that led to you writing this book.
Kevin Salcido: Sure. Well, yeah, I’ve been in human resource management now for over 35 years. I can’t believe I just said that. I’ve kind of evolved from the guy on this growth trajectory to the sage mentor. So as I kind of wrap things up with the formal stage of my career, I thought it’d be a good time for me to kind of put my thoughts on paper to share some learnings with people who may be coming up behind me on kind of what it takes to get noticed for an executive job to transition to an executive job and to make a career in senior leadership last.
So the premise of the book is if you sat down with a senior leader that you admired and that you wanted to emulate, what would you want that person to tell you about their career journey? So it’s a very simple book in simple language. When I wrote it, I tried to sound as authentic as possible. I tried to stay away from hackneyed HR speak and pithy platitudes and just wanted to make it as conversational as possible. Again, the name, Your Afternoon Mentor, implies casual relationship, maybe a conversation over lunch, maybe conversation at an early happy hour, and just, “Hey, senior executive. I admire what you did, and I’d like to know how you did it.”
The target audience of the book are those who are just maybe starting out on their leadership journey, maybe a few years out of college, sampling a couple different career paths, trying to decide for themselves whether they want to commit to becoming an executive or a senior leader down the road. What I found over the years working in human resources, that’s probably the most under-coached cohort in organizations. Most leadership development is really focused on people that are already in senior leadership. So I wanted to put my thoughts on paper to help those who are just starting out because those are the ones that really don’t get the coaching.
Again, the premise of the book is to help remove some pain points for those folks. Maybe help them avoid some of the mistakes either that I’ve made personally or I’ve seen other people make. I would characterize it as a kind of book I wish somebody would have written for me when I was just starting out in my career.
Transitioning to a Senior Leadership Role
Frank Garza: Yeah. You offer a lot of stories in the book of things you’ve seen, people you’ve seen along the way, who maybe their career didn’t end up being all that it could be because of maybe they didn’t have this type of advice. Is there any examples you could give somebody who maybe didn’t meet their full potential because of something they did? I hate to say the word wrong but maybe not in the best, most optimal way?
Kevin Salcido: Well, one thing I try to emphasize in the book is whether you’re just starting out in leadership or you’re just starting out in an organization is people are always watching you, and they’re coming to light in quick conclusions about you and your competence and your potential, your intelligence. A lot of times, people don’t know how others are perceiving them. I think what I would encourage young leaders to know is you need to have kind of a leadership persona or a workplace persona. That would encapsulate a variety of things like just the way you are presenting yourself physically to the world, how you’re interacting with people on a day-to-day basis, your communication style, whether that be verbal or nonverbal, your level of confidence, level of authenticity. Because as I mentioned, if you’re in an organization, those above you in the organization are making those assessments about you, whether you know it or not.
So the first part of the book, which is focused on getting noticed for a job, really goes after some of these attributes. I’ve seen people with a great level of intelligence, great education, great level of determination, who have never really been considered for senior jobs maybe because of the way they dress or because they’re uncomfortable speaking in front of a group. Or maybe their social skills aren’t as strong as they should be. Those can be career inhibitors when you’re just starting out in your career path or with a new organization.
Again, the first part of the book is to help people understand how others are always perceiving you or misperceiving you, how to manage that persona so that people draw the most favorable conclusion possible within a very short period of time of minor interactions. So I want to say the first part of the book is about executive presence. I would say that it is. I would just like to make sure that people know that people are always evaluating you when they encounter you, whether in a formal or informal setting. When it comes time to be promoted, the people above you in the organization are basically assessing whether you belong in their club or not.
So what I’m trying to do with the first part of the book is just give people some guidance on how to best position themselves to be invited to play at the next level of an organization. To get to your very specific question, yes, I have seen people washed out because of poor dress or just the inability to connect with people. So I want to help people who are just starting out avoid some of those very basic errors.
Frank Garza: Yeah. In part one of your book, you talk about some of these characteristics that help portray that executive presence, and you mentioned a few of them already. One of them I wanted to dig into was developing swagger. How do you define swagger, and what are some ways that someone can show swagger at work?Owner Shift: Mike Malatesta
Kevin Salcido: Swagger is it’s a way of throwing off a sense of, “Hey, I got this. I’m a player. I’m somebody to contend with. I’m a problem solver. Don’t wait around to be told what to do. I want to get my hands dirty with this organization.” I think we’ve all seen that kind of hard-to-define quality of people who just stand out because they just seem to have a level of confidence that exceeds those around them. Those are the people that draw attention in organizations.
Swagger is part of how you present yourself physically. It’s also throwing off a sense of, “Hey, I have a little bit of ambition. I have an opinion. I know how to influence those around me. I know how to bring those people along.” Swagger, also, I think is a way of kind of staying cool and calm and collected in stressful situations. When I think of swagger, I think about the guy or the gal who gets the ball at crunch time because they know that they’re going to deliver it. They’re going to put the ball through the hoop. I’m telling you, people who have that innate quality, they’re profiles an organization just rises very, very quickly. I think it’s important.
I always counsel people that one of the most attractive qualities, whether it’s in your personal life or in your professional life, is confidence. It’s like, “Hey, I can do this. Give it to me. I’ll handle it for you.” Organizations really respond positively to people who can throw off that sense of swagger.
Frank Garza: Another characteristic you talk about is authenticity. Now, we’ve talked about the importance of having this kind of workplace persona, kind of showing executive presence. How do you balance authenticity with that? Because it seems to me that those can maybe be a fine line between trying to be portrayed as a certain way while still being authentic.
Kevin Salcido: Right. I think that’s a very good question. I want to find authenticity as just a person who knows who they are. I think is critical for people earlier in their career to understand what they like and what they don’t like. Because if you find yourself in a situation at work, where maybe you’re not playing to your strengths, you’re not going to be happy, and it’s going to show. People who admit this persona of not being comfortable or maybe not being unhappy in their role, people are going to take a pass on that person when promotion time rolls around.
One element of authenticity is really making sure that you’re in a role that plays to your strengths. If you are a creative type and you’re not in the creative role, you’re not going to be happy. If you’re an adventurer type, and you’re in a role that is not very stimulating, you’re not going to be happy. So one thing I counsel people who are just coming up in their career is make sure you understand what your likes and what your dislikes are. So to me, that’s a key part of authenticity is just making sure that you’re in a role that plays to your strengths.
Other elements of authenticity that I talk about in the book is basic things around emotional intelligence, like being self-aware. Understand how you manage your emotions and in the moment, as you’re experiencing them. Being motivated is a sign of an authentic person, somebody who has a high degree of emotional intelligence. Being empathic, understanding that you’re part of a team or understanding that not everybody sees the world the same way that you do.
These are all elements of authenticity, self-knowledge, self-awareness, knowing your likes and your dislikes, because not everybody is suited for every role. I think it’s important for young leaders to understand that earlier in their career, they’ll save themselves a lot of frustration.
Frank Garza: In part two of the book, it’s called understand the transition to a senior leadership role. What are some of the typical pathways to a senior leadership role?
Kevin Salcido: Well, there’s basically two primary pathways on your career trajectory. Number one, obviously, the most obvious one is to be promoted from within. It can be very common. It is work for an organization that does a great job developing people, creating succession plans, an organization that understands the strengths and weaknesses of their talent bench. Those organizations are more likely to promote from within when they see they have the talent available.
One way to get into a senior job is to stay within the same organization, and it’s all the things that we talked about already. Swagger, executive presence, authenticity to leverage yourself into a larger role. Another way to land yourself into a senior position is to be hired from the outside. A lot of times, organizations will go outside if they feel like an organization has been broken or if an organization needs to be energized. Even though they may have internal talent that could take the organization to the next level, there seems to be this organizational bias towards, well, maybe there’s somebody outside the organization that checks all the boxes that we’re looking for.
Now, whether you talk about being promoted from within or being hired from the outside, the statistics will say that people that are promoted from within will actually have a much better outcomes over the long haul. People who are hired from the outside typically won’t last as long as an organization as somebody who’s already been hired internally, for reasons that can range from external hire and not understanding the culture or maybe having some mismatched expectations.
The two most predominant roles, predominant ways of getting into senior job is really developing a public persona inside your organization so that you are seen as somebody who’s ready to put into the game when the situation arises or really networking outside your organization so that people know that you are a talent, and sometimes those opportunities will just find you.
Frank Garza: Also, in this part of the book, you share five critical and strategic executive skills. Verse one is setting out a clear vision. Can you talk about why that’s so important?
Five Important Attitudes to Make a Lasting Effect
Kevin Salcido: Part two of the book is focused on kind of how do you develop your leadership portfolio. Leadership, in my mind, is a collection of behaviors. Those are things that we do on a day-to-day basis that either people respond positively to or negatively to, and you can enhance your behavior by being aware of your behaviors in the moment. So that’s one element of leadership. The other element is skills. There are certain skills that you need to develop as you climb the organizational ladder. The one you just mentioned is setting out a clear vision.
If you walk into a leadership role, let’s say you’re handed the keys to a division or a large organization, the first thing you really need to do is understand who it is that you want to be. Because unless you can create clear imagery in people’s minds as to what you want to do, what your organization wants to do, how they want to do it, what outcomes they seek, if you cannot do that, then you’re going to be deleting people that are on an aimlessly drifting ship. People need clarity. They want objectives. They want to feel like they’re winning.
The way you do that is by creating a clear vision that people can rally around. It has to be something that you can clearly communicate and that you can communicate often and that people who respond to in a positive way. If you don’t have a basic leadership vision for your organization, you’re kind of wasting everybody’s time. That’s one of the five critical skill sets necessary for somebody who wants to evolve into a leadership role, setting up that clear vision.
Another skill set is team building. Most senior leaders will tell you that if they were not successful, the reason they weren’t successful is because they failed to put together a good team. So there are some examples in the book about what it takes to assemble a team, where the appropriate skill sets are deployed to the appropriate positions. So skill number two is breeding a team.
A third critical skill for any executive is creating a culture I described the difference between culture between Uber and Airbnb, and I won’t go into too much detail here. It’s in the book but vastly radically different cultures. The person who runs an organization sets the tone for the organization. So I’m always encouraging younger leaders to think objectively about what kind of culture they want to create in the organizations they’re running. Fourth critical skill for leaders just being able to manage multiple priorities, multiple audiences. The fifth would be the ability to anticipate the future.
What I’m trying to convey in part two is as you kind of transition away from the individual contributor role, the frontline supervisor, and you start finding yourself in director VP jobs, unless you can really focus on developing the five critical skills that I just defined, you’re not going to be as effective as an executive as you otherwise might be. Being an executive, as a mindset, it’s a realization that you have to let go of the way you used to do a job, and you have to learn a new way of doing a job because now you are sitting in cockpit, so to speak, and you’re the one that’s setting the direction and the velocity of the organization. So you really need to be able to understand these skills and begin to master them as you go deeper into your career.
Frank Garza: Part three of the book is called make it last, and you kick off that part by talking about some career killers that you want to avoid. What are some common career killers that you’ve seen in your career?
Kevin Salcido: Oh, it’s interesting because I’ve seen so many smart people who have just done tremendously stupid things. I just scratched my head. I would say the most common career killer – Well, there’s two. One is just sex. People still don’t understand even in this day and age of me too and multiple rounds of sexual harassment training, a lot of senior executives still blow themselves up because they’re looking for relationships inside the workplace. I mean, I can list off all the iconic media types that we’ve seen over the years that have self-emulated because of relationships at the workplace. I’ve seen CEOs lose jobs because of relationships in the workplace.
For whatever reason, as an executive gains power, he or she seemed to think that the rules don’t apply to them. So I’ve seen a lot of people wash themselves away because of their inability to control that impulse. I’ve seen people that have been dishonest. Maybe not in a rank way taking supplies out supply closet but just fudging the truth. The not fessing up on things that were supposed to be handled weren’t handled. So dishonesty is going to trip you up.
The inability to control your impulses, whether you – We talked earlier about swagger. The opposite of swagger in my mind is kind of toxic behavior, being a negative force in the workplace, not being a team player. Those things will limit you every time. So it doesn’t happen that often, but I have seen a lot of very smart people just do incredibly dumb things. So I just want to make sure that people know early in their career that you have a public life, and you have a private life. When your private life starts to mix with your public life, you may have a problem. So just avoid those problems altogether by realizing that, again, going back to my earlier premise, people are always watching you, and they’re always observing who you are and what you do and how you do it.
Frank Garza: You also talk about five important attitudes in this part of the book. One of them that caught my eye was keep your identity. Can you talk more about that one?
Kevin Salcido: Yeah. It’s interesting. As you start to grow your career, let’s say you’re now turning the corner into your 40s, your 50s, you’re getting the big title, your business card has a lot more weight, you’re seen as a player in the organization. It’s great. It’s fun. I’ve been there. You get the tickets to the sporting events. You get the gift baskets at holiday time. You get the dinner invitations. Your phone calls are returned more quickly. Kind of walk around with your chest puffed out because you’re a VP.
What I tried to convey in this part of the book is that can go away in a heartbeat. Your company can be sold. Your company can be merged. You can get crossed up with the boss. Boom, you’re no longer the VP of so-and-so. You’re just another guy or you’re just another gal. That can be a very jarring transition to go from having this identity of being a senior leader with influence to being just another Joe on the street. I characterize it as going from who’s who to who’s he in the blink of an eye. That can be very jarring.
So I always counsel people later in their career to understand that this is temporary. It’s illusory. It’s been given to you, and it can be taken away. So the best thing to do when you’re in this situation is to understand that your job, your role, your title, it’s not who you are. You need to make sure you have a balanced and rich life. You need to make sure that you’re participating in your community. You need to make sure that you have solid relationships, friendships. That you have mentees, that you’re contributing in different ways, and that you’re pursuing interests outside of work, and that you have a persona outside of work.
Because, again, everything’s transitory. You get into a role, you stay in the role, and then you leave the role. So people need to prepare to deal with what happens when they leave the role. So I always counsel people against getting too wrapped up in what they do for a living. It’s not really a healthy thing to do. You need to be balanced.
Frank Garza: Well, writing a book is such a feat. So congratulations on putting this out there into the world. Before we wrap up, is there anything else about you or the book that you want to make sure our listeners know?
Kevin Salcido: I’m at the point in my career, I just want to share learnings with younger people, people that are just starting out. I’m sure they’ll find it valuable, and I hope they can appreciate the fact that the book is written in very clear language, very conversational, a lot of stories, a lot of anecdotes. You’re not going to find a lot of diagrams in the book. You’re not going to find complex management speak. You’re just going to find a guy who kind of lived a life, and he just wants to share some of his observations and experiences.
That’s the tone I set out to strike when I wrote the book, and I think that’s a tone that comes across. So I encourage people to take a look at the book, Your Afternoon Mentor, if they’re just starting out on their career journey, or if they have other people in their life that are just starting out as well. As the book implies, it’s an afternoon, it’s a crisp read, it’s not something that’s going to bog you down, and it’s something to get through in about an hour, an hour and a half. I think you’re going to find some really clear and actionable takeaways.
Frank Garza: Kevin, this has been such a pleasure. The book is called Your Afternoon Mentor: Real World, Real Clear Advice on Landing and Leading a Life in Senior Leadership. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Kevin Salcido: Well, you can find me at www.yourafternoonmentor.com.
Frank Garza: Thank you, Kevin.
Kevin Salcido: It’s been a real pleasure. I appreciate the time that we spent together.