Ever felt stuck in a career rut, or maybe you're yearning for a change but don't know where to start? Meet Alan Heyman, an executive and leadership coach who's not only navigated the treacherous waters of career transitions himself, but now mentors others through their own, showing us that it's not only possible but can lead to a fulfilling career that truly aligns with our strengths. Alan's personal journey from a communications professional to a leadership coach is nothing short of inspiring. He shares his experience with the inverted pyramid technique – a tool he picked up in journalism school – and how it can be used to powerfully tell your career story.
But it's not just about saying 'yes' to new opportunities. Alan also highlights the power and privilege of saying 'no' during career transitions. Understanding this can help you hone your strengths, find the right environment and break free from a stuck mindset. You'll hear about how one of Alan's clients drafted an idealized job description and landed that exact job! Prepare to be empowered as Alan encourages you to explore the universe of possibilities available to you, proving that you have more choices than you might think. Listen to your intuition, build your network and take control of your career journey. It's time to start exploring.
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If you are ready to find your dream job in mid-career. Nothing is worse than feeling overwhelmed about what you think you should be doing. I created a new checklist for you, called the mid-career job seekers checklist. This checklist will help you isolate the things you need to be doing and get you focused on finding that job you'll love. You can get it for free on my website at johnnarrellcom. Check the show notes or the featured section on my LinkedIn and, if you're ready to start building your mid-career GPS, let me help you get started. Download my free checklist and, strategically, let's figure out whatever is next for you and your career. There is a universe of possibilities out there for your next job, whether it's an internal promotion, a lateral or a job in a new company. Figuring out what you wanna do next doesn't have to be overwhelming, but you must know how to tell your story. You need to be a curious leader and professional and, yes, you must learn to say no when necessary. Today, you are going to meet Alan Heyman. Alan is an executive and leadership coach here to talk about how to tell your story better, especially when networking and interviewing. As a former reporter, news anchor and speech writer, alan will answer your most important question about telling your story. Why should we care? Let's get started. ["midcareer GPS Podcast"]. Hello my friends, this is episode 192 of the Mid-Career GPS Podcast. I'm your host, john Narrell. I help mid-career professionals who feel stuck, undervalued and underutilized show up to find a job they love, or love the job they have, using my proven four-step formula. My guest today is Alan Heyman. Alan is a communications and marketing veteran from the media, government and nonprofit sectors, and he holds degrees in journalism and law. While Alan has navigated several career transitions, today he serves as an executive and leadership coach who focuses on helping more leaders do good in the world and aspiring to help others grow. There's an important part in this conversation early on where Alan shares his advice on making someone care when telling your story, especially when you're interviewing or networking. I don't want you to miss it. It's a great tip and it is my pleasure to introduce you to Alan Heyman.Speaker 2:
So I'm Alan Heyman. I'm an executive coach and a facilitator based in the DC area, and the name of my business is called Peaceful Direction.Speaker 1:
And Alan in your business. Who do you specifically help as part of your coaching practice?Speaker 2:
I work with folks in leadership at many different levels within organizations, from manager on up to chief executive. Usually, the people I work with are in the midst of, or have just been through some sort of a transition, including career transitions.Speaker 1:
Well, one of the things that we know is that this whole mid-career journey is very dynamic. I'm wondering if you can share with us what was your specific mid-career moment that you believe set you on the path to where you are today.Speaker 2:
That is a great question, because I have had several careers, so I think it would be a question of which one I was in the middle of at the time. But the one that comes to mind immediately is sort of my coaching origin story, and I tell this story a lot. So I was a communications professional and a leader of communications professionals prior to becoming an executive coach, and in one of those positions where I was leading the communications operation for a large global nonprofit here in the DC area, I was at a point in my career where I thought this was what I was going to be doing until I retired. The organization was aligned with my personal sense of purpose. I had friends who worked there, my parents were donors when I was a kid and I thought this was it. I had arrived, I had made it and I had this breathtakingly large and complex organization within my command and I realized give or take about a year into the job that I was drowning and I needed some pretty serious support or I wasn't going to make it in this role. So first I found out what executive coaching was and then I hired my first executive coach and through the work that we did together, this was by phone because there wasn't Zoom in that era and we were in different states I discovered very quickly the distinction between the things that I was carrying around within myself that were blockers, and the institutional stuff that was just never going to change. And so, with the support of this coach who was, by the way, just beginning her own journey as an entrepreneur at the time I left the job. I found myself in a much better situation with the previous employer, in a new role, and then eventually, I had the opportunity to go to coaching school to take on the training myself, to do for others as my coach had done for me. Fast forward to the present day. My coach has a thriving practice that now includes several other coaches, including myself, so it's come full circle.Speaker 1:
That's such a great story and it's so important to how we give and we give back and everything kind of comes full circle in that way. So I appreciate you sharing that story with us. I want to take you back a little bit to your time as a communications professional. So one of the things that I you may not know about me, but I have this fascination with local news and one of the things that I often share with my clients is that when you think about how you tell your story, especially in an interview, watch your local news, because those talented communication professionals find a way to report on a story in 90 seconds. And we know, in an interview especially, we really advise we don't have people go more than two minutes when giving an answer. So there's there's time for conversation and follow up in things. What's your advice for people listening? To keep their stories more succinct and ideally around that 90 second mark.Speaker 2:
Well, I'm a big fan of something that I learned very early on in my days in the journalism school and undergrad, which is the inverted pyramid. And the idea behind the inverted pyramid comes from the newspaper world, actually, where you put the most important, most relevant, most interesting thing of the story right at the very top. It's the lead of the story, it's what hooks the reader and then everything else kind of follows this sequence of, you know, gradually getting less and less important over the course of the story. And the reason they did that was they used to have to cut newspaper stories to make room in the paper, and if it didn't fit, you would cut it out. So you would want to put the things that could be cut at the bottom of the story. And I would say the same thing is true when you're, when you're describing any idea or making any pitch or really having any kind of conversation put the lead up top. Tell me what's most important, what's most relevant to me, or, in the words of one of my former journalism professors make me care.Speaker 1:
Oh, I like that. Tell me more about that whole concept of making me care and how somebody in a career transition might be able to do that.Speaker 2:
Well, it has to connect with the audience and so when you're making a career transition, you've hopefully learned a little bit about the place that you're looking to go or the person you're even talking with, about what your next move might be. And you know, I think self-awareness and a bit of you know skill in communicating in life would indicate that just because something is interesting to you doesn't mean it's interesting to everybody else. So you've got to find what it is that will help you connect with that audience and put that up front and then make your message and what you're really trying to convey relevant using that standard. And that might be a reframing, it might be a reordering of what you're trying to say. It might be as simple as what's in it for me for having this conversation with you.Speaker 1:
And throughout your time working in communications, there was something in your LinkedIn profile that was really important to me. You talked about. You were a senior speechwriter for the mayor in DC.Speaker 2:
I was I was the mayor's first and only speechwriter in that administration and what a fascinating experience that was and a window into the life of a chief executive of a city.Speaker 1:
What was the biggest thing you were surprised to learn on that job about being a speechwriter that helped or elevated your career in some way?Speaker 2:
A couple of different things. One I want you to understand the moment in our history when that assignment happened. So we were all watching the West Wing, we were all idealizing the relationship between then-President Obama and his speechwriters and the magic that would happen in the middle of the night on the yellow legal pads and that sort of thing. Based on my background and based on my idealistic notions that I was getting largely from the news or from fictional television, I had a grandiose vision of what that role was going to be. We'd be staying up into the night hashing out ideas, being thought partners and that sort of thing. Bottom line is I wrote maybe two or three significant long-form speeches during the entire time. I had that position Of the sort that you would give for a state of the city address or a convocation at a graduation ceremony. The rest were short order cook stuff, garden variety, talking points for the opening of a new school or the cutting of a ribbon on a rec center, the naming of a ceremonial stretch of road for somebody who did something important, that kind of thing. So I was using a lot of the techniques I had brought in as a journalist where you can grab a bunch of information about things really quickly and kind of digest it and spit it out, and I was doing that more than I anticipated having to do in the role. And the other was that I got exposed to a lot of people within the executive branch of government and so a lot of different management styles, a lot of different processes, a lot of different ways of leading and motivating a team of people Some really effective, some not effective at all and what I was able to do at the time I think without even realizing it is park it in my brain for later, when I became a much more conscious student of management technique and leadership development and all that sort of thing that I work on now.Speaker 1:
How would you describe yourself as a leader?Speaker 2:
I would describe myself as a leader, as somebody who was always on a growth path, as in. I was never sitting still. I was never content to just sit back with what I had learned and what I knew how to do and just do that for the rest of the stretch. And there were some challenges. I am not the world's most skilled person when it comes to confrontation and sometimes that is necessary, having that direct conversation that is uncomfortable but required in leadership. I feel like I learned a lot about how to do that better, but I never mastered it. During my time I think I did develop quite a bit of skill in spotting talent and helping develop people in their careers and that sort of thing.Speaker 1:
When you think about the work you get to do today and the kinds of people you work with, what would you say in general is probably the biggest leadership skill or trait that you coach people on to help them be more effective within their organizations?Speaker 2:
So if I'm forced to pick one, I'll give you a latitude.Speaker 1:
You can pick two.Speaker 2:
All right, I'll start with one, and that would be curiosity. I think that older styles of leadership things that we grew up understanding about leaders in this country had everything to do with being authoritative, being knowledgeable, being the expert, being the person who's either the smartest person in the room or always has the answer, and what I'm understanding now about the world is that that is a very inflexible, regimented way of operating an organization that does not leave room for everybody else to perform at their best. So, rather, I think the number one superpower a leader can cultivate is curiosity. If I have an underperforming employee, I could scold them, I could demand that they do better. I could get curious. Wait a minute, this person that I hired for this role, who I thought was going to be amazing, based on their background and based on their interviews. Something's not working right. Let's get curious and find out what it is, and maybe we can partner for a solution, rather than me handing thunderbolts down the mountain kind of thing as a consequence for people If a decision that I have made as the leader is not shaping up the way that I anticipated it would, perhaps even despite gathering advice from those around me. Let's get curious and find out why, because in the curiosity potentially will lie the solution for the problem. So I'm always a fan of listening as much as possible Even more than one talks which is hard for some people I recognize and trying to bring in the benefit of multiple perspectives, getting out of that leadership bubble, not surrounding oneself with people who look sound, act and think the same as one does, and having enough of a sense of the world around a person to understand that there's a lot of things we don't understand.Speaker 1:
When a mid-career professional is approaching a situation with curiosity and intrigue and they're looking at those multiple perspectives in order to inform a decision, what advice would you have for them when they have been told they don't execute quickly enough or they don't come across as being in command of a situation when somebody talks about their leadership or executive presence?Speaker 2:
The number one thing I would think about is what is the source and what is the context. The person giving this feedback may have their own biases about what a leader looks and sounds like or how a leader should act. The person giving this feedback may not recognize the other elements that the person in question is strong at, or there could be a mismatch between the environment the person is operating in and what they bring to the table. Best, if your boss's version of executive presence is that you're a chest-thumping alpha male who has to command authority and respect and perhaps fear, in every environment that you walk in, and that's not the way that you're wired, I'm not sure the solution is to get wired that way if that's even possible. I think the solution is to find a different environment where what you bring to the table is respected and is recognized, because one thing that we do know very clearly at this moment that we're in is that leadership comes in a number of different flavors, and I think as you get to mid-career stage and beyond, finding the proper context for your strengths and your gifts gets more and more important.Speaker 1:
I completely agree, and knowing where your value is and your strengths and how they fit or don't fit within an organization is vital to our success. I can certainly relate in the sense where I know my leadership style didn't always match up inside a particular organization or in a situation, and it goes without saying. It's challenging Because you think about how you choose to show up and lead in some way, and when somebody else, who is an authority, is telling you different or they have supervisory authority over you and they're writing your performance appraisal and they don't like the way you're leading, it definitely puts a lot of people into a very difficult or uncomfortable situation. That ultimately comes down to is this really the best place for me when we think about navigating a career transition and it's one of the things you and I talked about previously in leading up to today's conversation is that there's a lot of power for mid-career professionals to learn to say no. No, I'm not going to do this. No, this isn't the right place for me. No, I disagree. Talk to me a little bit about how you help mid-career professionals lean into the power of saying no.Speaker 2:
There's a lot of discernment in what you're just talking about there and it's fascinating to me because I see it everywhere and what I see a lot is leaders who feel like they are stuck in some way, or leaders who feel like they don't have a lot of choice or a lot of agency because of circumstance.Speaker 1:
And that could be anything.Speaker 2:
It could be. I'm trying to make sure that my kids are able to go to college, so I need the high salary from this position that I'm in and I'm not seeing a lot of other alternatives out there, so I'm feeling a little bit stuck, the golden handcuffs kind of situation. It could be that my boss demands a certain set of attributes of me that are just not authentic, that I'm not carrying around as a person, and so the message to these folks is that you do have choice, you do have agency and you get to a point where you are skilled and you are known and you know what you're good at, that you're going to have more options than you actually have bandwidth to execute on those options. So if you're looking for work, let's say and this is a challenge, depending on the economic environment, depending on your specialty these things can take quite a while, but the point is you need one job at a time, possibly a collection of several smaller jobs if you're a freelancer or a small business owner, that sort of thing, but you need one versus all of the many, many possibilities that exist out there in the universe, all of the potential conversations you could be having with future employers or people who can connect you with opportunities. So a lot of the work is actually in narrowing it down, in looking at that universe of possibilities and saying what are my targets, what are my realistic options here, where can I take this? And that means that you're saying no to everything and everybody else, and I think, in that saying no, what you're actually doing is you're saying yes to yourself. You're saying yes to the things that I enjoy, the things that I know I'm good at, the things that I can make money at, the things that I can deliver to the world as far as an expression of my interests or my abilities. And, by the way, I'm saying this and recognizing that there is a tremendous amount of privilege in this space. A lot, if not the majority, of, people who work for a living don't get to have this conversation, and the folks who don't get to have this conversation are doing things that are absolutely vital for our way of life in society. So I think part of this work is recognizing that kind of rare space that you occupy when you get to have a conversation like this and acting in a way that is responsible, acting in a way that is almost doing your part for stewardship of the economy and the environment and your fellow humans.Speaker 1:
I appreciate you framing it this way, because, for anybody who is listening in the context of this conversation, fair enough to say this is not about making a rash decision. Right, this is not some kind of scene we take out of a movie where you walk in, quit the job and you win the powerball when you walk out and life's great and life's wonderful, because it just doesn't really work that way. But to give people the awareness that no is an option. Right? You said earlier that sometimes, a lot of times, people feel stuck. It is one of the reasons why people listen to the show is that they do feel stuck. They feel stuck in their job path, in their career, and they're not exactly sure what's the way out, being able to say no, and, as you said, it's really about saying yes to yourself. How do you help somebody break through where they are for the lack of a better word stuck in their mindset, their thoughts or beliefs that they don't believe they can say no or ultimately, say yes to themselves when it comes to a life or career decision.Speaker 2:
I think a lot of the work is in helping them understand the universe of what is possible. One of the advantages that coaches have is that we're not in the world of our clients on a regular basis. You get to say something like this could just be my ignorance of your circumstances talking but what if this or what if that? Not reframing or that, zooming out for a different perspective is incredibly valuable. I can tell you the story of one client that I worked with last year on a career transition. This gentleman had been in the same job for 21 years. It was the only thing he had ever done professionally and he was done with it. Over it, the environment had become toxic. He was not enjoying himself. His relationship with his boss was not good. He simply did not know how to get to whatever else was out there in the universe. What we did was a little exercise that I took from the folks who did the designing your life methodology. I was a certified coach for them. What you do is you rewrite your job description based on the things that you enjoy and the things that you know you're good at. Maybe you take this and you say this is what I'd like to do instead, boss, may I or can we have a conversation about this? Maybe you don't. He didn't, but what he realized was there were a number of things about the position that he really enjoyed that were not the things his employer were counting on him to do. What ended up happening was, as a result of him jotting down this kind of new, idealized job description, he did quit, he did resign and his plan was to work on the house, spend some time with the dogs, take a little bit of time off with his wife, et cetera. Resigns. On a Friday, monday morning gets a phone call from a client of the organization where he had been working, offering him more or less the exact job he had drafted when he did his hypothetical job description. He said awesome, I'm not quite ready for this yet. I would also like to only work part-time, maybe three days a week or so. They said that's great, you're great, you can have it. Call us when you're ready. I don't want to suggest that something cosmic was at play here, john. We just kind of opened up a universe of possibilities for this client, but I do believe that helping himself understand what the realm of possibility could look like for a job opened up his thinking and opened up something that led to the possibility of this happening for him. And I think everybody can do it, whether they're getting the process for doing this out of a book or working with a coach or just doing it on their own. It doesn't mean everybody's going to get a job Monday morning, but expanding the universe in your head of what is possible is so key to this process, without question, absolutely, and it gives people that clarity about where their fit is and their value.Speaker 1:
And look, if we're going to spend a lot of time at work, we might as well do stuff we really enjoy. So if we can carve that out to your to use a word you know, if we can create that kind of possibility or opportunity there, great things absolutely happen. Yes, such a great story. Success, success to him on all of that. That's wonderful. Well, alan, as we start wrapping up here, keep us on this same track. A little bit about how mid career professionals can focus more on what they can create in their career rather than what they feel like they should be doing.Speaker 2:
Oh, should have such a powerful word, isn't it? Yeah, it is it gets us into uncomfortable spaces before we even realize it. You know, don't, don't, should all over yourself.Speaker 1:
Correct, yes.Speaker 2:
Is the popular saying. So to me it's all about choices, and the choices that are available at any given moment are not necessarily always going to be the obvious ones. And what do I mean by that? So I know people who are at mid career, who have quote unquote retired and have gone on to do impressive, important volunteer work for decades after that, you know, ending of their so called paid career. It's an option. I have people who have come into my virtual coaching waiting room and said you know, I've realized, after decades of doing this, I don't want to manage people anymore. What an amazing realization. And not only that, but you've realized in doing so you don't have to manage people for the rest of your career. So let's work together on doing a plan for what a nice, comfortable but challenging individual contributor path might look like at that point. You don't have to stay in the sector that you studied for your entire career, got a graduate degree in and worked in for 20 years, because everybody thinks that you should. And I'm probably a living example of that because I went to journalism school and have had probably three careers since then. So we have options, and I think just the bottom line there is helping folks understand that there is a great wealth of possibilities that are available and they don't have to look any which way. You can, you know, take that year off. You can start your own company, you can work part time, you can do something entirely different, and maybe you're even better equipped to do those things now than you would have been in your 20s or your 30s, because of your life lessons, because of, potentially, your financial stability, because of the network that you've built up, because I do think a lot of being successful at whatever your next thing is does depend on your ability to go to your existing network and say I'm doing something new now. Here's why it matters. Here's why you should care. Will you help? Will you help? Yeah, and you're never in a better position to do that than you are at mid career.Speaker 1:
Well, keeping in line with that, what advice would you give for someone to help them build their mid career GPS to whatever's next?Speaker 2:
I go back to the same thing that I said before. It's got to be curiosity Listen to what is going on around you and listen to what is going on inside you. If you are starting to feel those warning signs that something is uncomfortable and not quite right at work, don't ignore it for too long. Listen to it, understand where it's coming from, unpack it and explore it with somebody you trust, and your sense of orientation will develop from that point forward Rather than. This is just this kind of nagging thing in the pit of my stomach that I've been living with for years, because I feel like I don't really have any other realistic options besides doing this job until I retire.Speaker 1:
I love how you phrase that, and being curious is not only such a gift. It is a phenomenal way to get even more insight into things that we're trying to figure out. So I appreciate you framing that way. Alan, it has been such a pleasure spending some time with you today. I'd love to turn the mic over to you right now. Share with everybody where they can find you, connect with you, anything else you have going on the mic shares.Speaker 2:
Thank you so much, john, really appreciate the conversation today. The name of my coaching and facilitation practice is Peaceful Direction, so you can reach me at peacefuldirectioncom. There's an intake form if somebody's interested in talking about becoming a client and how to contact me and the services that I offer. I'm also pretty active on LinkedIn it's the only social network that I use at the moment, so you can find me there and I've got a book called Don't Just have the Soup, which is 52 Analogies for Leadership, coaching and Life, also available through my website and wherever books are sold. It's a nice little coffee table or nightstand read, nothing too heavy, and it's broken up into very digestible little chunks that I find help a lot of leaders and coaches find their way.Speaker 1:
I will make sure all of that is in the show notes. Alan Heyman, thank you so much for spending some time with us today on the Mid-Career GPS podcast. Thank you, john. Be well, we'll do so. My friends, if there's one takeaway from this conversation, it's this how are you making people care about the work you do, the message you have and who you are as a leader? What Alan shared with us today about the inverted pyramid in terms of telling your career story, he demonstrated throughout this entire interview, which is why should people care? Why should people care about what it is that you do? I want to offer you that, as you think about how you're networking you may be interviewing for a job, what you're doing inside of your present organization, the teams you're leading and how you're building those business connections across the organization, the solution here is to help people figure out why they should care and why what you have is so important. If you're looking for some additional information in terms of telling your story from a greater place of value and service, I invite you to check out episodes 110 through 190. It was a special interview series that I did around interview preparation. Please go check those out, as well as episode 183, which dealt about dealing with conflict at work. Alan mentioned that earlier on as well, and I want to share that as a resource for you here. So until next time, my friends, remember this we build our mid-career GPS one mile or one step at a time, and how we show up matters. Make it a great rest of your day. Thank you for listening to the Mid-Career GPS podcast. Make sure to follow on your favorite listening platform and, if you have a moment, I'd love to hear your comments on Apple Podcast. Visit JohnNarrowcom for more information about how I can help you build your mid-career GPS or how I can help you in your organization with your next workshop or public speaking event, and don't forget to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on social at JohnNarrowCoaching. I look forward to being back with you next week. Until then, take care and remember how we show up matters.