How To Get Luckier In Your Career


Chris Lee, President, Medtronic Asia Pacific.

In the corporate world, most people move up steadily except for a few lucky ones who catapult up. You may wonder how they got so lucky. How do good opportunities find them? Why am I not one of them?

In my 30-year career, I have fast-tracked many promising talents into leadership roles. I am often asked how to spot people with leadership potential and what makes them stand out.

Here are a few things I think make the difference between leaders and everyone else.

1. Have the big picture in mind.

Being a leader is all about the ability to look forward. Big-picture thinking is more than just trying to avoid micro-managing. It’s also reflected in how people make key decisions.

A few years ago, I was looking to fill a newly created leadership position. After many rounds of interviews, we made an offer to an internal candidate. He held a country-level position, and this regional role would have been a big step up for him. But, he was calculative and made rounds of demands for some small benefits. I finally withdrew the offer because he focused too much on what he could financially gain now instead of where the role could potentially take him. More importantly, you can imagine how much a company would lose if we relied on people with this kind of mindset to make critical business decisions.

In another scenario, an employee who was the CFO of a large market volunteered to take a smaller role in a smaller country to gain overseas and commercial experience he never had. It was unusual for someone of his status to willingly give up what he had already secured for the chance to learn something new. He saw the big picture, took the opportunity to expand his view and was later promoted to lead an entire business unit at the regional level.

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Big picture thinking doesn’t mean that you act like a boss, but think like a boss. This is crucial at every level but especially important for leaders. It will guide you through what to focus on and which risks to take and lead you to opportunities that others might miss.

2. Make your presence known, but in an authentic way.

Many people try very hard to impress senior leaders, but they often underestimate the power of authenticity. Senior leaders are often surrounded by people who shower them with empty praises. So, they appreciate people with unique and honest opinions.

As a junior product manager, I once had the opportunity to present marketing plans to the global CEO because my manager suddenly fell ill. After the presentation, the CEO made some sweeping comments that the plan was heading in the wrong direction. The room was suddenly filled with a deafening silence. Almost everyone in the room, who was more senior than me, quickly agreed with the CEO and promised to relook at the plan. I believed it was a well-researched plan, which the team had prepared for six months. Instead of giving up easily like others, I politely asked for a bit more time, clarified the specific concerns the CEO had and provided more explanation and justification. The CEO was not seen as totally convinced, despite my efforts. But a month later, my manager received a letter from the CEO who said the only thing he remembered from his trip was me! He even offered me the chance to be the Managing Director of Taiwan at 27 to test how I could bring the ideas to life.

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I know that not everybody feels comfortable being themselves, especially in front of senior leaders. I also have to admit that staying true to what you believe is not always easy. Sometimes it could hurt. However, in the long run, it’s likely to open up many more opportunities and help you win more trust.

3. Be respectful and genuinely interested in others.

Well-rounded leaders need to have good EQ and cultivate respect from people. They show genuine interest beyond their own areas of expertise and motivate others to achieve goals together.

Once, the company I worked for intended to promote a high-performing sales manager to lead a business unit. But we had concerns because he gave people the impression that he looked down on other functions and believed the sales team was the most critical in driving revenue. So, we transferred him to the marketing team to see if he was open enough to broaden his mindset. After completing the half-year rotation, he learned his initial views were biased, and every function deserved to be respected for its expertise. This experience helped him see the value of teamwork and collaboration and saved him from losing the promotion!

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Some people will only take pride in their own expertise, but leaders take pride in what a team can do collectively. So, always keep this in mind if you want to be seen as a leader instead of a strong individual contributor.

What are some practical tips for aspiring leaders?

Some people are natural-born leaders, but leadership skills can also be nurtured. You can start by taking a few practical steps.

• Learn to be comfortable around senior leaders. Prepare for the moment you get to interact with them. Offer valuable insights, ask a thoughtful question or voice an opinion that is different from others.

• Get involved in cross-functional projects or job rotations. See things from multiple perspectives, appreciate different opinions and learn how to lead without reporting lines.

• Nurture the CEO mindset. What would you do differently if you were the CEO of the company you are working for? Reflect and nurture that mindset, especially in making critical business decisions.

There’s no fixed formula to rocket launch your career, but you can find your own path to progress. Instead of waiting for luck to strike, try to be more open-minded, humble and intentional. And grab the opportunities when they come. Good luck!


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