Reflecting on career lessons learned

By Gale Mote / Guest Column

Would you do anything differently?

It’s a question I am frequently asked by those contemplating starting their own business. The answer, after 28 years of living the dream is, “of course — yes!”

I knew I wanted to be a professional trainer but I wasn’t sure where I was going to focus my expertise. My personality style is action-oriented with a short attention span. I found myself attracted to one shiny curriculum after another.

When I started, I wish I would have had a resource like Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything in Business,” which helps a leadership team create a playbook of how to create a culture that balances performance with dignity.

While I found the answers over time, the following four questions would have increased my productivity and accelerated my overall performance: Why do we exist (our purpose beyond making money and paying the mortgage)? How do we behave (our core values)? What do we do (the business that we are in so we know the business we are not in)? How will we succeed (how we are intentionally unique and different)?

While confidence and passion are essential, humility is even more important. I believe that leaders must reflect on their personal strengths and weaknesses. A mentor once told me, “You’re never as good as people say you are and you are never as bad either.”

Over the years, I realized that organization and planning were critical weaknesses. I frequently found myself burning the midnight oil for a presentation because I had not allowed myself the time to prepare. When you love what you do and the people you work with, it’s hard to say “no.”

After a serious car accident because I wasn’t getting enough rest and letting an important client event get completely off my radar (I left 125 administrative assistants stranded without a keynote speaker), I reached out for help. Since then, I have been blessed with an amazing organizational coach, a color-coded calendar and a coffee mug that says, “How about no?”

The lesson learned is to surround yourself with the right people who fit into your culture, who bring strengths and talents you will never have and who you trust. Be open to coaching, set your pride aside, listen and act.

Networking and building relationships within and outside the organization is the foundation for long-term success. I would have been more intentional in the process. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, the men’s basketball coach at Duke University says, “Get on the right bus.” This means be intentional about who you let on your bus and whose bus you get on in life. When you surround yourself with the right people, they will take you places you could never go alone.

You cannot be everything to everyone and there are limited hours in a day. Earlier in my career, I would have made better choices about the professional associations I joined, the luncheon meetings I declined and who I let into my inner circle.

Think about who can help you achieve your goals and, more importantly, how you can help others succeed. Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Do not judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Naturally, there are many things I would do the same — maintaining a “can do” attitude, learning from mistakes and being willing to put in the time. Hard, smart work matters!

Keep investing in yourself — grow your skills, share your knowledge. Play to your strengths, be decisive and keep the faith. And, so importantly, marry the right person! As H. Jackson Browne, Jr. said, “That one decision will determine 90 percent of your happiness or misery.” Now you know why I’m always smiling. •

Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at