In this post, we share career advice from an executive at a Fortune 250 company: Tim Rozar, the Chief of Staff to the CEO at the Reinsurance Group of America, Incorporated (RGA). He originally shared his thoughts in March to a group of students and alumni at Maryville University in the US.
Fortunately for all of us globally, Tim also wrote a LinkedIn article setting out his advice, in which he describes it as “22 years of experience distilled down to fortune-cookie sized memes… Hopefully at least some of it will resonate with or inspire you”. Commenters on that article highlighted how it provides “great reminders for seasoned folks as well”, and applauded his “guiding principles [that] endure and serve you well throughout the many changes [in life]”. While another cautioned that “one of the many challenges of youth is that you often don't realize the wisdom of the advice of others”, this hasn’t been our experience at Protagion – our professional members love exploring and learning, which is why we are sharing this with you all. Read more for a summary of his advice, and the link to his full LinkedIn article.
Learning Curves and Expertise
Some of Tim’s advice echoes topics we’ve written about previously at Protagion, including the shape of learning curves. He explains it as: “The more you learn, the more you realise how little you know… There is initially a steep increase in competence whenever you pick up a new skill. It is invigorating to literally see yourself getting better and better every day. But eventually that levels off and it becomes difficult even to maintain your current level of competence, let alone to keep getting better. You also begin to realize how much better than you the people who are really good are…”. Tim explains how these humbling experiences taught him just how big the gap between good and great is. “The bottom line is that you should absolutely strive to be a lifelong learner, pickup new skills and continue to try getting better at skills that you already have. Just make sure to carry with you a healthy self-awareness that regardless of where you are, you still probably have a long way to go.”
Tim also suggests, in order to manage the emotions associated with working hard and applying our absolute best effort, that we shouldn't get so obsessed with being the best that we are unable to enjoy being great. He illustrates this using the feelings of a bronze vs a gold Olympic medallist.
Using examples from his own career, Tim also recommends finding a topic where you can gain deep enough knowledge to become known as an expert – he explains how he and his colleagues shared their insights in webcasts, conference presentations, white papers and research journals, leading to him becoming known as an expert. Sharing expertise means that people starting seeking you out, “which can open doors for all sorts of career-defining opportunities”. This strategy of depth is discussed in our post on specialist vs generalist knowledge.
However, Tim highlights the importance of a number of skills in addition to technical expertise:
Tim himself completed an Executive MBA to widen his repertoire, including “growth in my leadership, communication and interpersonal skills”, but he also highlights that it is important to acknowledge your natural skills and strengths – in his case as a “technical guy”. In his words: “So I’m happy to provide you my thoughts on leadership, business strategy or innovation... I also had to accept that I actually was a “technical guy”, and that I didn’t need to run away from that. It took a lot of work to develop that reputation and those skills were a primary reason why I had succeeded in many of the professional opportunities that had been put in front of me.”
Taking Control of your own Career
The bottom line is that you have to take control of your own career because no one else will do it for you”
He gives further advice when deciding on a change (of function, responsibility, company…): “...make sure that you are so excited about the opportunity in front of you that you can’t wait to get there, regardless of what you are leaving behind. Don’t leave because you think things are crappy here, because no matter where you are things will occasionally be crappy.”
Seeking out Mentors
Tim is a fan of the value of mentors in shaping our careers. He says they “help us avoid making the same mistakes that they made”, and honours the impact of mentors on his career: “I have been very fortunate to have a lot of great mentors and bosses over the years who have, perhaps unconsciously, steered my career to where it is today by telling me anecdotes of their personal career journeys which invariably impact the decisions I make.” He says it is the stories we remember.
Desirable attributes of a mentor from Tim’s perspective include:
See our post on selecting a mentorship board of advisors for more attributes of mentors.
Tim warns against analysis-paralysis, saying that “...the only thing worse than making a bad decision is making no decision at all”. He continues: “Remember that once you make a decision, you can work hard to make the best of it. And if it turns out that it was absolutely the wrong decision, it can usually be undone – even the biggest life decisions. Your choice of college, career, and spouse are super important, and yet I know plenty of people who are living very happy lives who transferred colleges or changed careers or even got divorced and remarried (sometimes more than once). No matter how daunting and life-changing something seems, just get the best information you can and make the best decision you can. Life will go on.”
“Stop acting like a jerk”
There are plenty of successful people who are not jerks to convince me that being a jerk doesn’t somehow increase your chances of success…”
Manufacturing serendipity / “happy accidents”
He also emphasises the importance of being open to new experiences, and where life takes you, sharing stories of successful individuals in his article. “These people all did something unexpected, they opened themselves up to new experiences, they took risks, they put themselves in a position to be in the right place at the right time, they learned from their mistakes, and then they took advantage of it when the time arose. So learn an unexpected skill, hang out with people who inspire you, go on holiday to recharge, pick up a book you might not otherwise be interested in, and experiment with things that don’t seem like they should work together. You never know what magic might come from it.”
The full article also gives specific advice for aspiring actuaries, including perseverance, as well as references his experience of an MBA, including that it gave him “a broader view of business operations, leadership, and the global economy. I started to think more strategically and act with more confidence.” It can be reached here: www.linkedin.com/pulse/advice-i-would-have-given-myself-22-years-ago-tim-rozar/
Tim serves on the Board of Directors of the US Society of Actuaries, is an experienced reinsurance executive, and was previously a CEO (of RGAx, RGA’s innovation accelerator). His Chief of Staff role “includes leading multiple corporate initiatives, both domestically and internationally, in support of the executive office”, indicating the influence of Chief of Staff roles. Regular readers may recall that we referenced these roles (and Executive Assistant roles) in our previous post on whether these offer worthwhile seats at the executive table.
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