Want an awesome career? Buy a pair of binoculars!

Want an awesome career? Buy a pair of binoculars!

I have just read a biography of the great Turkish leader Ataturk, instrumental in the defeat of Australian forces at Gallipoli in the First World War. And it was at the most decisive moment of that battle that I learnt a lesson from Ataturk that is vital if we want robust, opportunity filled careers. Weird, but true.

Ataturk was a mid-level commander at the time. He arrived at Gallipoli soon after Australian forces had landed, were streaming up this key hill, and with Turkish troops fleeing in panic. Within moments the Australians would have triumphed and history’s course changed forever. Ataturk ordered his men to stop, fix bayonets and drop to the ground. The approaching Australians saw this and, anticipating a Turkish charge, also dropped to the ground, and waited. In the ensuing lull, reserve Turkish troops arrived – many with big machine guns – and the battle turned to a massive Australian defeat.

So where’s the lesson from that for our careers? Here’s the key sentence I read that provides the compass point:

“Ataturk fought Gallipoli’s first hours with binoculars, not a sword.”

I paused when I read that. It was powerful. To be genuinely effective, Ataturk ensured he kept a constant view of the bigger picture so he could make the right decisions on each aspect of the hand to hand combat. It’s a big lesson for business life, in the way we manage client relationships, businesses, and importantly, our own careers.

Simply put, for our careers to thrive, we need to find time to sit calmly on higher ground, pick up the binoculars and take a measured view of the entire landscape of our roles, capabilities and opportunities.

This is how I do it:

1. I diarise a quarterly one hour meeting for myself to go to my Third Place and to think about…. me. Just me. (My Third Place is not home, or the office, but that other place I can go to where I can be alone and comfortable – for me a coffee shop in North Sydney). I am now branding these hours as ‘Ataturks’.

2. In this one hour meeting I review ‘Brand Chris’ – the four key pillars that make up my personal brand at work. In some respects this is a hard look at the immediate career battle field I am engaged in:

  • Delivering outcomes: Am I being ruthlessly effective and efficient every day, getting more of the important things done consistently? Am I an ‘outcomes ninja’?
  • Expert in something: Am I depending my expertise and fame as an ‘expert in something’… the one thing my colleagues acknowledge I am really, really good at, and often come to me for advice about? This ‘expert area’ is usually in my element – something I am really good at and love doing, so hopefully it is starting to fill more of my job every day.
  • Point of view: Am I regularly developing a point of view about the future, and then using that to build my profile as someone who is thinking ahead, anticipating change and helping my company be ‘future proof’?
  • Collegial and supportive colleague: Am I doing enough on my relationships with colleagues, am I doing the right thing, and being known to do the right thing?

3. Then I point the binoculars at a mirror, look directly at myself and ask myself the question comedian Andrew Denton put to our STW leaders conference earlier this year: “I survived as a stand-up comic by following this golden rule: when in doubt, change the routine. Are you changing your routine enough?” Am I stale? Do I need to refresh to keep myself current for what I am doing today? Do I need to ‘change the routine?’

4. Then I lift the binoculars and look more broadly, and ask myself this question: “How do I skate to where the puck is going to be?” Iconic ice hockey star Wayne Gretzky, when asked why he was such a great player, replied: ”Because I skate to where the puck is going to be.” So how do our skill sets and capabilities, and relationships, need to evolve to ensure we are ‘the perfect fit’ for what will be most in demand in a year or two? Get yourself ‘future ready.’

5. And finally, I look hard at the terrain. How can I better stay connected with what is happening ‘in the street’… with trends, youth, habits, movements. Staying connected is critical if we are to give ourselves the best chance of robust and diverse, opportunities rich careers.

The key point here is this: make damned sure you are spending solid time, regularly, with binoculars in your hands, looking hard at every aspect of your career; the battle you’re engaged in today, how to make a better and sharper contribution to the ‘now’, what the future looks like, how you need to evolve to be perfect for that future, and ensuring you’re staying absolutely at the edge with every piece of equipment or nook and cranny you’ll need to navigate along the way. It’s an analogy which really works for me. Have you planned your next ‘Ataturk Hour’?

More reading:

5 golden rules for a longer and more vibrant career
What is the best job in the world for you?
If you want a great next role, get ill first!
4 steps to making your personal brand a winner
Do you have the courage to take one simple, life-changing action every day?


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