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The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers: The Guide for Achieving Success and Satisfaction by James M. Citrin


Rating: (Highly Recommended)


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James M. Citrin intended his new book, The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers, to be provocative, and it is. Beyond that, it’s a useful and helpful guide to thinking about success at work, and how to go about finding ways to achieve satisfaction. I especially liked that the book’s insights are based on analysis and insight into executives in a large database, that of executive recruiter Spencer Stuart. You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule; read The 5 Patterns to learn about the 20/80 rule. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Pattern 5, “Find the Right Fit (Strengths, Passions, and People) (pp. 148-52):

Failure's hard, but success is far more dangerous. If you're successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever.


When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.





What does it mean to achieve an extraordinary career? We've been throwing that term around quite a bit. Part of the mission of this book is to give you tools for success. But another important task is to define and expand what it means to have an extraordinary


After thousands of interviews and countless hours of analysis, we've developed our own idea of what constitutes career success. Here's a hint: It's nothing like what many people imagine. For many folks, getting top dollar for a top position is about as far as they think. We're talking about something else. For us, an extraordinary career depends on three critical elements:


You must:

1. Play to your strengths

2. Set your passions free

3. Fit in naturally and comfortably with your work culture


Attain these three things in your working life and contentment will reign within your borders. Our research revealed that extraordinary executives lead careers that leverage both their strengths and their passions more than six times as often as average employees. The implication of these findings is profound: Not only is it possible to leverage both your strengths and passions in the same job, but success actually requires it.

Of course, it's not all that easy to find the perfect workplace where you fit in, love what you do, and were born for the job. Many people spend a lifetime looking for it. That's all right. In fact, just knowing that this is what makes a successful executive gives you a leg up on the competition.

Jim Head was blessed with exceptional intelligence and interpersonal skills, but he felt as though he had almost been cursed by his competencies. Head graduated from Vanderbilt University with a liberal arts degree, near the top of his class. Soon after, he completed Vanderbilt Law School, again finishing near the top of his class and making the prestigious law review. He was a shoe-in for a job at a top-notch law firm.

"Graduating from law school, I felt as if my career was on a conveyor belt. It was all too easy to get seduced into the cutthroat competition for positions with the best law firms. And given the opportunity, it would have seemed like lunacy to not accept one of the most coveted spots. The most successful among us felt as if we were destined for a big firm in a major metropolitan area. It is ironic that in retrospect, the better you performed and the more talented you were, the fewer options you felt you had."  

So Head got on the track and joined a prestigious law firm. After two years toiling away on "important" cases that positioned him squarely on the partner path, he began to have second thoughts about his work and his direction. It wasn't until a friend pointed out his visible lack of enthusiasm for the law that he considered whether there were indeed other, more exciting career alternatives. After some reflection, he concluded that his seven years of academic training and two years of sixteen-hour days made starting over from scratch not a viable option. All the same, he longed for a job that drew on a long-suppressed interest—creative businesses. So he left the large firm for a smaller regional law firm that had a strong media practice. He actively sought to work with media clients and eventually got his turn to work with several of the firm's most prominent clients on the West Coast.

It wasn't long before Head developed an expertise in copyright law, business affairs, and contracts—the core of the media business. After a few years, with skills and reputation established, he was offered a permanent position as in-house counsel for Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting, the giant cable programming company with networks from CNN to TNT. Once at Turner, Head was able to reorient his work and complete his major career refocus with a move into production. "Fortunately, through aggressive cajoling I managed to convince an amazingly enlightened programming executive that I was actually a budding programmer trapped in a lawyer's body," he told us. Head became a programming executive for one of the Turner networks, and he displayed a natural talent for the role. His knack for developing and scheduling programs immediately showed results, increasing the network's target audiences, which helped him evolve from a role in scheduling to one in acquisitions to the head of nonfiction original programming, and finally to developing and producing original movie series, and TV specials. "I met with success, largely because I was finally following my heart in my career," he says. "With my strengths and passions coinciding, my career really took off."


Jim Head's story marks a common trajectory shared among the extraordinary executives we know and have studied. In fact, finding the right fit is perhaps the most common of all the patterns of extraordinary careers. If you think back to the varied individuals profiled throughout this book, from the panel of college alumni in the introduction to Lou Gerstner, Greg Brenneman, Elizabeth Dole, Dan Rosensweig, Dennis Laoey, DickMetzIer, Dennis Gouyout, Rich Bray, David Hood, Michael Reene, andArthur Levitt, each and everyone has found a way to migrate toward situations that play to their strengths and interests.

But true success and satisfaction, in the end, are goals that need to be defined by each of us in a way that is consistent, with our own aspirations and values. We are confident that applying the first four success patterns outlined in the book so far will help you Improve your value significantly in the marketplace. But it is how you use this value, how you invest the career capital that you will accumulate, that really counts.




Find your strengths, passions and cultural fit and you will be happier and more successful in your career. How simple indeed.   

Yes, the logic behind this pattern for success is simple and straightforward. So with its simplicity, it would be safe to assume that the majority of competent and thoughtful professionals would be able to navigate their way to desired strengths, passions, and people, as did Jim Head. Given the clear-cut nature of this principle, what percentage of professionals do you think are in jobs that maximize their strengths and where they are passionate about their work and the people they work with? How many professionals have replicated this critical pattern of extraordinary careers?

Nine percent! Yes, only 9 percent of those we surveyed believe they are in jobs that fully leverage their strengths, performing activities that they are passionate about in an energizing environment and with people that they like and respect. And remember once again that our survey was strongly biased toward professionals who had succeeded greatly in their careers. Therefore, they are in positions of influence, presumably with a much greater ability to navigate their careers toward their strengths, passions, and people than an average professional. Yet even in this group of successful executives, fewer than one in ten had managed to replicate this success pattern in their own career. This ratio, it should be pointed out, is generally consistent with what we've observed in our professional recruiting practice, which has allowed us to interview roughly three thousand executives over the past ten years.

For most people, understanding the logic of finding the right fit for your career—focusing on strengths, passions, and people—is intuitive, even obvious. Virtually everyone desires such a career. And as the statistics have played out, finding your ideal fit will result in improved performance and higher levels of success. However, it is how you go

about trying to put this pattern into action that becomes much more challenging.

No matter what degree of success or satisfaction you’ve achieved in your career, you’ll find something to think about when you read The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers.

Steve Hopkins, September 23, 2003


ã 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the October 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers.htm


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