Success at Work is Your Choice

A senior executive writes the book on how to get out of your own way

Michael C. Hyter, President and Managing Partner of Global Novations and author of The Power of Choice: Embracing Efficacy to Drive Your Career

“When I joined Hudson’s department stores in Detroit, I remember being told that I would never be a vice president because a black person prior to me had never been a VP,” recalls Michael C. Hyter about his first job out of college. “I’m happy to say I became a VP 11 years later. I was the first one ever.”

Raised in Detroit by working-class parents, Hyter, now president and managing partner for the talent management firm Global Novations, a Korn/Ferry company, is not sure what trajectory his career might have taken had he not participated in efficacy training with social psychologist and corporate adviser Jeff Howard, Ph.D. “Before that, I was preoccupied with being better than everyone else, working longer than everyone else, and being good at my job. And I was frustrated because I wasn’t getting promoted faster.”

He learned in the program that likability and influence were often the strongest determinants of workplace success, and that hard work was just one part of it. Most importantly, Hyter realized that managing and executing choice were crucial. That’s the message he delivers in his latest book, The Power of Choice: Embracing Efficacy to Drive Your Career (Global Novations; $21.95).

“We’re not clear about the power we have. We’re not clear about strategy. What you need can be learned and taught, but most of the time managers, especially if they’re uncomfortable with you and me, aren’t going to teach us anything that will make us better,” Hyter says. “That’s why this book is so important to me.”

Here he discusses how employees have more influence in developing their career than they realize.

Why was the Jeff Howard program such a game changer for you?
It was a personal responsibility message. We’re always complaining about what is not happening, but rarely do we look at what we can do differently and what we can own. It really isn’t about what happens to you, it’s how you respond. I learned about being in strategic relationships and being liked and how important that is. I began to appreciate the significance of my value going up when I am good at influencing people to do things and not just being a really good worker. The efficacy program gave me a blueprint. I became less frustrated with not being promoted and more fixated on what I could do to make myself more promotable. It was a mindset shift.

Your book lays all the responsibility on the employee.
We can choose to be mediocre or to let others limit our lives, or we can choose to find out just how great we can be. That’s a choice. [One also needs to] accept responsibility for the choices one makes. Sometimes there’s a struggle between work, career, ambitions, family obligations, balance. If you really want to be an officer for a company, you have to choose the strategy that’s going to help you get there and accept that there may be a balance cost in the short term. People don’t always want to pay the price for their choices.

What would be an example?
I want to be promoted, I have an M.B.A., so why should I go out and have drinks with these people I work with? Why can’t my work be enough? Well, let’s accept the fact that if you are not known and people don’t have a sense of you personally, your name will rarely surface, especially compared with someone people are familiar with. So accept that if you don’t want to socialize, your career ambitions are limited—period.

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