Geographic Fluidity

Geographic Fluidity

Let's start with "space." Most invincible executives agree that you cannot tie your career to a particular location in this world. Almost all of them have made significant geographic moves in their careers. They do not foreclose opportunities by limiting their careers to a particular city or even country. If the opportunity to advance means you have to pick up and move, then you must do so. In fact, over 80 percent of those invincible executive I interviewed have moved at least twice in their careers, with the average move being over 850 miles away from their previous homes.

You may decide that family stability or the love of a city means that you will never move. I know many people who have made that lifestyle choice, and they are very happy. It is an admirable choice and I commend them for it. But they will never be invincible executives. Geographic flexibility is a prerequisite to professional invincibility. As Doug Bain, the senior vice president and general counsel of Boeing, put it, you cannot limit your career path to a particular location or division of your company if you want to get to the top. "One of the biggest challenges I have is getting people to move geographically. Sometimes the opportunities are elsewhere," he notes, and by insisting that you stay in one place, you "may be losing out on those opportunities."

That is not to say you jump at any opportunity to move. If you work at a company that has 90 percent of its operations in your city, there should be a strong presumption that you will stay in that city because that is where the action is in terms of key people and decisions. However, if a move is likely to advance you professionally, you have to make that move even if there might be adverse social or family consequences.

Salvador's Clock

An upwardly mobile aerospace executive recently told me about the Salvador Dali museum in Paris—tucked away in a little basement near Montmartre. It is full of those paintings of barren landscapes and dripping watches that made Dali so famous. Dali is out of favor as an artist these days, but this guy insisted that I go to this museum even if it meant missing some better-known museums. "Why?" I asked. "Because Dali manipulated time better than anyone who ever lived."

The invincible executive understands the importance and flexibility of time and takes advantage of it. He or she is not a prioritizer, but rather a multitasker—capable of doing several things well at once and shifting focus effortlessly from one task to another. Former treasury secretary and Citigroup executive Robert Rubin often irritates coworkers who do not know him well because he will, for example, write a letter on one subject during a meeting on another subject. But he remains fully engaged in both topics. He does not view time as linear; he views it as malleable—capable of being molded to accommodate the tasks at hand, whatever they may be.

As we will discuss later, oftentimes an issue (or simple common courtesy to a boss or customer) will require your full attention, but even so, you must develop the capacity to do more than one thing at a time and then use that talent judiciously. The invincible executive does not watch the clock; he or she controls it and can actually seem to distort it in his or her favor. Some of the key areas where invincible executives manipulate time are routine. For example, many top executives set limits on the time a particular meeting will last. They know that they can drive issues to conclusions by telling people at the outset that a particular meeting has to end in forty-five minutes.

Many top executives also believe it is difficult to do top-quality work after a couple of years in the same job at a company. "The more assignments you have, the more opportunities you are going to have for learning. ... I think that somewhere between eighteen and thirty months on a job and you are way up the learning curve," says Boeing's executive vice president and CFO Mike Sears. After that, according to Sears's colleague Norma Clayton, your job is reduced to "just making doughnuts." Indeed, anyone who has spent a lot of time observing numerous corporate environments as I have can tell you that after a couple of years in the same position, people start focusing on protecting their empires and the enterprise becomes secondary. Consequently, top professional leaders make it a policy to move people to different jobs after a certain period of time. They get results by controlling both time and space in this manner.