Fear not the lateral move
By Amber Veverka
Take risks. Always be aware of the “brand” you’re projecting. And remember that sometimes, the best way to move your career forward is to do the unthinkable – by taking a step back.
Those are just a few of the pieces of advice Wake Forest School of Business students, alumni and friends received during a Deacon Discussion with D. Steve Boland, head of consumer lending at Bank of America. Boland spoke to a packed room at the Wake Forest Charlotte Center, sharing insights gleaned from his impressive career in financial services.
It’s a career that by every measure would be described as successful. Boland began his work life in a Florida branch of a Bank of America predecessor bank and now heads a keystone operation of the Fortune 100 global giant. But, Boland told his audience, aiming for success means playing the long game. When you’re living it, not every move feels like it’s going to add up to something positive. Get too worried about seeming setbacks, and you’ll miss amazing opportunities, he said.
During the late 1990s, Boland was trying, as he put it, to rebrand himself, to show versatility and greater leadership. His bosses offered him a post in the Midwest, which was far from the company’s mothership. “I realized for the first time, I was untethered from corporate,” Boland said. “I was nervous.” But he dug in and took that regional location to new heights in performance. “I thought it would result in a promotion,” Boland told his audience. “What went wrong? I didn’t raise my hand.”
Still, that seeming setback ultimately became a steppingstone to success, because another opportunity came along that Boland would have missed if he’d been promoted – and the new gig was his first in a senior executive role “My belief,” Boland said, “is things happen in my life for a reason.”
Another time, Boland was asked to take on a new role that would have him reporting to a peer. A lateral move? A backwards move? It could have been viewed that way, and in fact, Boland himself had those misgivings. But again, taking that risk paid off in new opportunities that opened as a result. “If I’d have passed on that, I’d have passed on where I’m at right now,” he said. Taking a little bit of courage and personal risk can lead to some good things.”
Boland urged students to seek out mentors, but to make sure that those are people who will tell them the truth – not just be a source of untampered admiration. “You want advice and guidance, but you don’t want somebody who’s going to make you feel good,” he said.
Those aspiring to grow their careers also should put themselves in the paths of potential sponsors – people with enough capital in the company to advocate for you. You can’t ask someone to be your sponsor, Boland said, but by carefully managing your reputation – your brand – you may find someone willing to serve in that role. Boland urged audience members to be aware of the image they project.
“What do you get known for? Are you a person who can deliver? Are you known as someone with intellectual honesty?” Boland said. Watching the image you project is especially key when taking on a new challenge.
“You need to get in and make your mark quickly,” Boland said, “I put a clock on myself. I treat it like a president coming into administration – what do I do in the first 100 days? I figure that’s how long I’ve got.”
Audience members asked Boland how he balanced his personal life with a dynamic career, with its many cross-country moves. It’s not easy, Boland conceded. “It takes tremendous discipline” to put aside the email and focus on family time, he said.
And along the way, he’s committed to being there for important moments, by doing things like flying home for a school performance and then flying back to the meeting he’s attending. For support during the moves, Boland credited his family – his wife, Katrice, and two of his three children, Gabby and Luke, were in the audience – and said that he turned down some opportunities when they weren’t right for the family.
Boland’s commitment to making sure his personal life gets the attention it deserves reminded attendee Danielle Haik to make work-life balance a similar priority. It’s easy to become too driven, she said, and “hearing someone else talk about that is good.”
Tim Reynolds, who works for United Technologies and plans to begin the evening MBA program in August, said Boland’s advice about being deliberate as you chart your career resonated with him.
“I think you have to be the captain of your own ship,” said Reynolds. Another incoming MBA student, Jocelyne Carter, agreed and said she was struck by Boland’s willingness to take risks. “A career is not always a straight line,” said Carter, a financial analyst at Bank of America. “I love to come to events like this because I’m very curious about other people’s stories.”
Looking to supercharge your career? A few more tips from BofA’s D. Steve Boland:
- Invest in relationships. Networking “never ends,” said Boland. Moving around geographically expands that network even further.
- Have regular, clear conversations with your boss about your career aspirations.
- Humility helps. Especially if you become a leader, recognize that the people working for you probably know a lot more about what’s going on than you do. Spend time learning.
Amber Veverka is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C.