Defining Successful Career Engagement

Over the eight years that I’ve been coaching executives, in addition to my standard CIO engagements, I have started to partner with three new and unique groups of people who have been reaching out to me for support.

The first group consists of people in transition. There was a time when people were unemployed primarily because of performance-related issues.

These days, however, it’s more likely that many of these talented individuals have found themselves on the wrong end of a merger or acquisition. In other cases, their company or industry—which was once rock solid and successful—has been disintermediated in the marketplace due to new ways of doing business. All of these external factors can impact a person’s employment in ways that he or she may not have prepared for … or even imagined.

The second group includes people who are underemployed. They have demonstrated the ability to contribute on a broader scale than they are currently being allowed to do, but their organizations may have a very specific and limited idea of what these individuals can contribute.

I call these “job description” executives. They are being pigeonholed into a small discrete box of contributions, rather than being seen as problem-solvers and innovators who can help their organization embrace larger and more strategic opportunities.

The third group consists of the unhappily employed. They are making a good living and have all the outward attributes of what we were taught to believe is success.

However, they are finding themselves in soul-sucking situations, in which they are emotionally going through the motions that are akin to hamsters running on a treadmill. They feel in their hearts that there should be more to life than paying the mortgage, but there are checks to write, and that keeps them shackled to a grindstone that stopped bringing them joy long ago.

Getting Re-energized

I have begun to work with a fair number of these types of clients to help them get re-energized and working at opportunities where they can feel alive again. Each of them has to go through a number of emotional phases, which I help them get through.

The first phase is what I call the “Pete Townshend phase” … or to use the line that we hear incessantly on the intro to CSI, “Who Are You?” (BTW, I’m sure Pete is making more on royalties from CSI than he ever did when the Who released that song!)

Most people think of themselves as their business card. If their business card says their title is CIO, then they naturally look at other CIO opportunities. They don’t think outside of this career box and look at themselves as more than just a title.

Instead, these executives should think of themselves as individuals with a comprehensive set of competencies and experiences that can help organizations solve challenging problems and leverage exciting opportunities.

The second emotional phase involves getting over the fact that, whether we like it or not, each of us has a personal brand, and we have to be able to quickly and effectively articulate this brand to prospective employers and partners to help them understand the value we can bring to them in a new engagement.

This is more than just the proverbial elevator speech. It’s more about promoting who you are and articulating your personal value proposition.

There are more phases that I will write about in the future, but I wanted you to start thinking about yourself and your career opportunities differently. Hopefully, these words have you starting down that road.

Larry Bonfante is an award-winning CIO with 35 years of experience in the IT industry. As the founder of CIO Bench Coach, he has served as an executive coach and trusted adviser to executives at some of the most prestigious companies in the world. You can contact him on email at and follow him on Twitter at @bonfante.

Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at

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