No Time for Resting on His Laurels, There's Corporate Change to Be Made | Net Impact

No Time for Resting on His Laurels, There's Corporate Change to Be Made

Kwasi Mitchell, Senior Manager, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Something pivotal happened to Kwasi Mitchell as he was about to complete his PhD in chemistry. His advisor pulled him aside and prophesied that Kwasi would not work in a lab for very long. “Why?” Kwasi asked. “Because people like talking to you,” responded his advisor, “and scientists that people like talking to don’t stay in the lab.” It was just a brief exchange, but it changed the course of Kwasi’s career.

It’s okay to stray from the path you’re on

It got Kwasi thinking. “If I don’t wind up in the lab,” he asked himself, “where will I be?” He’d always been interested in business operations, so as he interviewed for jobs that would take him away from the lab, he explored the idea of getting a business degree while he worked.

One potential employer – Exxon Mobil – offered to pay for his continuing business education. Kwasi took the job and rotated across different lines of business, allowing him to develop his skills in several different roles. Having had this experience, he notes how important it is to work for an organization that’s invested in your development.

After several years, Kwasi moved from Exxon Mobil to Deloitte Consulting LLP. Looking back, he realizes his cross-functional training taught him something critical in the constantly changing world of consulting: flexibility.

Identifying a need – and addressing it

Kwasi’s story could easily end here. He’s progressed rapidly and is now a senior manager at Deloitte. But then something unexpected happened: he reengaged with his longtime interest in public service. “My grandparents were heavily involved in community service in the '60s and '70s,” he explains, “and my family has always volunteered and tried to help others. It was kind of built into the way they raised us.”

Rather than set this core value aside or make it an off-hours activity, Kwasi found a way to integrate service into his job by spending time on employer-sponsored pro bono projects.

One particular project provided him with the opportunity to help improve career services for Howard University, a longstanding Deloitte recruiting source. While working with the school, he made an observation: “I noticed there were ways we could improve the on-boarding of minorities at Deloitte. When I raised the topic with a principal he said, ‘Those are great ideas. Why don’t you lead our recruiting efforts at Howard University?’”

Leadership, with a focus on humility

Demonstrating this type of initiative, coupled with his ability to engage his superiors thoughtfully and informally, has helped Kwasi get more out of his career than just a paycheck. When asked how he’s developed his leadership skills, he says simply, “Focus on making things better, not just for yourself but for your colleagues. I think this is a differentiator of people who are effective leaders. Essentially, I believe in a service leadership model.”

Kwasi's advice

Look beyond the job function: When you’re interviewing, it’s important to understand what the job really is. As Kwasi did during his interview process, take steps to find out whether the company is genuinely service-minded. If it isn’t, it may not be the right fit for you.

Try to be patient: Kwasi cautions the ambitious: instead of always pushing hard to receive opportunities, spend your time trying to be better this week than you were last week. This kind of hard work can have an uncanny way of making opportunities materialize naturally.

Your career’s first three years are a prime time to learn: When you’re assessing your employment options, make sure potential employers know you’re looking to learn and grow in a particular role. That early-stage learning can positively impact what you do afterwards.

Be bold: Many people thought Kwasi was nuts to walk away from a promising academic career. But by listening to his mentors and taking a chance on something new, he found a career he loves and the opportunity to give back to his community.