Vince Molinaro on experimenting, learning, course correcting and what it feels like to take true ownership


Vince Molinaro is the Founder and CEO of the Leadership Contract, a Global Leadership Consulting Firm that helps today's organizations build more accountable leadership. Vince is a NY Times Best Selling Author with more than 20 years of experience helping boards and senior executives improve leadership accountability in their organizations. Vince has traveled the world as a keynote speaker and has acted as a senior executive at organizations in the professional services Industry.

What did you want to do when you first started your career? Did you ever think you'd get to where you are now?

I had a lot of career angst in university and didn't have a sense of what I would be doing after graduating from school.  Because of that, I ended up doing a bunch of different things before figuring out what I really wanted to build a career in around the age of 27. Before that, I spent time as a career counselor, and corporate trainer and eventually, that led me to the consulting industry.  I've always been an entrepreneurial person and loved the entrepreneurial aspect of the consulting industry. I certainly didn't think that I'd end up doing what I've done when I started but I just followed my interests and what excited me. That eventually led me down the right path.

Tell me about the toughest career decisions that you've had to make. What made them difficult and what important lessons did you learn as a result?

Early in my career, I made the decision to leave a job with a large public sector organization. My job as a career counsellor was motivating, but the culture of the place was drab and dull. Everyone walked around like zombies. I realized I didn’t fit that culture. I had a senior manager challenge my thinking. I would eventually decide to leave. Doing that was hard, mostly because of what I had to tell my parents. Since they were immigrants, they thought I had won the lottery by landing a job with the government. Maybe it was for them, but it sure wasn't for me.

The other thing I've come to learn as an entrepreneur is that you must get good at figuring out where you should be spending your time and what you should be focusing on. When you are running your own business, it is easy to get distracted and lose sight of what you are working towards. There are so many directions to go in but if you don't have a strategy and are not laser focused on sticking to it, you'll never get to where you want to go.  I made a lot of mistakes starting out but as I've matured, I've gotten better at that, whether that's been on my own or when I was in internal executive roles.

Have you ever felt that you were stuck in your career or unsure of what move to make next to progress? How did you approach those issues?

After about 10 years of being on my own as an external consultant, I started thinking about how I was going to get to the next level of my career. At the time, I was running my own business and completing my graduate work at the same time, so admittedly, I probably lost touch with what was going on in the external environment. I remember that around the same time when I was questioning where I should go next, I was having lunch with a client of mine who pointed me in the direction of a job that she saw posted. The job was in the pharma industry at an organization who was looking to set up a leadership and learning function. Given my background and aspirations, I decided that taking that job would be the only way to take my profile and experience to the next level, so I had no choice but to pursue it. It was a great opportunity that came at a time where I wasn't so sure what I needed to do next.

Tell me about a time when you failed or made a mistake. How did you bounce back?

When I was at Knightsbridge, we were looking to bring on a new person to help us grow a new part of the business. As we did with all our potential hires, after finding someone promising, we put them through rounds of interviews and assessments. After going through the paces, we hired one individual who I had thought during the interview process was a bit rough around the edges. Within the first week of working with the person, I came to realize that this person was not a good fit for the company and we ended up letting him go shortly thereafter.

That was a tough experience for everyone involved but what I've come to learn is that you need to constantly learn, assess and course correct, even when it comes to people who you have just hired. Sometimes, people can check all the right boxes or bring a specific skillset that your business needs, and because of that, you miss other important things. As with all types of failures, you need to own up to them, take responsibility, act, learn and move on.

What is the most important business lesson that you have had to learn the hard way? How has it made you better?

When you run a Profit and Loss (P&L), you really come to learn what it means to own something. It ultimately becomes about learning to see the impact of your actions through the perspectives of others. If something happens like missing your quarterly numbers, this carries follow on impacts to others whether that be to your boss, the board or your financiers.

Several years back, Knightsbridge went through a very challenging period where the P&L wasn't looking very good. That was a tough experience because I needed to learn how to manage and lead through that. The hard lesson was learning to be honest with my boss and organization about how long it would take to turn the business around based on what we were seeing in the market. I didn't have an appreciation for that kind of thing up until that point, and it was a humbling experience for me.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?

If you are someone who hasn't figured out what you want to do with your career and what you find fulfilling, try a bunch of things out and see what sticks. If things don't work the way you like, try to find a way to course correct or shut down what you are doing to move on to something else. Always be reflecting and thinking about how things are going. Understand the reasons behind why some things worked or why they didn't, and use those data points as fuel to get you closer towards what you should be doing that will ultimately make you happy. Being courageous in the face of the experimental nature of careers these days is something that both young people and the employers who employ them need to be okay with. To enable that type of experimentation though, young people need to do as much as possible and have a strong hold over their financial wellbeing. When I started out, this was a much easier thing to do, but that doesn't change how important it is to save and be sensible with your money so that you can experiment with different careers.

The other thing I'll say is that it's all about building and investing in relationships. This is the most recurring theme that has come up for me in the work that I've done with my executive clients: starting early and investing in relationships gives you access to insight, jobs, and perspective that is critical to building a successful career.

Aubrey Chapnick