Al Coleman's Secrets to Success: a must read for first-gen professionals

Al Coleman, Jr.
Pave the Rocky Road to Success For first-generation professionals, the road to success can appear either rocky or barely visible. Without personal contacts and mentors, first-gen professionals can stumble and fail to achieve even the slightest bit of their potential.

This need not continue.

In Secrets to Success: The Definitive Career Development Guide for New and First Generation Professionals, Al Coleman Jr. has written a blue-print for first-gen professionals of all colors and backgrounds which provides critical, useful, and detailed instructions for finding and creating a path to success. In a short book whose most compelling chapters are on mentoring and branding excellent work, he also addresses self-assessment, educational and financial planning, and work-life balance.

Who is Al Coleman, Jr.? He is the son of Alfred W. Coleman III, a Liberian immigrant who lost everything in his homeland’s civil war, yet made his way into success the world of business. He died young (54), leaving his son inspired to create a document that would honor his father by helping to create a path for first-gen students who seek success.  

Why pay attention to Al Coleman, Jr?  He was a struggling “C” student in high school who made himself into an honors undergraduate who performed well in a number of Fortune 500 internships. He earned his law degree at a top 20 law school, and was promoted to a Director-level position at a billion dollar firm while earning multiple professional awards for legal and business leadership. He was teaching, presenting national speaking engagements, and mentoring  high performing emerging leaders – all by the age of 30.

He writes from the heart and, most importantly, he writes from his own experience and the wisdom of others.

Mentoring An early childhood inspiration which opened a door to a nuanced view of mentoring came from one of his Mother’s friends, who said “While it’s wise to learn from your mistakes, it’s wiser to learn from the mistakes of others.”

He notes the dearth of minority and first-gen professionals in management and professional positions, but says that “pipeline” is a symptom and not the problem. Rather, he writes, being mentored is the single most important element of success, and in “Talk to the Future You” (Chapter 3) Coleman helpfully outlines the steps that should be taken to identify and nurture mentor relationships.

Starting early He knew instinctively that marching up to a stranger or a boss and saying “Will you be my mentor?” would be both inappropriate and pointless. He started correctly, and he started early:
[beginning in high school]… I participated in a science internship at a large multinational consumer products company in the Twin Cities. During my internship I made sure that I spent at least 30 minutes a week with my boss, a Manager in the department, and asked him as many questions as I could about how he got his current position. I didn’t want his job, but I wanted his lifestyle. I wanted to be paid for my intellectual talents rather than my manual labor. I wanted to be a creator rather than a server.
Creator or server? In Chapter  2 (The Facts: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You), he explores the career implications of the differences between creator and server, which echo issues in the current state of the economy in which professionals (creators) drive productivity and servers are supplanted by cheap labor or machines. Noting that servers have no place in key management or professional occupations, he opts for creativity and recommends it to others.

Excellent performance matters  Sub-par performance has no place in Coleman’s toolbox. He endorses (no relation) Harvey J. Coleman’s Empowering Yourself: The Organizational Games Revealed branding theory called P.I.E., an acronym for Performance-Image-Exposure. When broken out, it asserts that  the correct division among these elements is:

 Coleman notes that “Performance” appears to be the least of the elements, but he stresses that it is the quality of the performance makes or breaks a career. Excellent performance getting lots of exposure is good; shoddy performance getting lots of exposure is bad. It can be a career-ender.

Real exposure Coleman urges his readers to be sure that hard work is seen by all of the stakeholders on a career path: “You can’t be promoted to the next level if no one knows what you’re doing or what you’ve done.”

Self-assessment Career development professionals will cheer his strong endorsement of on-going self-assessment. He suggests focusing on weaknesses (to fix them) as well as strengths (to improve them), and follow the profiles of successful individuals from whom best practices can be learned.

When he suggests that people “dream big,” he adds the helpful caveat of the need to be able to “pivot.” An excellent suggestion, because much can be learned from the challenges arising in a bump in the road. Also, plans engraved in granite can be exploded by changes in personal circumstances, in the economy, or in newly developed interests.

This little book should be required reading for high school, college, and professional students, new professionals, and the advisers and mentors who guide them.  

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