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Bill Phillips: Building a Life and Business in the VUCA World

Sailing is an important part of Bill’s pursuit of life-long learning

The Coronavirus pandemic has led to major disruption in the business environment, and has caused many of us to think more deeply about what we’re doing, and how – are we building a career that can withstand storms? Are we allowing our vision and purpose to sustain us, even as difficult circumstances call for flexibility in how we approach that vision? Are we learning the right lessons through this crisis?

Success Labs’ founder, Bill Phillips, has had to weather many a crisis since starting his company, ‘Career Assessment Services,’ in 1984. What started off as work doing career counseling and outplacement services changed and evolved as the market changed – and eventually led to Success Labs being an early advocate in the leadership development space.

“I think back to the number of times the business has had to be resilient and change in order to survive – whether the market changed or we were slammed with hurricanes. In my 30 years of being in business we had to make a major change just to survive probably every four or five years.”

He emphasizes being willing to chase a dream, even if you find yourself having to pivot for that dream. “I’ve just always wanted to do the things I’m interested in. I’ve always tried to base my career off of that.” After all, one key to resiliency and success is managing your overall well-being – and being inspired by your work makes that much easier, especially when times get tough.

Building Success Labs in a VUCA Environment

Bill started with degrees in Psychology and Counseling Education, and a strong desire to work in the career services space. After activating his network, he uncovered a client base of companies that needed help with outplacement. This niche gave him the opportunity to help people at key transition points in their career, which proved to be valuable experience when a transition period arrived for Success Labs – turning it into the company it is today.

“Eventually the outplacement work dried up, but I realized there was a need to work with companies and executives on developing their people.” This placed Success Labs at the vanguard of the burgeoning leadership development field – training individual contributors and executives on how to define their leadership path, grow their competencies, and eventually plan for succession. Bill embraced the new line of work, saying “I found it as fascinating and complicated as career counseling – learning how to develop people to be better leaders. It’s complicated enough to keep you interested, and you can learn to get good at it, but you can never learn all of it.”

Bill’s advice for managing transitional periods starts with acknowledging your feelings. You may feel angry, or depressed about the turn of events – and “it’s important to spend a little time grieving.” But, eventually you have to move towards change.

“When possible I gather key people to discuss what’s in my head, and brainstorm around what others are thinking. I was very lucky to have had Devin as my strategic partner in this. This results in rather quickly formulating a skeleton or framework of a new plan.” He recommends moving from planning to implementation as soon as you can. “I think it’s important to get started trying new things rather than research or study for too long. Just moving to an action mode can be energizing.”

Try new things, and accept that you will make mistakes. What happens in the trial and error phase will determine what your new direction will be. For Success Labs, that resolved in developing a strong portfolio around executive coaching and training classes, with the Leadership Workshops taking individuals at various stages of their work life and preparing them for leadership in the next. Bill, Devin and the rest of the Success Labs team made themselves experts in the science of people strategy, always with a focus on teaching skills that aren’t commonly taught on the job – the interpersonal keys to success.

“If you had asked me 30 years ago what Success Labs would turn into, I would not have guessed. I knew what I was interested in, but the way the market pushed us would have been hard to anticipate.”

The Importance of Lifelong Learning

Achieving a Brown Belt in Karate

“It’s important to keep reminding yourself and others that you will succeed.” This inner confidence allowed Bill to take risks and make changes throughout his career, and he carried that ethos into retirement. He’s committed now to continuing to focus and improve on the hobbies that capture his interest, which he encourages everyone to do – whether you are navigating your early career, or planning how to retire well.

Since retirement he has devoted time to one of his longtime passions – sailing. It’s an opportunity to indulge his love of learning, let out his competitive side, and even apply the people strategy competencies at the core of his career. “You have to figure out the right crew, know what you’re doing, and set goals.” Bill has sailed extensively in the Caribbean and Gulf Coast, and wrote a book chronicling his first major journey: “Island Time: Adventures of a Traditional Wooden Sailboat in Belize.”

A book signing for “Island Time”

In addition to sailing, he’s focused on advancing in his Karate practice, traveling the world with his wife, Laquita, and spending time with his two granddaughters. Coronavirus has thrown a wrench in all of these pursuits, but Bill points out that he’s developed a certain comfort level with crisis over the years – “you never get used to it but you do get better at it.”

Whatever happens in this period, we are all certain to come out on the other side changed. Bill exemplifies the ability to deal with change and disruption by focusing on what you can learn, and always trying new things. This mindset remains at the core of what we do at Success Labs – helping people develop careers and leadership skills by identifying strengths, setting strong goals, and pursuing lifelong learning. He recommends taking this opportunity to focus on key resiliency competencies, like strategic planning and learning agility – competencies that will drive your success in life and work, no matter what you set out to do.

“Sometimes people say I’ve been lucky – but none of this stuff had anything to do with luck. It was all stuff I worked towards, including figuring out what I liked to do and making that happen. It’s mostly a matter of giving it a lot of thought and work.”

Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to grow leaders, build teams and drive results through great people strategy.

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