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Alex A Molinaroli, Former Johnson Controls CEO, Shares Five Essential Career Moves

Alex A Molinaroli knows what it’s like to climb the corporate ladder. Throughout his 34-year career, the former Johnson Controls chairman and CEO says he’s served in various leadership roles while tackling transatlantic projects like expanding the company’s presence in China and transforming the brand’s portfolio. Along the way, he says he’s mentored countless colleagues to navigate their own path to leadership and success. Molinaroli says that regardless of your occupation, or whether you’re in a cubicle or a C-suite, some strategies should be in everyone’s professional playbook. Here are his favorite top five career moves. 

Focus on Sales

Earlier in his career Molinaroli was the vice president of sales and marketing at Johnson Controls long before becoming the chairman and CEO. How’d he make that leap? Surprisingly his experience in sales helped him become a better listener, team member and leader. He advises other professionals to gain sales experience, which can help you learn how to position yourself for success and listen more effectively.

“The way I look at it is a little more abstract, but I think everyone would benefit from being in some sort of sales role, and could include working as a waiter or waitress,” says Alex A Molinaroli. “That’s important in life. Learning to listen is really something I learned from my father, who was a man of great integrity who did not need to hear himself speak. Listening is such a valuable skill. Listening and authenticity — you can’t fake either one.”

Be Your Own Boss

Start your own business—or help lead someone else’s. This will help you learn how to make choices while managing a budget. “I think that if you have an opportunity to run your own business, even if it’s a lemonade stand, take that opportunity,” says Molinaroli. “I think it not only helps you with customers, but it also makes you work within the constraints of having a budget. Do what you enjoy and what you do well. If you focus on your strengths, the rest will follow.”

Gain a Global Perspective

Alex A Molinaroli says his career and wanderlust have allowed him to rack up lots of passport stamps and gain valuable exposure to people of various cultures. Even if you haven’t traveled as much as he has, Molinaroli suggests having an open dialogue with colleagues of all backgrounds  to better understand their visions and goals. The result? You’ll learn what they are aiming to accomplish and have the added bonus of becoming a better team player.

“I think being exposed to multiple cultures is so important,” Alex A Molinaroli says. “Now, it could be different for a variety of people, but in my case, I was fortunate to travel around the world. I think that being exposed to different cultures and experiences broadens you and humbles you. It allows you to look at the world differently and changes your  perspective. You also have to take into consideration that people are motivated by different things.”

No Man Is an Island 

It’s important to learn to be a good team member, and that step is essential to becoming a good team leader. For that example, Alex A Molinaroli recalls the leadership challenges when Johnson Controls merged with Tyco International—two large global companies with very different cultures.

“I think you need to have experience being on a team. If you’re a good team member, you are probably able to learn how to be a good team leader at some point,” he says. “What I have learned is that everyone has a superpower and needs to be engaged. If you find and value that superpower, they will learn. You also will also learn, and the task the team is working on will be a success.”

Take Intelligent Risks—and Learn From Your Mistakes

Making mistakes and learning from those mistakes will benefit you in the long run because you’ll learn how to avoid similar issues in the future. We are all going to make mistakes, so we might as well learn something from the experience.

“What stuck with me and the same advice I give other people is if you focus on what you do well and what you enjoy, you really can’t go wrong,” Alex A Molinaroli says. “A lot of times, particularly in the corporate world, people aspire to what they think they should be or what others would like them to be. And maybe that’s not what they’re meant to do. Unfortunately most people don’t learn that until later in life, and it’s particularly unfortunate because we may spend a lot of time doing things that we really don’t enjoy or we’re not really great at. And you may have a passion for doing something where you’d just be a lot happier, and you might even make a lot more money. Some people never find it, and some people find it later in life.”

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