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Episode 11: Career Talk with Frank Wantland, Part 2


Part 2: How Conversational Self Discovery and Personal Reperception Empowers Long-Term Success on Your Terms. Career Talk with Frank Wantland, career coach and former AAPG EXPLORER columnist.

Show Notes

Video version of this podcast: https://www.aapg.org/videos/interview/Articleid/54697

From AAPG Resource Archives:

Retention Tools for Leaders and Mentors (Compete for People, Part I) eSymposium: https://www.aapg.org/career/training/online/e-symposia/details/articleid/1485

Communication Tools for Leaders and Mentors (Compete for People, Part II) eSymposium: https://www.aapg.org/career/training/online/e-symposia/details/articleid/1468

Full Transcript

VERN STEFANIC: Hi and welcome to this installment of AAPG's Energy Insights podcast. I'm Vern Stefanic, and today we're continuing our conversation with Frank Wantland, a career coach and consultant who talks about things that geoscientists may need to know about surviving or even thriving in today's rapidly changing profession. And again, a reminder-- some of you may remember Frank. Yes, he is the one who wrote the Explorer column about career strategies and possibilities.

But that was then. This is now. New times bring new realities, new strategies, and so our conversation continues. And Frank, welcome back to "Energy Insights." We're glad to be continuing this conversation with you about people trying to navigate their careers.

And frankly, we all know that it's been a challenging career setting for the past several years. And we know that there's-- acquisitions and mergers are still going on. And the one thing that I hear-- don't know if it's true-- but what I hear anecdotally is that people often just feel like cogs in the machine. And they're trying to figure out, what is the whole thing about? I'm sure you've heard that.

FRANK WANTLAND: Yeah, loyalty is one of the words that gets kicked around. Let me tell you a quick story about loyalty. I was trying to help my grandson. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from TU. And I was trying to prepare him for interviews.

VERN STEFANIC: That would be the University of Tulsa, right?

FRANK WANTLAND: Yeah, University of Tulsa. And I was asking some of these same kinds of questions that I asked other people. And I said-- I gave him a list of words that were value laden, and I said pick, out the four or five that really ring your chimes. And he picked out loyalty as one of the words that he said was important to him.

And I said, well, that's really unusual in today's climate. What do you mean by that? And he said, well, what?

And I said, well, do you mean loyalty to your employer? Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Loyalty to your family? No, no, no. Loyalty to what then?

I'm loyal to the numbers-- to the numbers. The numbers don't lie. And I am loyalty to the principles of engineering, and that's it.

And I thought, wow. I think a lot of people could say that, that their loyalty to their profession and loyalty to the things that are solid to them overrides all this background noise about you should be loyal. A scout is loyal to all to whom loyalty is due. That's one of the scout laws.

And it's, who is due? And the search for the individual, then, is to find out, who in that organization can you trust? Who would you want to be loyal to? Who can you share your thoughts with?

And go find them. Go find them because you got to have someone you can talk to. And if you can't, you should really be looking inside yourself to get a better handle on yourself to find out what you really want, because the company is going to go on with or without you.


FRANK WANTLAND: In the end the only real what you would call solid foundation for a career is yourself. I know who I am. I know what I can do. I know what I bring to the table. I know what value I add.

Now I have to just simply go find an organization that wants me, that needs me. And, if I'm at all what I think I am, there's going to be someone that needs me.

VERN STEFANIC: So do you ever get down on a more personal level with people who your words are resonating with them, and they they're accepting. They're becoming, in fact, excited about the things you're saying. But they just simply don't have the skills to communicate who they are. Do you ever work with people like that?

FRANK WANTLAND: Work with them is right. Because that's what you want to do. You want to be able to work with them to help them articulate.

VERN STEFANIC: And let me tell you where that question is coming from. I think people of this podcast who know me from the Explorer, for all these decades, know I am not a geologist. I'm just been around all of you in the geoscience profession, and have gotten to observe over the years, and enjoy and learn from all of you.

One of my observations is that often our members are pretty much introverts. I mean, they like to mingle at networking events and share a cocktail with you. That's fine. But, when you really come right down to it, they would love just getting lost in their work, not necessarily relating to the outside world or people around them. So that's where my question is coming from. How do you help those kind of people express themselves more freely, more confidently, perhaps, more accurately?

FRANK WANTLAND: Well, I think most of those people really don't know themselves very well. And I would certainly turn them in on themselves and say, let's talk about what's important to you. Let's talk about what drives you. And, once you do that, once you say, I'm driven to do this, you want to share it. You just do want to share it.

If you really want to proceed, if you really want to move up on the flow chart, you're going to have to go out there and say, this is what I want. I can do more. I had a young lady that was pretty much in that position, that she was very, very good at what she did. But they were just giving her the same things to do over, and over, and over. These rocks would come in, and she'd do her thing on them. And they'd go out.

And she didn't even know why she was doing this. She was really highly thought of. But she was going to quit because she was bored. She said, they've got to let me-- And so I said, OK, next time you have a performance review, say, look, I would at least like to be involved in the question. What questions are they really wanting to answer? And I'd like to have a little more insight into the strategy behind everything that comes across my laboratory.

And isn't that possible? Because she wanted to demonstrate that she had the capacity to contribute to that strategy. She had the capacity to grow and to do more-- way more than what she was doing. And she felt stuck. And I couldn't keep track of her because of some contractual things. But I can guarantee you that she either confronted them, or she's gone. Because she had choices. She had choices.

VERN STEFANIC: And I guess the key is realizing and believing that you do have choices. Sometimes people feel, again, the cogs in machines. I don't know if our members feel that way, frankly. But when they do, when that happens, your suggestion is that's especially when you've got to understand who you are personally. And because of who you are, there may be more opportunities to you that you haven't even considered.

FRANK WANTLAND: Yeah. You may have strengths that have been underutilized. Here's what I ask people to do. I ask people to think back through their life-- through their working life and even back, if possible, into the childhood before they went to college --and say, give me an example. Tell me a story about something you did, that you accomplished that gave you a great sense of satisfaction.

And I don't care if it's selling Girl Scout cookies or what. Because if you start to take those stories apart, you find out in there what they value, what's important to them. I had a young man who was an oil company accountant. And they said, this guy is brilliant. We love him. But he's not performing, and we don't know what to do with him.

And so I had a couple hours with him. And I said, OK, tell me something you did in the last year or so that really-- he was sort of apathetic-- disengaged, I'll put it that way. And I said, so tell me something you did in the last year or so that really excited you. And he said, anything? And I said, yes, anything. He said, last summer, I coached a championship Little League baseball team.

I said, OK, tell me about that. And he talked about the grass, and the sky, and the dew on the ground, and the teaching kids to throw, and catch, and bat, and all those little things. And he went through all this long stuff. And at the end of hearing all of his abilities, and the circumstances around that, and the stuff he liked to deal with, I said, OK. What was most satisfying about that?

He said, didn't I tell you that it was a championship Little League team? We beat the hell out of everybody. And I was going along thinking, this guy is a nurturer or a coach. He really needs to have more opportunity to deal with people in the office. He was driven to win. And he was in a position in the company where the counting just sort of flowed. The numbers flowed in and flowed out. They didn't keep score. And it drove him crazy.

And I said, tell me another one. And then he said, well, I like to sail. And I said, let me guess, you like to race. And he told me this whole story about racing on Trinity Bay, how much fun it was. And is it fun when you lose? Are you kidding? We don't lose.

And so they had a brilliant strategy. They said, OK, we've got an office out there where we've got a position where someone has to close the books and meet payroll every 30 days. And they sent him out there. And he just came along because he was keeping score. He knew when he was winning and losing, and that's what was important to him.

And they tried to find a pathway for him then. Is there a pathway, in this company, where we can bring him back in here and have that same kind of drive? Because he's infectious when he's around people when he's winning. And can we craft a path for him that will allow that?

So I don't know what they did. But it's that kind of discovery that keeps me doing this. And you don't know unless you ask. That's the whole bottom line. You don't know anything about these people until you ask. Those few people that I had. I knew more about them in two hours than the company.

VERN STEFANIC: Actually, you sort of become the example here. If I may, I'm going to pull us into a slightly different direction, only to get to the bottom line here. In our previous conversation, you talked about ... it takes work.


VERN STEFANIC: It's not easy to figure all of this out. And this last example that you just gave, how brilliant. Because you're given a story, and most of us jumped to the conclusion that, oh, he's a nurturer. Well, no, the more questions you ask, no. It was something completely different. You personally, in your career, when did you realize that you had this understanding, and then desire, and passion for helping people with their career?

FRANK WANTLAND: It's grown because I've had mentors. Along the way, I've been exposed to some really wonderful people. And I don't pretend to have invented this stuff. I have put together-- Disney said, creativity is the invention of new and the rearrangement of the old in new ways. So I can say I have a very creative outlook. Because I'm putting together a lot of things that I have learned elsewhere.

When I was first asked to be a manager, they said, this might frighten you. We'll send you to a management school. So they sent me to some of the standard plan control to management stuff. And then they said, well, now that you've got that, I went to a Harvard Business School thing. And they said, OK, now that you've got that, you can pick any management school you want.

And I picked Disney University. I said, because my business is creativity. And who knows more about creativity than Disney? And Disney had a whole set of courses that led up to a capstone called Management by Values. And it was all about people development. The whole thing in their management program was all about developing people. And that started me on this quest. And I've just been adding and adding to it.

VERN STEFANIC: And how interesting that you were able to bring that kind of creative outlook into the geoscience profession, geoscience world.

FRANK WANTLAND: I got to tell you, I was working a short spell with another company. And I was a management trainer. And I got really enthused about Disney and the Disney organization. And they said, Disney, Disney-- they make movies, don't they? And I said, no, no. It's the mother lode.

At least at that time, under Mike Vance who had been the dean of Disney University, at that time, it was just the center of thinking about creativity. And, again, I want to make sure I understand that creativity-- I don't think about individual, lone geniuses with a light bulb over their head. Everyone out there has creative potential. Everyone out there is creative, in their own way. It's just they have to focus it.

VERN STEFANIC: Right. Do you find that working within the geosciences, in the oil and gas industry, was that a tough sell?

FRANK WANTLAND: There was two arguments. One was, I say, it's a matter of conversation. They said, it can't be that simple. The next big roll-out is going to be this big computer consultant generated thing. And the idea that we could just teach our managers to talk to people is beneath us. I apologize to anyone who's-- but it was like, it's too simple and takes too long.

And I said, yeah, but isn't that the idea? You want to keep people. You do want people around for awhile. So wouldn't you talk to them for awhile? I mean, what am I missing here? And, if you want a flavor of the month, that's not me. It's just not what I do. I just can't have the impact that I want to have.

VERN STEFANIC: So if you're talking to somebody, whether they're new to the profession, or maybe they're mid-level-- they've been in for a couple of decades, and they still feel like they're a little bit lost and wondering what to do with their careers --I guess the bottom line is get to know yourself. And get to understand how to communicate what it is that you really have passion for. Is that correct?

FRANK WANTLAND: Exactly. Exactly so. And let me give you a little nuts and bolts-- maybe we go into it deeper. But the key to it all is your past accomplishments. What have you done in the past? Write yourself a series of stories-- three or four lines. When I was 12, I decided I wanted to be an Eagle Scout. So I joined the scouts. And I plotted out how long it would take to get this badge, and this badge, and this badge, and this badge.

I engaged my parents to help me with the things that I-- they had to take me places. And I arranged for summer camp, so that I could get all the camping, and cooking, and rowing, and canoeing. And I was able to do that. I was able to achieve that. It gave me a great sense of satisfaction, having done that. For somebody at 12.

I had a guy that had a paper route. But he was constrained areally by other paper routes. And he said, I had to deliver it on time, so how can I get more customers? So he counted the number of steps from door, to door, to door, to door-- optimized that. I can move faster. I can take shortcuts.

And he began having more customers, within his own area, because he could cover more ground in the same amount of time. And he just did that over and over. And he ended up having a huge paper route. And they kept ordering more papers. And they kept saying, but your area isn't any bigger? He said, so give me a bigger area.

And what is he today? He's a supply chain analyst. He is a process engineer. He wants to see how every step fits with the next step. How do I improve-- constantly improve time, cost, and everything? And it started when he was 10.

And so it's interesting to go back and see some of those things in people. And sometimes there's a predictor. Sometimes there's not. But the most important thing is that people look at what they've done in the past that they really enjoyed doing. It has to be something not that they were told to do, but something that they themselves got great satisfaction from.

And then you ask yourselves, you write your story. You say, what are the nouns? What are you working with-- what kind of stuff? When you do your best stuff, what are you working with? Then you ask, what are the verbs? What are you doing? Are you analyzing, editing, writing? Whatever you're doing with that stuff, write that down. What are the relationships you're in when you do your best stuff? Is it a team? Are you alone?

And, if you're in a team, what role do you play in that team? That sort of thing. What are the relationships around you? And then are there any special circumstances? And, by circumstances, I mean culture. Are there any constraints or opportunities presented by the culture, when you're doing your best work?

Now, you separate those all out from the actual stories. And you say, this is who you are. Now, can we rearrange this, and look at that, and say, what else could you do? You're interested in that kind of stuff, with those skills, under those kind of relationships, with those kinds of circumstances. What could you do that is different from what you were doing before? How can we reperceive you, in other words? How can we reperceive you? And if they don't go very far astray, they come away with a whole lot better understanding of what they want and who they are.

VERN STEFANIC: Frank, that was great-- practical, practical steps for people in the profession-- for any of us.

FRANK WANTLAND: I didn't invent it. But I sure use the heck out of it.

And I combine it with other things that make it a good package-- sort of a total package. What's your best fit, and what's your best future? Those are the two things that people want to focus on. How do I get the best fit, so I'm using my talents in the best way? And then what's my best future? What are my choices?

VERN STEFANIC: Frank, thank you. We've been talking today, again, with Dr. Frank Wantland, a career coach and consultant who's been talking about careers in the oil and gas profession. So be sure to check back to the AAPG website for all of the Energy Insights Podcast. Or go to your favorite podcast platform. We're all over the place. Energy Insights is a production of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. And, for now, thanks for listening.

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