Essential Career & Life Advice From The CEO of U.S. Cellular
Laurent Therivel is the CEO of U.S. Cellular, the fourth largest wireless carrier in the United States with 5,000 employees across 23 states. Previously he spent 12 years at AT&T where he most recently served as CEO of AT&T Mexico leading 18,000 people.
Becoming the CEO of a company during a pandemic comes with a unique set of problems. A role that usually requires a lot of face to face interaction with employees, customers, and vendors has been mostly limited to phone calls and online meetings.
Laurent joined U.S. Cellular as their CEO in July of 2020. He says he’s had to heavily rely on data and analytics to see how their services are working for customers across the country, and that’s been difficult. Usually he would prefer to interact more to get a better feel for how things are going.
This past year there has been a fundamental shift in the way we live and work and Laurent believes that this shift has allowed us to take trends that would have taken 10 years or so and accelerated them to be accomplished in a couple of months. Laurent shares that he feels he has been able to be more efficient in his role due to technology. Now instead of having to travel across the country to visit with his team he can do it all from his computer at home. He has also been able to meet with smaller groups inside the company for Q&As and discussions, which is much easier than meeting with a huge group every time he shows up at a location.
So while this move was challenging for Laurent, he also has seen the silver linings and the positive impacts as well.
What to do if you aren’t happy with your job or your company
Most of us have had a time in our careers where we just aren’t sure if the role we have or the company we work for is the right fit. A time when you just don’t know what you really want to do in life.
For people going through this right now Laurent gives two pieces of advice. First of all, he says, you have to do your homework. It is important to carefully distinguish the difference between a company and a role. What about your current situation do you not like? Do you and your boss not have a good working relationship? Does your skill set not match up with the work you are doing? What is it that is making you feel unhappy?
Figuring this out can help you decide what to do. If it is a problem with your boss, maybe you can sit down and have a discussion with them to fix that relationship. If you don’t like the actual work you are doing or it doesn’t match up to your skillset, maybe there is another role for you inside the organization that could be better.
Laurent believes people are too quick to say the company itself is not a good fit, but usually it is their role or a relationship with a boss or coworker. Really look deep at why you are feeling unhappy.
He also says that people need to figure out what their worth is externally. There are two problems that come along with not accurately evaluating your external worth.
A lot of times people feel stuck in a role because they limit themselves. Laurent says, “They remain stuck, when they could be doing something much more exciting and much more interesting and a much better fit with their skills. But because they don't believe in themselves and because they haven't taken the time to find their worth externally, they don't take the leap.”
Other people over value their external worth. They may think they are doing exceptional work, and that they are really making an impact, but that may not be the case. So they come into work and complain, and they feel underpaid and undervalued, but really they are the ones not rising to their full potential. You really have to do your homework and be honest with yourself to figure out your external work and what your performance really looks like.
Laurent’s advice for leaders who feel they are not progressing in a company
For mid-level leaders who feel that there aren’t any opportunities inside of their organization to progress or rise up through the ranks Laurent shares his advice. He says this is a common scenario, there are a lot of leaders going through this. For this situation he says leaders have to be willing to develop their skill set laterally.
He says, “Too often people say I feel stuck, I feel stagnant. And then you say, Okay, well, are you willing to move geographically? No, no, no, my family's here, you know, I can't move. Okay. Do you want to try a different role? Do you want to move laterally in the organization and try and build your skill set somewhere else? Well, no, I don't really want to do that. I think I'm good at accounting, or I'm good at logistics, or whatever it is, they're good at sales. Okay, so if that's the case, really what you're doing is you're waiting for your boss to retire or die, right? If that doesn't happen, then you don't know where to go.”
You have to be open to lateral moves if moving up the rank isn’t a possibility at the moment. Don’t be the one to limit yourself. Laurent also stresses the importance of having open and honest conversations with your loved ones so you know the right decisions to make in your career. Don’t assume the reaction your spouse, significant other, or kids will have to a career choice. You never know until you talk with them.
Advice for senior leaders who are burned out or bored
People at any level of leadership tend to place limits on themselves. It is fairly common to hear senior leaders talk about how they feel burned out or bored with their role, but Laurent says a lot of times this is because they have limited themselves for one reason or another.
Feeling bored or burned out may signal that it is time to try something else, but it can be hard to leave a role for various reasons. Sometimes senior leaders may have become used to living a certain way financially, so they stop themselves from pursuing their passions because it may not provide the same level of financial security.
As Laurent says, “I find that that a lot of times, senior leaders in their career aren't willing to really make the difficult move, because they've convinced themselves that they have a lot less flexibility, a lot less optionality than they really do. Which is sad, because if you think about all of the hard work that you've put in, it should be to go create optionality later in your life, right? You should have the ability to go teach classes or be a mezcal importer, by the way, is what I want to do when I retire. So I think some of it has to do with, again, going back and having those conversations to make sure you know how much optionality that you really do have.”
Figure out how much risk you are willing to take as well as what you truly value in life to decide where to go when you feel this way.
How Laurent makes difficult decisions
When it comes to making tough decisions Laurent says he uses a combination of analytics and advice. He doesn’t just go with a gut feeling. It’s all about taking a step back and looking at the issue impartially. Emotions do play a part in making decisions, but in this first step Laurent tries to separate emotions.
It is also important, Laurent shares, to have a healthy dose of humility. “Everybody thinks that the problem that they're facing is unique and has never before occurred in this universe. And chances are, it's occurred hundreds of times. And so if you can develop a trusted set of friends, a trusted set of advisors, trusted set of mentors, that helps. And if nothing else, you know, there's one thing that people like talking more about than anything, which is themselves. And so we find people that have faced a problem like this and just reach out to them and say, hey, how did you think through this, and I think having the humility to do that, is, is critical to making an informed decision.”
Leaders also need to be able to admit when they may not be the best person to make the decision. Laurent says there are times when he is…