It’s always a good time to think strategically about your career, but the events of the past year have created a wave of self-reflection on our working life, personal fulfillment, and shared mortality. For some, this has resulted in a keen focus on financial security and evaluating where we stand in relation to our work. Many jobs were eliminated or shifted over the past year, and more change is expected as organizations adapt to a post-vaccine world.

With this mindset, for the first time in its history, Compliance Week dedicated the final day of its 16th annual National Conference to career development. Based on reception from attendees, audience reaction, and high attendance, the timing was ideal. Compliance professionals were presented with wisdom, insights, and guidance from a broad range of career experts.

I had the honor of delivering the opening keynote on cultivating self-awareness. In my experience, a lack of self-awareness is the root cause of the most common obstacles to career upward mobility. It’s key to leading effectively, especially as you climb the ranks.

Self-awareness is the ability to be introspective—to accurately reflect on your behaviors, emotions, and attitudes. As my colleague Dr. Tasha Eurich found in her extensive research, 95 percent of people believe they are self-aware—but only 10 to 15 percent of us actually are. This leads to blind spots that can significantly derail your career (or cost you your job).

Three things you can do to improve your self-awareness

  1. Put your relationships first;
  2. Ask for feedback; and
  3. When things go wrong, ask “what,” not “why,” questions.

“Why” questions trap us into a rearview mirror approach to life, looking at the past. You may never find the answer to why questions. Move forward and reframe. Keep moving forward. Learn from your success and failures without dwelling on them.


“What” questions will advance your career. What can I learn from this disappointing experience? What can I do to demonstrate I am the right person for this job? Taking this approach will help you stay focused on moving forward in learning from the experience.


-Amii Barnard-Bahn

Following my keynote, a panel of compliance and recruitment experts provided a wealth of insights for career search and growth. Maurice Gilbert, managing partner and compliance search specialist at Conselium Compliance Search, put things in perspective.

“Our profession is only 18 years old. We are in the toddler stage,” he said. Compare this to the legal profession, which has been around for thousands of years.

At compliance’s inception, not knowing the skills that were needed, organizations hired former prosecutors for the role to bully and scare the business into submission. In contrast, we have entered an enlightened era, with the compliance officer as a business partner who inspires and educates.

To move the profession forward, Gilbert passionately advocated the need to tie compliance directly to business strategy. He encouraged all compliance professionals to create succinct value statements that influence culture with a positive narrative. He advised colleagues to be active in our profession, speaking at conferences and maintaining a presence on social media.

Mark Gonska, an experienced outplacement and career search coach who has participated in more than 8,000 employee terminations, shared some deadly myths of career self-sabotage. The first: “My work will speak for itself.”

“No, it won’t,” replied Gonska. You need to find effective ways to share your contribution and convey how you add value.

Second myth: “My boss is the silent type—no news is good news.” No news might mean your boss sees no value in what you are doing, which is dangerous for your career. Be proactive and share your contributions. “Boss management” is your responsibility.

David Ciullo, CEO of Career Management Associates, focused on the need for compliance professionals to be viewed as delivering results to the C-suite every day. He stressed the importance of asking the right questions on a consistent basis and having an accurate perception of how others estimate your value. Lastly, Ciullo emphasized the value of “getting to yes” and ensuring you tee up asks with how you can help your stakeholders—not what you need.

“The world of compliance is huge. … There are a lot of transferable pathways that can open up.”

Bukola Adisa, founder and CEO of Career Masterclass at Compliance Week 2021

Mary Shirley, global head of culture of integrity and compliance education at Fresenius Medical Care, gave sage advice on navigating a career search. Reflecting on the lost jobs over the past year, Shirley encouraged colleagues to support each other. For job seekers, she advocated savvy and thoughtfulness while searching.

“Cold” asks (when you don’t know someone well) are tough, so tread carefully and diplomatically versus “warm” asks—when you approach a colleague with whom you’ve already built a relationship. Reciprocity is a key principle: How can you help the person you’re asking?

Bukola Adisa, founder and CEO of U.K.-based Career Masterclass, celebrated the evolution of compliance into a respected C-suite role. “The world of compliance is huge. … There are a lot of transferable pathways that can open up,” she said.

She encouraged compliance colleagues to think of their skill set broadly to enable more career options in the future. For example, the compliance skills required to lead remediation and conflict-of-interest programs easily translate into operations and assurance roles. She stressed the importance of curiosity in developing an agile mindset for honing additional skills, which makes you more valuable and flexible for your career.

“Develop the confidence to stretch yourself” to contribute and learn something new, Adisa exhorted.

Kristy Grant-Hart CW2021

Kristy Grant-Hart shared tips for women to improve their communication skills as part of Career Day at Compliance Week 2021.

Concluding the day with a bang, Kristy Grant-Hart, CEO of Spark Compliance Consulting, shared common mistakes women make in communication. Grant-Hart stressed the importance of the “internal game”—the psychological concept of the locus of control, which refers to how strongly people believe they have control over the situations and experiences that affect their lives. Focusing on your locus of control (versus things not in your power to change) empowers you and helps you move forward.

“The internal game is incredibly important because as you recognize your own value and internalize your locus of control … other people read that power from you,” she said.

Grant-Hart shared several communication habits women need to avoid. Among them: overusing “sorry.” Unless you’re truly apologizing for a mistake that is your fault, eliminate that disempowering word from your vocabulary. Avoid qualifiers and rising terminals (upspeak at the end of a sentence) and be concise. When you have to say no, “use it as a teaching moment.” Explain why your stakeholder’s proposal is problematic and use the word “because.”

Career Day was chock-full of advice, more than is possible to share in this article, so I’ll end with a favorite quote of mine from Grant-Hart: “Have a whiskey and stay out late.” Too often, governance executives (especially women) frequently decline the social opportunities that can warm up and lead to breakthroughs with difficult relationships.

As the economy begins to make a recovery, new career opportunities will open up for everyone. Those who reflect on their career will be well-equipped to meet the future of work.