Say what you will about Joe Biden, whether you supported his presidential election or not, and recognizing he does not have the messianic stature of the previous two presidents, the man’s lifetime work can nevertheless be viewed as a study in career development. There are some aspects of Biden’s professional life that both led to his ultimate achievement of winning the U.S. presidency, but which also point to characteristics many of us can learn from as we navigate and grow our own careers. Like any person, he faced substantial challenges establishing himself professionally. However, there are attributes he exhibited in doing so which over time contributed to his success and are worth an examination.
A now well known piece of his biography is how as a 29-year old he ascended to the U.S. Senate followed within weeks by the loss of his wife and young daughter in a car accident. The conflicting and monumental impact of these twin events would rock anyone’s world, but with reserves of fortitude, faith, and support from key individuals he carried on as a senator for his state and father to his surviving sons. Finding resolve to carry on and do what is right under such circumstances gave him a life perspective to better confront other difficulties and to be grateful for what is most important. The takeaway regarding careers? Resoluteness and astute priority settings matter.
Although the voters of Delaware kept sending him back to the senate it’s not as if Biden never knew electoral failure. He ran for president twice before, in 1988 and in 2008. Both attempts flopped. A bungled plagiarism charge from ’88 and lackluster enthusiasm in ’08 left it looking like the presidential path was never to be his. He realized though that failure is not ruinous. Getting knocked down means you get back up. He kept his career alive, demonstrated doggedness, and continued with his brand of ambition.
Rather than producing discouragement, failure informed Joe Biden how to make his future better. He strove to be among the most influential members of the senate with chairmanships and compromises yielding both successes and controversies. He accepted the invitation to serve as vice president, which over eight years contained a full and diversified portfolio. And of course, he continued to go big by again running for president with confidence the unique circumstances of this election cycle could potentially favor him. It worked.
An effective politician is a compelling networker and communicator. They know how to forge constructive relationships, build beneficial teams, and leverage the synergy of bright minds. Biden has honed his skill of reaching out to others and forming profitable alliances. He has been at this a long time, which addresses another notable characteristic of his-age. Much has been said about how Biden has lost his fast ball with age. This may be true. Despite this, he demonstrated a proficiency in running for and taking on this most demanding of jobs, compiling more votes than any other presidential candidate in American history. Not bad for a guy in his late seventies.
So, politics aside, we could allow ourselves to see in Joe Biden a person who persevered, avoided dejection, focused on what was most important, maintained ambition, willingly faced new ordeals, gathered talented compatriots, and projected his considerable knowledge and experience well into his elder years. As we reflect on our own careers we can assess how well we are doing in these professional building areas. Although none of us would want to go through all of the trials and tribulations Joe Biden has gone through, it is still justifiable to see his career story as one of many ways to achieve success.