Use Kaleidoscope Thinking to Translate Your Skills Into a New Role

Felicia Hudson Hannafan Photo
Contributing Writer
Hudson Creative Copy

12 minutes

Knowing your potential can help you grow.

With artificial intelligence impacting the future of many jobs today, executive branding and LinkedIn coach Carol Kaemmerer says it is imperative to think about your current skills and how you could apply them to a new role. She calls this “kaleidoscope thinking.”

“Our skills and the things that we find give us passion in life can be consistent, and yet we can be doing entirely different things,” Kaemmerer says. “When most people think of job history, they put themselves in silos or little boxes. 

“I love the analogy of the kaleidoscope because everybody knows that the pieces are the same no matter what. None of the pieces inside the kaleidoscope change; what changes is how we move those pieces around. Each picture can be more fabulous than the last.”

Active Listening in the Old Job and the New Role

Kaemmerer has used kaleidoscope thinking herself. Previously a marketing communications consultant for a Fortune 500 company, kaleidoscope thinking helped her move into her current role when the big company downsized and outsourced its marketing communications to a single agency on retainer.

“Nobody knew who I was outside the company, because for 20 years, they continued feeding me work,” she says. “I never wanted to bite the hand that fed me. I had my own philosophy that I would not take work from a competitor of theirs. They didn’t ask for that, but it was important to my integrity. It was a shock when I realized I couldn’t work for them anymore. And it didn’t take me more than five minutes to realize that putting up a website and showing all my great work would not be a way I could market myself, because everything I’d done for the last 20 years was company proprietary.”

In her previous role, Kaemmerer had created product literature and videos about implantable medical devices for an audience of physicians, patients and third-party payers. She realized that active listening was the skill she used most—both to learn about the products from technical experts and to determine or assess talking points based on the thoughts of clinical opinion leaders and marketing team members. 

When her role was eliminated as the company downsized, Kaemmerer got to work creating a LinkedIn profile for herself to support her pursuit of new opportunities. She knew from experience that she could revamp her existing profile to make it more engaging. During this process, she began to study LinkedIn and attended webinars to learn everything she could about how to use it most effectively. Now she helps senior leaders use LinkedIn effectively “to introduce themselves and frame conversations.”

“The world of work underwent a huge shift due to the COVID pandemic, and it continues to change in response to an unstable economy and technologies such as AI that are changing the way work is accomplished,” notes Kaemmerer. “Many companies are again in layoff mode. That’s why it is so important for people to understand the kaleidoscope analogy and use it in imagining new ways to use their existing skills.”

A Six-Year Interview

After spending more than 17 years in pastoral ministry leadership, CUES member Darius Wise used his unique skillset to make the leap to president/CEO of $350 million Red Rocks Credit Union, Littleton, Colorado, in February 2023.

“I made the change, just like I’ve made other changes in my life and career—through relationships,” he says. “If I look back throughout my career, I would summarize all that time as ‘nonprofit executive leadership.’ But every change was prompted by a key relationship, whether a boss, supervisor or mentor.”

Wise says he was taught early on that relationships are the currency of business and life and should be well managed. As lead pastor at Denver United Church, Wise got to know Patrick Ahern, who was then treasurer and a board member of the church as well as president/CEO of Red Rocks CU. (A CUES member, Ahern is now president/COO of $550 million Nutmeg State Credit Union.) 

“We ended up growing a great relationship, and he was a mentor of mine,” Wise says. “We would do lunch every other month, and he got to know me and my leadership style over six years; come to find out, it was a six-year interview. I didn’t know it was happening.”

Darius Wise
Red Rocks Credit Union
asset size — $350 million
Knowing who you are, the value you can deliver to the company and being able to clearly articulate that value is critically important in making any transition.

Wise says he was four or five years into his position at the church, approaching age 40, contemplating what his next career move would be. He was thinking about shifting paths or changing careers but didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do. He had a few offers on the table when Ahern approached him about a new opportunity. 

“He said, ‘I’m going to make this hard for you,’” Wise says. “I’m retiring in about five to seven years. You’re a leader of leaders. I can’t teach that, and I need that in our organization. But I can teach you this industry. What would you think about potentially coming into the organization as my number two and … I’ll begin to groom you to be a succession candidate for this organization?’”

Wise said he didn’t feel confident he was fit for the role and encouraged Ahern to go to the market for it. Ahern was persistent and, three months later, after taking Wise’s advice to look in the larger market, again approached him about the role. 

“He said, ‘I still think you’re the person for the job,’” Wise recalls. “I went home to process this with my wife. I talked to several other mentors and said yes to switching industries. And it was the best decision I’ve made in my career. 

“This was catalytic for me in several ways. I feel like I’ve found a new home in this industry after spending nearly two decades in vocational ministry. I love what I get to do every day. The basis of our industry is people helping people. And I shifted from helping people think about the direction of their spiritual lives to helping people with their financial lives.”

Wise adds that though helping people with the spiritual direction of their lives has been meaningful for him, he believes there are very few other areas more central to people thriving than managing the financial direction of our lives. “Being in this space, I get to tie the purpose component to the profit,” he says.

Wise says he faced several unknowns in making such a significant career pivot and had to rely on self-confidence to help.

“This is something I coach younger leaders, professionals and my kids on,” he says. “Confidence in your ability, skill set and the experiences you’ve had to hone those skills matters. ... This speaks to the importance of knowing your skill set, your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing who you are, the value you can deliver to the company and being able to clearly articulate that value is critically important in making any transition.  

“I know that I’m a good leader of people and organizations. If you cut me open, you see a visionary leader, strategist and guy who bleeds people and organizations. I’m always thinking about how to improve as a leader, sharpen my skill set as a leader and manager of others, and create more operational efficiency to better serve.”

For other people who want to make a change but doubt their ability to do so, Wise advises asking yourself why you’re thinking of switching.

“I think first, if there’s doubt, you have to answer the question as to why it exists,” he says. “Why is it present? Is there validity to that doubt, or is it a limiting belief? There are liberating truths about us and then there are limiting beliefs that we believe about ourselves. Which one are you leaning into?” 

Wise advises seeking the guidance of other peers or colleagues. “It’s really important for us to have people in our lives—mentors, coaches or bosses; and sometimes those people can be one and the same that see us for who we are,” he adds.

Embrace Experiences and Challenges 

Amber Mooney, VP/member experience at $126 million Labor Credit Union, Washington, D.C., also has found that having confidence in your skills is critical to pursuing new opportunities. 

“Confidence in leaping to my current role came from a deep belief in my abilities fueled by my past experiences and successes,” she says. “Each role I held provided me with new insights, experiences and challenges, building my confidence over time. I have always trusted my ability to adapt and overcome whatever challenges come my way.”

She adds that kaleidoscope thinking played a significant role in her career progression. 

“In each of my roles, from my first job as a teller at Infinity FCU (Portland, Maine) to my current role, I had to constantly adapt, learn new skills and combine them in different ways, just like a kaleidoscope. I’ve always embraced the opportunity to wear different hats and leverage my mixed skill set to create fresh and effective solutions.”

Amber Mooney
VP/Member Experience
Labor Credit Union
asset size — $126 million
In each of my roles, from my first job as a teller … to my current role, I had to constantly adapt, learn new skills and combine them in different ways, just like a kaleidoscope.

Mooney is now in her dream job and says she accomplished this by embracing opportunities that allowed her to grow and learn. She kept her end goal in sight and consistently worked toward it, improving her skills, expanding her knowledge and learning from each experience. 

“CUES played an instrumental role in broadening my horizons,” says Mooney, who extensively used her CUES membership benefits, including CUES Learning Portal and Harvard ManageMentor, at her previous credit union. “It provided me with an opportunity to delve into executive-level skills that were unique and not readily accessible elsewhere. My current role is my dream job because it allows me to influence positive change and improve the experiences of our members, which is deeply rewarding to me.”

Mooney says 25 years in the credit union industry along with her deep passion for improving member experiences, which has always been at the heart of all her endeavors, made it clear to her that she was an ideal fit for her current role. 

“My comprehensive understanding of our members’ needs coupled with my extensive experience in various roles has given me a unique perspective that prepared me thoroughly for this role,” she says. “The amalgamation of these experiences has equipped me with the necessary skills to enhance our members’ journey and take Labor CU’s member experience to new heights.”

Mooney uses her background to lead by example. “I believe in empowering my team, fostering an open dialogue and promoting a culture of innovation and agility, which I think is key to our success,” she says.

For credit union professionals looking to make a move but who feel their resume may not reflect their readiness, Mooney’s advice is not to undervalue your diverse experiences. She stresses that each role offers a unique perspective that can be applied in new positions. 

“Don’t hesitate to take on new challenges,” she says. “Each one is an opportunity to learn and grow. Remember, it’s not just about what’s on paper; it’s about your attitude, resilience and willingness to adapt and learn.”

Develop Deeper Thinking

Lesley Sears, VP/consulting services for CUES, says she identifies kaleidoscope thinking as deeper thinking. 

“I always think of [Warren] Buffett,” she says. “Buffett and his partner [Charlie] Munger talk about model thinking. … I believe that all good leaders look for some of the deeper foundational knowledge in a variety of ways.”

Sears, who has worked in a variety of industries and has extensive knowledge of human resources, leadership and talent development, says deep and diverse thinking can assist leaders and future leaders in strategically understanding themselves and their motivations. That, in turn, can help them in making career decisions. 

Sears encourages those considering new roles or industries to focus more on desired skill sets than job descriptions. “Based on what I’ve seen recently within learning and development, there is a mindset focused on skills,” she says. “I believe that our workforce strategy worldwide will ultimately focus much more on skills than job descriptions and roles. I think that … (that’s) going to begin to shift to expand the workforce that has compressed at this point. So finding different ways of making the most of the resources that they have, both the money and the talent within the organization, and making the most of the new resources they bring onto the team [will be the goal]. I think skills are going to be the wave of the future; the success has been proven time and time again.”

Lesley Sears
VP/Consulting Services
I believe that our workforce strategy worldwide will ultimately focus much more on skills than job descriptions and roles.”

Through CUES Consulting, Sears regularly helps credit unions identify how career pathing can work within their organizations. 

“The closer we get to skills-based organizations, the clearer those paths become,” she says. “CUES Consulting is stepping into that much more forward-leaning, forward-thinking approach to talent development and people strategy.”

Sears advises people early in their careers to do an honest, thorough inventory of their skills with the help of others, as in a 360-degree review. “Individuals don’t necessarily do a great job of self-rating,” she says.

“You have to understand who you are at a skills level,” she adds. “Bounce it off people you work with—peers, people who manage you and clients.”

Sears also recommends identifying your dream position and the skills necessary to achieve and succeed in it. 

Whether your goal is to pursue new responsibilities in your current role, attract fresh opportunities or leap to a different industry, harnessing the power of kaleidoscope thinking can clear the way.  cues icon

Felicia Hudson Hannafan loves Spain but writes from Chicago.

CUES Consulting

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