Dreaming about getting ahead - Did you collect all the A’s?
Clarifying your career aspirations is a great start but it is crucial to understand and develop abilities that are essential to play the aspired role
In life, we often don’t get what we want or worse, what we deserve. Walking out is easy, staying put is hard
Did you consider that workplaces are similar to schools and colleges –learning from teachers we admire and detest; carrying out projects individually and in groups where only a few really work and submitting assignments that feel like out of syllabus. And how can one forget annual grades that determine if we are qualified to take on newer assignments. Thankfully, there is enough ongoing discussion to do away with ritualistic grades (performance management). If you are dreaming about getting ahead, however, you will still have to accumulate some A’s.
First things first. What (and why) do you want from your career? While that may sound like a simple question, but seriously, what do you want from your career? Do you want to be an entrepreneur, an academician, public servant, leading a function (which) or an organization? While the choices are endless, many among us haven’t thought about them. It is easier to see the next job/role but harder to visualize 30-40 year career. The task is made even more difficult by limitations posed by our exposure and knowledge i.e. I don’t know what all can I do. Well, if you are plagued by short-termism or unawareness-ism (or both), and can’t answer “what do I want from my career”, how about answering “what do you not want (to do)”. For example, in my personal exploration, I was clear that I didn’t want to lead the company. I leveraged connections to explore other possibilities (for example Management Consulting) and ruled them out due to interest/other reasons. Finally, aspire for what you want independent of what others want. By all means, be inspired by your peers but don’t follow them blindly. This is your life and dreams, don’t live someone else’s.
Clarifying your career aspiration(s)is a great start but not sufficient. It is crucial to understand and subsequently developabilities that are essential to play that aspired role. For example, if you aspire for a functional leadership role, say Head of HR, planning horizontal moves (e.g. recruiting to HR generalist, learning to business partner etc.) is more valuable than vertical (e.g. promotion in the same role). This is not easy for one may have to delay short term gratification in the service of long term rewards. But sometimes one has to step back to leap forward. Catalog the abilities you will require by talking to others and start designing experiences/projects to develop those. A simple approach is to make a list of add, modify and delete. As an example,
add: conflict resolution, public speaking
modify: influencing, budgeting
delete: cynicism, defensiveness
And remember, there is rarely the path to get there. Someone once said, “Success is really ABC – Ability, Breaks and Courage”.
In the words of Churchill, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”. Everyone has an attitude – the real question is do you have an attitude or ATTITUDE? You can have all the abilities in the world, but a bad attitude is a sure way to crash your flight of fantasy. Are you always right? Can you admit failure or say I don’t know? Do you learn from others including your juniors? Do you walk the talk and say the same thing privately and publicly? Do you like having the last word or re-stating something that has already been said? The list is endless and the best way to know what others think of you is to observe someone else talk about you when they are unguarded. It might sting but that is a sure way to look into your blind-spot. I believe a bad attitude is a like a flat tyre – if you don’t change it, you will never go anywhere.
Deciding where to go and subsequently developing skills and attitude are in your direct control. You can’t fault your manager if she doesn’t define your career goals or fails to develop your attitude / abilities. That is squarely on you. Availability of that dream role, however, is an altogether different matter. I think of it as a game of patience, a virtue that is not equally distributed. There are some who are willing to wait and work with their managers to develop the necessary abilities and attitude. And then there are some who will take the next flight out when denied an opportunity as if running out of jet-fuel. I have met both these individuals and simply inquired “what will you do differently when you get there? And why can’t you do that today?” In a number of instances, I have found people unable to answer first and respond to the second with a smile. In life, we often don’t get what we want or worse, what we deserve. Walking out is easy, staying put is hard. Collin Powell famously said “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic – it take sweat, determination and hard work”. Have courage, be determined and show a little faith.
As humans we strive for progress. Some experience it by advancing knowledge while others through formal positions and titles. Regardless of methods, we all like painting a better tomorrow. And in that quest, we are all same and unique.
I am busy accumulating my A’s. Are you?