Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to our thoughts and feeling without judging them and this is the biggest differentiator in those who go on to becoming ‘first amongst equals’. Being mindful, being conscious of who we are and what drives us is one of the most powerful anchors in life. One of my favorite icons is Jeff Immelt who had a most phenomenal career enroute to becoming the CEO of GE in 2000. In one of his keynote speeches he said something that made a lot of sense when it comes to charting careers
“Know what you stand for, in good times and bad. If you get shaken by each cycle; if you run when times get tough; if you want someone else to tell you what to think … you will get destroyed by events. Pick you own path; have a purpose”
Our choices govern our future and of course in an ideal world one would always hope and aim to optimize decisions, especially with regards to something as crucial as career. If one were to plot the factors impacting ‘pace of career’ against ‘stage of career’ (pictorially depicted below), one would discover that the four critical decision aspects impacts our growth differently at different stages of career.
The crux of the displayed proposition (left image) is that when one starts his or her career the pace of growth is governed by natural tendencies, skills specialized in and the launch pad but when one is transitioning into senior leadership roles, who you work with and the organizations landscape determines how quickly you rise through the ranks.
Understanding these four decision aspects is key to making a quick judgment call on how one can maximize opportunities
How do you tend to make your decisions?
Decision making in human beings is a very complex process and there are several important factors that influence it, past experiences, a variety of cognitive biases, individual differences, including age and socioeconomic status, personality etc. In fact research around The Big Five personality model has indicated that factors such as agreeableness and neuroticism do impact decision-making performance under pressure. For example, if neuroticism in an individual is high and he or she is prone to anxiety then a common instinct would be to choose career options which provide job security or say there is a threat to an individual’s job security then a common instinct would be to jump off in the first bus out. In such cases it’s always best to first allay the anxiety levels and then make the most effective decision. The awareness of one’s own tendencies itself is a great starting point in building mindfulness.
What skills do you choose to develop?
In times such as ours where disruption and change is a norm, our relevance and growth is increasingly dependent on our skillset. While choosing to develop self, the most prudent thing would be to view skills in a holistic framework – Business (skills around managing different sectors of business), Functional (technical skills around a functional domain), Process (skills around process excellence like Six Sigma, 5S etc.) and Personal (skills around social judgment, comprehension, composure etc.)
It is an amalgamation of all four arenas that create a USP for an individual. I do believe that an inordinate amount of focus is given on developing functional or process skills to establish a differentiator. The future however will belong to ones who balance their functional expertise with future savvy personal skills like New media literacy, Design mindset, Sense making, Virtual Collaboration, Cognitive Load Management.
Where do you choose to work?
The platform you choose to launch the rocketship of your career to a large extent determines its trajectory. The pace of growth typically begins differing in middle management levels when the opportunities start to thin out. Here, where you choose to work starts mattering more because your career pace will typically start mirroring the pace of growth of the organization.
Who do you choose to work with?
Finally the biggest impact in our lives is made by the people we surround ourselves with. The way we think, the choices we make and don’t make is hugely influenced by our colleagues, bosses, and teams. And there is a lot of truth in adage that “You are the company you keep”. Yes, we may not always have a choice in who we report into or who report into us. But we do have a choice in terms of how we invest our time, who we invest our time with and what we invest our time into.
Before making that all important career move – Know thyself, question the people fit and consciously ask yourself is this right bus to your career goals!
This is Chapter 6 of the Series on Career Management by Subhashini Acharya.
Read the previous Chapters: