We enter the business world with the expectation that we are starting up a trajectory that will always climb to the next promotion, a continual progression in responsibility and authority. This is a myth. Rarely is a career path a continual climb up the ladder. A career path is a “hero’s journey”, one beset with all kinds of threats, setbacks and obstacles before we attain a logical pinnacle to our career.
With every “hero’s journey” there are things we need to learn and do to be successful in our career:
- Accept that we will learn a lot of important lessons while on this journey – think of every setback, every obstacle, every layoff, every coaching session as a learning opportunity.
- Accept criticism with dignity – not every job we do will we be successful at. Our failures or setbacks will result from our own bad judgment, poor leadership, bad directions or mistakes. The sooner we learn how to manage our emotions and ourselves as we learn of our mistakes and failures the sooner we can move beyond this setback. Criticism and coaching are necessary tools of learning and developing.
- Know when to redirect our efforts – not all job assignment fit our skills or strengths. Sometimes we need to seek a reassignment even when that means a lateral move or a step down to a lower rung of the ladder. To try to “fake it ‘til you make it” is a formula for ultimate failure. Know yourself, be honest with who you are and where you can best contribute to the organizational goals and strategies and seek that role, even when it may be a perceived as a career setback.
- Learn how to manage and lead up – managers and executives aren’t always right and they are also suffer from the same human frailties of bad decisions, poor judgment and mistakes. Learn how to help your manager become better and therefore more successful in their role. This is a diplomatic endeavor that requires you to be sensitive to the manager’s insecurities and fears. Success in leading/managing up requires you to exercise your influence but also to learn how to lead the conversation to a point where the manager self discovers what you may already know. If you just confront and tell, you will fail in this endeavor. It takes a very thoughtful, sensitive approach. Learn to lead into this conversation with phrases like, “This conversation may feel a little prickly…” or “I would like to share with you a concern that I am having about… It is not meant to be critical of you but it may feel that way…” Having this conversation in a neutral space is helpful when possible, maybe over a cup of coffee or in a conference room instead of in the manager’s office. Make certain you are very clear on your motives; don’t leave then to try to interpret what your motives are.
- Seek and use Mentors – having a voice of experience and objectivity is a necessary part of the “hero’s journey”. Different mentors will be needed at different stages of your journey. Seek out mentors that can provide you with the frank and candid view of your seeming reality. A good mentor will require you to work and learn from their counsel but will also require you to be introspective. They won’t solve your challenges but will help you identify strategies and tactics to work through them.
- Be honest with your mistakes – we all have worked for managers that cast off blame like Teflon. They always have someone or something to blame for mistakes or failures. Don’t be that person. If you make a mistake have the courage to admit it, do your mea culpa, and then enlist the help of others to mitigate any harm or damage the mistake has caused. Saying I’m sorry is a learned skill. Now this isn’t to say you should make a lot of mistakes so you can practice this skill. But learn the elements of a sincere “I’m sorry”.
- Start with eye contact as you say, “I’m sorry” or “I made a mistake”.
- Clearly state what was done without making excuses, “I made a judgment call and it was the wrong one.”
- Acknowledge what you know has resulted from this mistake, be specific.
- State exactly what you have learned from this mistake.
- Identify what needs to be done to correct the mistake, be specific.
- Ask for the specific help you need to “fix the problem”.
- Thank all for their understanding.
- Become the expert in your role – regardless of where you are in the org. chart, take the time and initiative to become an expert at the job you are doing. Become a resource for others new to the job and become a voice of how to improve the processes and systems that your job relies on.
- Know how your job impacts the organizational goals – take the time to understand how expert performance in your role helps drive some of the key measures your organization cares about. I know this line of sight is often difficult but by using curious inquiry with your manager or others in the organization, the connections and strategic alignment will be discovered.
Whether you are a seasoned employee or a new hire, whether you have been promoted, transferred laterally or even demoted, learn from the experience, apply these eight points to your role and accept the reality that you have a chance for a fresh start with only one focus, that of being an expert in that role.
Companies don’t manage your career for you; you have to manage your career for yourself. If you have applied these eight steps to your role and you find that how your manager or the organization perceives you has not changed or you have been boxed out of your chosen career path, seek a new employer. Sometimes this “hero’s journey” requires a change of scenery…