Whether it is your career or the careers of your team members, it is an important part of every leader’s job to facilitate career development. Whether it is advancing within the current organization, other parts of the same company, or moving on to other companies or some entrepreneurial venture, there are certain steps that are important. It used to be that you had a mentor and he or she took responsibility for alerting you to opportunities and preparing you to take advantage of them. Although that still happens sometimes, the mantra now is, “you are responsible for your own career.” That may mean that your mentor has a more facilitative, supportive, coach-y role but is still very much a part of the process. Or, it may mean, “We are cutting back on all of our employee development programs so you are on your own. Tough luck!” Either way, it is wise to take charge of your own career. Waiting for things to happen is not going to get you there.
Everyone has tips on how to manage your career
• “Turn Yourself into an Office Diplomat. Small gestures of courtesy and respect toward your reports can catapult your career upward.”
• “Take time to assess your skills, temperament, aptitudes, likes, dislikes, and natural gifts.” (Then do something to improve on them).
• Stay current. The things you learned in college will be obsolete by the time you get your next promotion. Be a constant learner.
• Don’t make enemies. You never know who will be making the decision about that next assignment.
• Be flexible. Don’t be afraid to take a lateral assignment if it allows you to acquire a new skill.
• The surest way to get in line for the next promotion is to do a good job in your current assignment.
• Toot your own horn. Don’t be a pest about it but document your accomplishments and make sure that they are acknowledged.
• Know what you really want. Don’t accept promotions just because they are promotions. Your career should be more than a job. Look for those opportunities that help you learn something that will propel you in the right direction.
• Have a plan (and a plan “B”). Think ahead a little bit. Hang out with people who look like they are doing the kind of work that you might want to do and find out more about them. Be willing to make modifications if your goals change.
• Don’t whine. Be willing to do some of the dirty work, at least your share. But, don’t be a doormat either. Insist on a reasonable helping of challenging assignments also.
• Learn to facilitate win/win conflict resolutions. Earn a reputation for being someone who can handle difficult people and situations and end up with a positive outcome.
• If your organization has a career development function in the Human Resources department, use it. Take advantage of the resources that you have available to you.
• Take a vacation. Really! People who work all the time and have no lives of their own tend to become stressed, cranky, and hard to work with. Hardly the kind of person I would want to bring onto my next big project.
• Network. Network. Network. The more people who know you, the more chances you have of hearing about that next step up.
• Etc., etc. etc.
And, every single source tells you, “People skills are just as important as (or more important than) technical skills or business know-how.” That’s where leadership training can really come in handy. Whether you are managing your own career or facilitating your team members’ careers, make sure that they get signed up for the kind of leadership training that emphasizes good, solid communication skills. People get sidelined more often for poor listening, poor conflict management, or being too brash or sarcastic than for mediocre performance. The ideal leadership training will include substantial emphasis on listening, constructive confrontation, and win/win conflict resolution. It will not treat these as superficial, throwaway concepts but will include lots of practice and feedback for participants. After the training, make sure that you (or your team members) get lots of support and follow up opportunities. To really learn a skill, you need to put it to use right away. And, you need to use it frequently and receive constructive feedback.
Most of all, listen, listen, listen. Being really tuned in to each and every conversation you have will help you in many ways. It helps you build those indispensable relationships that you will need as your career progresses. You will learn a lot about other jobs and what the challenges and rewards are. You will continue to improve your listening skills. And most importantly, you will be viewed as someone who listens. You cannot overstate how important that becomes when decision-making comes down to one or two possible candidates and you are the one who really listened during the interview. Listening is also one of the most important skills you will need in any leadership position. Leaders get good marks from their team members when they are perceived as good listeners.
There is an abundance of literature about career development out there. Read it. Much of it is common sense but when we are trying to plan a career, a little common sense is not a bad thing. This is not a big mystery but it does take some work, some planning, and a little courage.