A brilliant career
Every now and then you see someone who appears to have glided inexorably upwards, in one or more organisations, to an influential, admired and well remunerated role. The individual rests comfortably on their accomplishments, seems poised and displays personal mastery. You say to yourself “I wish I could do that. Reach the top and operate the way that person does, in five or ten years’ time” – or words to that effect!
So how do you achieve such a terrific state of affairs?
How do you also avoid the alternative picture? A person seemingly stressed, hardened and embittered – even when senior in the scheme of things. Or a person particularly crushed when the event of an involuntary career change is forced upon them, as sometimes happens.
In Macfarlan Lane I think most of my colleagues share my view that it is any longer possible to plan a full career – a roll out of steps and experiences over a working life time. There is simply too much change happening all around us. So many emerging new areas of work. Careers seem more a combination of luck and opportunities seized. The fortunate and not so fortunate array of bosses and colleagues we have been surrounded with in different times and places.
In the face of such apparent uncertainty, we do think though that it is reasonable to have long term broad aspirations and short-term plans. We also believe that there are an array of practices and competencies which also add together to provide a measure of self-control over careers.
If you are to stand a good chance of being that person we started off by describing, what are some of the main things you need to do? Here are some things to think about.
- Know yourself. The combination of a career built on valued achievements rests on you being comfortable in your own skin. By this I mean knowing what you are good at and what you are not good at – and designing career moves which play to your strengths. Good and sustainable careers are built on self-insight. Take on board all the feedback and any psychological profiling you are offered. Listen to what others say about you. Don’t try to panel beat yourself into roles for which your personality is unsuited.
- Perform. Advancement does ultimately rest on performance – and not, as many assert, on “being good at politics”. So work out how success will be measured (sometimes this is not as evident as it should be) and make sure to deliver or exceed on expectations.
- Relate well to others. In progressively more senior roles, broad competencies, especially in the area of emotional intelligence, become critical. Learn about competencies, read about emotional intelligence, and adopt the practices and habits of those who exemplify the competencies needed.
- Get out. Strong careers rest on both internal and external networks: people who advise, provide intelligence, introduce you to others and who in turn you do these things for. Learning how to relate effectively with wider and wider groups of individuals is a significant attribute underpinning the success of most senior people.
- Broaden your horizons. Adopt the discipline of gathering intelligence within and beyond your organisation. Read and reflect as much as you can. Pick fields which are perhaps different as well as closely linked with your profession. If you are in HR, then read about strategy, business formation, marketing and finance – because progression up most career ladders will lead you into closer and closer contact with people in different fields.
- Know your markets. Employment requires clear “markets” and needed solutions. Work needs to meet a need. These needs change, with economic and technological shifts. Look to what knowledge and skills will be needed in the emerging markets of the future. Fashion experience such as to be able to capture work in the markets of the future.
A brilliant career supports much more than job performance. It supports personal growth, your evolving family needs, a level of recognition, and perhaps a level of mastery over your circumstances and those of others. It can satisfy a need most of us have to win and overcome challenges. Ideally it will give meaning and purpose to our lives.
So perhaps take a little time to reflect on each of the building blocks summarized above. Then ask yourself: what does “success” mean to me?