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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Advancing Your Career

Drawing from 22 years of experience as an organizational coach, mentor, trainer, and speaker and drawing from some insightful books and articles, I’d like to share a couple of insights related to advancing your career. No guarantees, just tips and thoughts. Use them to your benefit!

Diversity makes the difference.
Make sure to gain experience in different industries, in different divisions, in different job functions, and preferably in different cultures. People with international experience are not only culturally wiser, they are more likely to create new businesses and products – and they are more likely to be promoted. Another area where I strongly suggest you actively create diversity is within your network. You want to create a highly diverse network, where people don’t just echo your own experiences and perspectives but add to them. Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap in “How to Build Your Network” in Harvard Business Review: “If your connections know you and one another through similarities in experience, training, worldview, background, or proximity, trust will be strong. But for your network to work for you, it needs to be more than an echo chamber.”

Candid feedback makes the difference.
Communicate and actively demonstrate a sincere desire to find out what might be holding you back from advancing your career and what might have caused you missing out on that promotion. This will increase the likelihood that you will get useful input from executives and colleagues. Input that you can translate into a development plan. Input that helps you learn, grow, and become more self-aware. You have to be willing to discover the unwanted, however. It might well be that at some point in your career the desirable next step is really out of reach, for certain reasons, for now.

A thorough assessment makes the difference.
A useful tool to help you prepare for promotions and to help you evaluate missed promotions is John Beeson’s 3-legged model. Beeson’s framework helps you identify and address any issues that may be getting in the way of promotions:

o   Non-negotiables, without which you will not be considered for a promotion. Examples are demonstrating consistently strong performance and displaying integrity and character.
o   De-selection factors, which eliminate you as a candidate even if you are otherwise qualified. Examples are weak interpersonal skills and holding a narrow, parochial perspective on the business and the organization.
o   Core selection factors, which ultimately determine who gets the position. Examples are building and maintaining a strong executive team and getting things done across internal boundaries.

Three traits that make the difference.
Three leadership traits that Larry Bossidy, former CEO of AlliedSignal looks for when evaluating job candidates:
1.    The ability to execute – turning ideas into reality.
2.    A team orientation – good leaders are able to work well with others.
3.    Having a wide range of experience – a factor already discussed above.

How do you evaluate yourself on these three traits? And maybe more importantly, how do peers, subordinates, and bosses evaluate you on these three traits?

Judging oneself makes the difference.
Justin Menkes uses the term “executive intelligence” and perceives it to be made up of three components: accomplishing tasks, working with people and judging oneself. The first and second of these components coincide with Bossidy’s traits. Menke’s third one, judging oneself, is a hugely overlooked trait if you ask me. I remember one of my clients ten years ago. In many ways he presented himself as a promising senior leader. He also showed himself to me and to his peers and bosses as someone who consistently misjudged himself in his capacity to engage his team members and in his capacity to act decisively in times of crisis. Both deficiencies resulted in the loss of some great team members and in difficulty achieving top team performance. The biggest problem with misjudging yourself is that if you do not have a good sense of where you are, it is hard to get to where you want to be let and to choose the right path and the right form of transportation. Judging oneself is a skill you want to develop in yourself and in anyone in the workplace regardless of the position. It fits in perfectly with the now widely researched and discussed self-awareness and emotional intelligence that I have written about on several earlier occasions. With a good amount of self-awareness and self-judging you are less dependent on the feedback of others to discover previously blind spots, that you can now turn into growth areas to further your career. You will know where you are and how you are as well as what is still needed to get where you want to be.

Growing with, not just towards the position makes the difference.
It is important to realize (and act upon the fact!) that different levels of responsibility and different positions in organizations require different mindsets and different skills. The mindsets, skills and expertise that have taken you to your new level, are likely not the ones that are most effective once you’re in that new position. For you to succeed, behaviors and styles need to evolve over the course of your career. When you advance your career, what lies ahead is generally new terrain that often cannot be conquered with just the old gear. Challenges are quite different and in some cases even the opposite from what you have encountered in the past. Approaches that used to work are no longer so effective. An in-company mentor or a coaching or training program specifically designed to help you acquire or cultivate these new insights and skills can help you make the transition successfully.

What do you want to explore more, what do you want to rethink and refocus, what do you want to receive candid feedback on?

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