Managing Your Career From the Driver’s Seat

“Your career is your responsibility.”

And the organization’s responsibility is to support you.

If this message hasn’t been explicitly shared by your leadership team, it’s the right one to adopt. Here’s the simple reason: you are the biggest stakeholder in decisions involving your career – and taking career responsibility puts you in the driver’s seat.

In times past, workers were expected to wait for new assignments from executive decision-makers based on rigidly defined career paths. That’s not the case any more. If you’re waiting to be discovered for your next opportunity (even for an internal opportunity), you may be waiting a long time.

Fortunately, as the owner of your career, there is a lot you can do to position yourself to succeed – and to do it with intention, collaboration and class. The best career managers focus on these four areas as they navigate their professions.

Be a Consistent Performer

Ideally, it’s best to be a high performer in your current role – especially if you hope to move up to the next level. But if you are looking to make a different move (perhaps to a lateral role or a new department due to skills, interest or a poor fit where you are), you should at least be a consistent performer. Here’s why: while a change may be in your best interest, it’s a hard sell to convince a leadership team to accommodate a known poor performer.

Have a Growth Plan

Ultimately, being a consistent (or even a high performer) isn’t enough to earn a promotion – if that’s your next career goal. It simply indicates that you are doing well where you are! Ultimately, you’ll need to demonstrate proficiency at the next level to earn the opportunity in advance.

But before you can do this, you’ll need to identify the next opportunity – ideally 2-3 potential roles that could serve as a good next fit. The next step it to identify the skills needed to perform in those roles, and then to develop a growth plan to build those skills.

The best growth plans take into account necessary work experiences, relationship exposure and learning opportunities to maximize the skill-building process.

Own Your Engagement

Far too many professionals leave an organization due to disengagement. After the shine of a new opportunity ends, the disengagement returns, even if it’s under different circumstances. Leaving didn’t fix the problem, and many times they wish they hadn’t been quite so impulsive.

When it comes to engagement, it’s easy to complain about what we don’t like but difficult to know what we really want. But the organization can’t determine you want you want and need most – you’re the only person who can do that. Part of taking responsibility for your career is taking responsibility for your own engagement as well.

It’s easy to complain about what we don’t like, but difficult to know what we really want.

When you do the hard work of identifying what you really need in a role, you have the opportunity to create engagement for yourself and others as well.

Communicate with Your Leader

We place a lot of expectations on bosses (and we should!) but they’re human just like the rest of us. It’s not fair to assume our goals are at the top of their radar at every moment. It’s also not fair to expect them to initiate discussions that involve our career growth (although great bosses do) – that’s our responsibility!

The previous three strategies are great individual actions, but it’s crucial to keep your leader in the loop throughout the process as well. Here’s a great question to consider along the way: If you are a supervisor, how could a team member share their career goals with you in a way that would make you want to support them?

Many supervisors include items like:

  • Take the initiative (after all, it’s your career, not mine!)
  • Make it an ongoing conversation, not just a single one
  • Ask for my input on your plan vs. for me to create a plan for you
  • Frame your growth goals so that they help the team succeed as well – that makes it easy to support you
  • Make specific requests
  • Update me on your progress, so I know if I’m being helpful

A leader can provide great support, input and encouragement – especially when they know what you are looking for. It’s tough for a boss to react when they only find out about your career plans or receive a big request at the last minute (such as a request to match a competing offer for a raise you’ve wanted for a long time but never asked for).

Remember, when you’re looking to make some type of career change (e.g. changing roles, pursuing a promotion or perhaps even a schedule change) you owe it to yourself to give your organization the opportunity to give you what you want and need instead of leaving for a different opportunity without asking. On one hand, if you don’t make your request known, the answer is usually no and you forfeit the opportunity altogether. On the other hand, in many cases it is in an organization’s best interest to retain their high and consistent performing talent when they have the ability to accommodate the change.

You owe it to yourself to give your organization the opportunity to give you what you want and need instead of leaving without asking.

Managing a career successfully isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s very do-able and very much in your (and your organization’s) best interest. You won’t get it right every time, but each instance of initiative is an opportunity to improve and grow. The most important part is being intentional. When you have both hands on the proverbial wheel of your career, you’ll be in a great position to stay on course and arrive at your destination.

This article is included in the Leadership-in-a-Box® program:

Managing Your Career


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