Most of us are interested in the topic of careers, from one angle or another. Most of us either have, will have or have had what we loosely call a career. Some of us pursue one particular career track, others “change careers” and end up working in several different fields, and some others yet have strings of jobs or occupations they engage in at different times of our lives.
What is a career anyway? In the past, the definition of a career used to be very clear. A career was a succession of jobs associated with more and more responsibility, and pay, in one particular field or specialization – and quite often in one company or organization. One could envision a career, see the path far into the future.
Today it is much more difficult to define a career. Very few people can count on long-term engagement with one employer, and far from all of us can count on a life-long career in our chosen field. The economic structure has changed, the job market has changed, and with them the concept of career has changed. Career is no longer seen as only moving upward, but now also includes moving sideways, thus broadening our competencies and experience. And sometimes it means completely changing the field where we work. Today, many young people have a difficulty to “start” or even envision a career because the opportunities just aren’t there waiting for them when they graduate.
I have never really had a personal career plan or pursued a career. But looking at it now, with the benefit of a longer term view, it certainly looks like a career . The truth, however, is that it just happened to me, the work always found me. And most of the time, I was humble about my so-called achievements. When I was called to do something, I accepted it if I thought I could do it. And I am still reacting the same way. I credit much of that attitude to some of my early learning experiences and humbling “career highlights”.
The “highlight” I’m particularly thinking about happened many years ago, when I was a “green horn” in my first management job. I was very proud to have been asked to be one of five panelists at a huge two-day conference for very reputable doctors. Actually they were not “just” medical doctors, they were heads of specialty departments with responsibility both for patient care and management of the hospitals they worked in. I was to talk about strategic planning. And if I’m completely honest, it got to my head, at least a little bit.
I took my place at the high podium, in the last chair to the right, just because I was the last speaker. Everything went fine, everyone delivered their prepared speeches before we were to have the Q & A session. I also delivered my prepared speech very successfully. Then I sat down. Only that the chair had moved just an inch to the right – and it tipped over to the floor almost a foot below the podium when I sat on it. And down I went! My feet were suddenly pointing up, I was literally upside down on the floor.
And this was a doctors’ conference. In a few seconds, I had a dozen doctors bending over me. The orthopedic specialists were elbowing themselves to me, was anything broken, how was my hip doing? They wanted to examine me right there in front of the conference audience of hundreds of other doctors! But I said I was fine. Firmly and several times. I really wasn’t. It was hurting everywhere, but I felt nothing was broken. I would not take an ambulance ride out of the doctors’ conference. Just wouldn’t.
It was much easier to remain humble after that incident. And later on I developed my skills in counseling and coaching others on their careers. In a future post, I’ll come back on some of the advice I’ve been giving to my clients. But it’s been a good ride so far, I have to say. Being upside down when you are up and coming, is probably good for you.
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Congratulations! You just got promoted into management. That’s a great achievement, and you’ve worked hard for it. Became the top producer in your technical field. Finally your talents have been recognized. And the promotion comes with a sizeable raise, more green in your wallet. Good for you!
And there are other perks that suddenly become yours to enjoy. Like your own parking space in the company garage. You can come as early and leave as late as you please! The same spot will always be there waiting for your new company car. Oh, did you say this job didn’t come with one? Then you should consider an upgrade right away. Think about the message you’re sending driving a Morolla. Seriously. You don’t want to be seen as a minimalist now that you are in management. Consider something smarter, something that sends a message of being in charge. Something that will signify a strong start. You’ll be watched. The first 90 days will be critical to your success.
That brings us to the next thing you’ll need to think about. You guessed it, your attire. No more casual. You need to exude confidence. Preferably with a bit of an edge. Shopping you go! Remember that every occasion, from the Board meeting to the dinner hosted by the President’s wife, has its right attire. And the brand matters. I know, you’d be the first to agree. Brand is everything.
Now, prepared for success, you’ll just need to manage. Plain and simple. You told me corporate doesn’t think you need training, coaching, or mentoring. Good for you! They believe you’re ready. You’ve shown them the muscle. Heavy lifting, continuously exceeded targets. A smart specialist always makes a great manager. That’s what they told you, right?
Don’t you worry. Managing is fairly straight forward. Just remember you now have the powers to hire and fire. Go get your own team! What does the current team know anyway? And their loyalty to you is questionable. At the minimum, change some key players. Shuffle the chessmen. Keep them on their toes. Nobody should become too comfortable.
To sum it up: you just need to hire the right people, instruct them in necessary detail, and manage their performance. That’s all. Hire, Instruct and Manage, HIM. Easy to memorize. You set the targets. They do the work. You monitor the results. And make sure you get the credit. It’s hard out there. Up or out, as they say. There you go. Good luck to you.
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