Career development

Join me as we explore my latest coaching insights.

Today's post, Experience shapes leadership at every level, explains why growing as a leader requires on-the-job experiences that become progressively more challenging as you transition from one level to the next. Research – and my coaching work with hundreds of clients – show the most effective way to advance your career is through on-the-job experiences that develop your competencies and confidence as you move from one level to the next.

Getting from good to great explains why and how to super-charge your career success. Most of us will remember the story of the hedgehog and the fox as a metaphor for how to succeed in business. This post shares my experience in applying the secret of the hedgehog’s success to your career. While the origins of the story of the hedgehog and the fox – as in many things – lie in ancient Greece, the modern incarnation of the idea stems from Good to Great, a best-selling book by Jim Collins that has stood the test of time. The Greek poem held that ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’.

To stay relevant as a successful leader you must develop on the job. You can never stop seeking stretch assignments and leveraging on-the-job opportunities to improve. What made you a successful leader in the past is no formula for your future success. And may even be detrimental, if pursued blindly. Research shows in today’s and tomorrow’s worlds, leadership success depends on your curiosity and willingness to risk and step out of your comfort zone. This includes your ability to adapt and therefore remain relevant.

Are you an expendable or an indispensable member of your organisation? Do you know how to become indispensable? Do you realise you can? There’s no need to ask if you know the difference between being indispensable and expendable! Of course, you understand the consequences of being expendable. In This Side of Paradise, Scott Fitzgerald’s romantic and witty novel, he captures what he learned from his father ‘…although no one is truly indispensable, the pursuit of wisdom enriched by knowledge and skill with a sense of giving back (emphasis added) may allow oneself to become nearly indispensable’. Fitzgerald expressed his idea thus:

My clients and I have learned the key to managing up successfully comes from using the ladder of inference to influence what someone crucial to your career believes about you. And therefore how that person makes decisions about your progress in the organisation. In the Fifth Discipline Peter Senge wrote about the importance of basing decisions on considered reasoning and reflection – and not acting on assumptions or in haste. Senge used the ‘ladder of inference’ as the theoretical underpinning of his prescription for making wise executive and other decisions. In today’s fast-paced world there is always pressure to act now. Making quick decisions often seems more virtuous than taking the time to gather and test the relevant facts and form a measured view before acting. In other words it’s all too easy to run up the ladder of inference, form erroneous beliefs, and make poor decisions.

Whatever type of job you hold, in today’s times you have to run ‘You & Co’ as a business. Whether you feel secure as a senior executive (this not always an oxymoron), a middle manager climbing the shaky rungs of a corporate ladder, a SMB owner-manager, a partner in a professional services firm, or a freelance consultant, all the evidence points to the importance of doing your job as though you are in business for yourself. Put another way, you need to run ‘You & Co’ as a business. Bridges spine onlyAs William Bridges so aptly put in his great book JobShift, “Today the idea that You’ve got to look after your own career prospects, nobody else is going to has to be taken a step further, You had better be not only taking care of your own future, but also looking after yourself as though you were self-employed.” Writing in 1994, Bridges emphasised his own analysis with a blunt statement by an out-placement consultant: “You have to see yourself as a business”.

Not so long ago white and blue collar workers alike enjoyed a contract with their employers that was rarely written. It was a tacit ‘social contract’ that offered both parties security and comfort. The social contract is dead – well and truly buried. Here’s what its demise means to you.

Working with a client in his late-50s I asked, “James will you live your last 20 summers to the full?” I wasn’t suggesting I was prescient about the actuarial probability of his lifespan. But I was wanting to give him a wake-up call. James had it all wrong in my opinion. I use ‘your last 20 summers’ as a metaphor for the period after you leave your full-time role in an organisation and I suggest all of us should plan to generate good income during our ‘last 20 summers’. Here’s why I think James had it wrong.

In our parents’ time adult life had three periods each with a clear finish line. For professional people these periods were education (i.e. development that ended with a graduation ceremony), work (i.e. productivity that ended with a ‘gold watch’ presentation) and retirement (i.e. a period of leisure that ended in death). But today it’s quite different. For our generation retirement isn't a period or even an event for that matter. There is no finish line that demarcates the end of work. Here’s why understanding this is so important and why planning for it is essential.

How much have you thought about your career and the ways relationships can positively shape it? Do those around you give you feedback and advice? I refer to your work place peers and managers and your family and friends who are in a position to hold up mirrors for you to see yourself from different perspectives. This post explores how relationships influence your career decisions and direction. You may well be surprised how much untapped assistance is available to you. Relationships can shape your career in many ways–it’s up to you to benefit from them.

It’s a truism for many of us. We are defined by our career and work.  But it’s true for all of us in another, more fundamental way. The guiding principles that drive us in our personal lives are identical to those that drive us in our business lives. This week I was struck by an article on the life and career of Harvard’s Clayton Christensen, one of the world’s leading business school academics and author of many seminal books.

If you want make your way upwards, climb the organisational ladder, build your business or grow your practice, you have to learn to manage up. The majority of my clients are pursuing careers in organisations characterised by hierarchical levels. As a younger manager or partner for you to move towards the top level you have to develop the skills and confidence to manage your supervisor or more senior partner. Three core elements are involved.

In the southern hemisphere, summer brings a unique opportunity every year. First comes Christmas when our work life is (almost) forgotten as families reunite, share food and gifts, and we anticipate a New Year and a fresh start. Then comes January, now almost gone, with quiet roads and empty offices, gifting us the opportunity to reflect, largely unencumbered by work concerns, about how we want to live our lives. Small wonder that most New Year resolutions are about giving more to those areas of life we've neglected - our health, our family, the people we mentor, our spiritual self.

I was interested to read in the Harvard Business Review last month an article entitled "The relationship you need to get right" (HBR, Oct 2011) - all about how the relationship between sponsor and protégé works best when it helps both parties. As you can read in my previous post on this blog, "Making the Master-Apprentice model work for you", I 100% agree. The authors even use the same words as I did: "a two-way street".

There’s a proven and centuries-old way of building intellectual capital in organisations. It is one of the most efficient ways for staff to cultivate their learning capacity and remain engaged and motivated. It’s the Master-Apprentice model. The theory is simple: as a master, you develop others, and as an apprentice, you learn from your supervisors and mentors.