Never stop managing when it comes to your career
Most middle managers place great importance on career management. They read the latest books, view the newest webcasts, and even participate in career management seminars. But based on over 35 years of experience, I’m sorry to say that much of these efforts don’t bear the expected fruits as professional development goals for managers should. Why? It’s simple: one size does not fit all.
Instead, to really get ahead, middle managers must practice career management that is both personalized and active. Without these two key ingredients, it will become clear right away that cookie-cutter versions of career management will lead you to nowhere as far as professional development goals for managers are concerned. But you might be thinking that with so many career management programs out there promising success, there must be one that merits a try. My answer to this is the following: try to understand why standard programs won’t work.
1. Your life is going to change.
When you graduated sometime in your twenties and got your first “real job”, you probably had a pretty clear idea of where you wanted to go. But along came a significant other. Or maybe children. Or possibly an elderly parent needing your attention. By the time you hit your 30s, you realized that the plan you’d set out for yourself in your mid-20s was probably not going to play out the way you’d imagined. So then that first plan went out the window. When you hit your 40’s, values other than your career path mostly likely came into play, such as work/life balance, spirituality, and other interests. Once again, wherever you thought you’d be in your career when you were in your twenties has once again taken a detour. My point here is not that you must stick to your original career path. Quite the opposite is true. You have to acknowledge that your personal circumstances have certainly changed - and that you have to actively modify your career management plan to accommodate life’s detours.
2. There’s no “right” rate of advancement.
Off the shelf career management literature and programs will have you believe that if by a certain age you haven’t made it to the C-level, your career is kaput. They’ll urge you to move up the hierarchy every X number of years, so as not to miss the ultimate pie in the sky. In reality, even attempting to make such exact plans is useless. I’m sure you’ve been around long enough to observe yourself or others and to realize that:
We all have a pace that’s just right for us at a given time.
We’re all going to encounter opportunities that might influence how we manage our career.
We know there are positions out there that are worth staying in for just a bit more time in order to gain expertise needed for the next step up.
So don’t start setting promotion dates in your calendar just yet. Be aware of the three points above so that you advance according to your personal career circumstances.
3. Business is going to evolve.
Colleges today are struggling to predict the skills first year students are going to need once they join the workforce in four years. So is it really realistic that the career path you plan at any point is going to be relevant in just a few years’ time? I can’t guarantee much about your professional future, but there’s one thing I’m sure of: your profession will change. It might be because your interests evolve. Or maybe it’ll be due to a key technological development. Or perhaps, as you develop, you’ll become more open to new directions. My point here is that whether it’s your decision - or the industry’s - change will be part of your career. So my advice to you is to actively manage your career according to the business environment you’re currently in - always keeping your ear to the ground.
The examples I gave in the three categories above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding that career management is anything but standard. Instead, career management that is both personalized and active - taking into account your life, optimal rate of advancement, and a dynamic business environment - will lead you towards the coveted corner office.
And always remember:
Great managers are made. Not born.
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