owning your career and your right to competent management

Career ownership is something no one ever tells you about on the job. Especially when you start out somewhere new or you’re just starting in the world of work, everything is tentative. You’re learning the ropes, you expect responsibilities to come from top down and you wait for people around you to tell you what to do next and how to move forward. The problem with that mentality is that it doesn’t get you anywhere, and if you are a part of a weak organization or you have a poor manager, it’s pretty detrimental to your future career. Always advocate for yourself and your own progress, as no one else is doing this for you.

You own your own career. Did you know that? HR does, and at Stanford they offer this class called Owning Your Career @ Stanford: A Roadmap to Your Success! I haven’t taken it myself, but I’ve heard great things about it and plan to this summer. The existence of the course proves that your manager is more concerned about you in your current job, and not necessarily your career. That’s not always the case and I’ve had 2 excellent managers in my past more concerned with my own path than the actual job, but I think it’s true most of the time, which means that you need to take up your own cause.

What does it mean to own your career?

It certainly doesn’t mean demanding raises and promotions, especially since who knows if it isn’t deserving. What it does mean is knowing that you also have a role in your job and you should step up to the plate.

Communicating with your boss

Does your manager lead your 1-on-1 meetings and feed everything down, or are you contributing just as much? If you go into the conversation expecting to cover certain issues, do you carve out time to actually communicate these to your boss?

There’s nothing more important than communicating often and clearly. If you aren’t feeling challenged in the job, you’re overwhelmed with work or desire more responsibility or a promotion, you need to initiate these conversations with your supervisor. How else is she or he supposed to know? In all relationships, no one is a mind reader, and it’s important for you to step up and communicate issues important to you worth addressing. If you can’t get your perspective into meetings because of time, try and schedule time outside of your regular meetings to get to things that matter to you.

Professional development and goals

It’s imperative to constantly revisit your on the job skills and goals looking ahead in your job. I’m not always the best at doing the “worst first” in terms of my daily tasks, which is always the best approach. I am pretty consistent and trying to do the worst first for professional development. For example, public speaking has always been a large hurdle for me, so I go out of my way to step up to speaking opportunities to force myself to get better. It’s a good idea to evaluate yourself and work on the skills you need to develop for your career. Aside from training classes, which can be a great way to develop yourself, think about professional development as much more than that. Here are some possibilities to consider:

  • read books that apply to your field
  • reach out to colleagues within your organization and outside of it for advice, lunch, mentorship or companionship
  • be on the lookout for conferences you could attend
  • subscribe to industry websites or periodicals through e-mail or an RSS reader
  • watch webinars from related and closely related topics
  • reach out to partners/competitors for a shadowing opportunity. depending on your industry, this might not be an option, but an exchange is a great concept!

Also, within the programs you run at work, set aside time every so often to think about your progress, both qualitatively and quantitatively, and also to brainstorm possibilities to improve. We all so easily get caught up in the day-to-day that we forget about why we do the work we do and how important it is to step back and look at strategy.

Your right to management

On the flip side of owning your own career is the fact that we do all deserve good management, and unfortunately, we don’t always get it. I enjoyed this Harvard Business Review blog post on The Right to Management Competence this past week. It’s what got me thinking about our own expectations about our work. Linda Hill and Kent Lineback suggest that direct reports should expect the following from managers:

  • be trustworthy
  • exercise influence beyond his or her group
  • create a team of his or her group
  • recognize individuals and support their development

I totally agree with these expectations, and I would add a couple of more to the mix:

  1. continue to develop and practice management skills
  2. lead by example

No matter how many years of management you have, it’s important to continuously develop your skills and stay on top of your game. Even if all a manager does is read about how to develop employees and themselves, the act of considering leadership is very important. Managing people is not just about meeting organizational targets, but so much of it is about motiving employees, keeping the team engaged and focused and coaching employees to help them succeed. On top of that, respect is earned when managers practice what they preach. As a manager, if you expect your team to meet strict deadlines, you have to follow through and so on. Leading by example truly goes a long way in earning respect from your employees and shows you expect what you yourself are willing to put out.

I could go on and on about taking control of your own career path, but I think this leaves enough food for thought for this week.

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