Summary by James R. Martin, Ph.D., CMA
Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida
The purpose of this article is to provide some career advice, particularly to those who are frustrated with their current positions. The main thrust of the paper however, is to help everyone avoid self-inflicted problems and become proactive in reaching their career potential. The key ideas are deceptively simple. To manage yourself you need to know yourself, learn to excel at critical tasks, and to demonstrate character and leadership. It's about accepting the responsibility for your own career, defining your own success, and then developing a way to get there.
First, you need to accurately assess your current skills and level of performance. Try to write down your two or three greatest strengths and your two or three significant weaknesses.1 Of course this is not so easy to do. You may need some help with this task, so solicit the views of people at various levels within the organization who can give you some accurate feedback. Getting accurate feedback is likely to be difficult, particularly if you seek it from your subordinates. However, one-on-one conversations are likely to produce results from people who trust that you are sincere. This will become easier if you act on the feedback.2
After you determine your strengths and weaknesses, you need to figure out what you really enjoy doing. What do you love to do and does this match with what you are doing now? Ask yourself what career you would pursue if you had enough money to do anything you wanted. You might discover that you need to rethink your career choices. Enjoying your work tends to give you the strength to deal with setbacks, and whatever else it takes to reach your potential.
Excelling at Critical Tasks
Ask yourself, what are the three or four critical activities or task that lead to success in my job or business? This will help you determine where to spend your time and where to improve your skills. Spend less time on the less important tasks or, if possible delegate the less important tasks to others. Focusing on the main drivers of success will help you reach your potential.
Demonstrating Character and Leadership
Measures of character and leadership include your willingness to place the interests of your company and colleagues above your own, to coach and mentor others, to make recommendations that benefit the overall organization, and to speak up even when your opinion is unpopular. Become an expert in your field and spend more time developing and expressing your own viewpoint on the issues rather than trying to tell the boss what you think he or she wants to hear. According to Kaplan, many otherwise confident executives tend to overestimate the risk of speaking up, and underestimate the risk of remaining silent. But they find that they are treated with more respect after confidently expressing disagreement with the more popular viewpoints of their boss and peers.
To meet the challenge of reaching your potential, you must define your dream, develop the required strengths and skills, exhibit character and leadership, and periodically rethink, adjust if necessary, and pursue the career that reflects who you really are.
2 I agree with Kaplan's idea but would like to add my own recommendation. When defining and seeking feedback on your strengths and weaknesses you should try to develop a very thick skin because you might not like some of the feedback you are going to get. In addition, you should be aware that you might be one of those people who tend to over estimate their abilities. For some humorous examples, see Chabris, C. and D. Simons. 2010. The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us. Crown. A better idea might be to seek feedback using the Reflected Best Self exercise promoted in the Roberts, Spreitzer, Dutton, Quinn, Heaphy and Barker paper listed below.
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