Every day I work with people who are setting a course for the next 5-10 years of their career. Central to these discussions are skill/experience gaps between where they are and where they want to be, and the activities to pursue to close those gaps.
Recently, I caught up with a management consultant who is extremely well regarded in her field. She is wise, talented, committed and approachable and even outside of her normal work, clients and colleagues seek her counsel.
About 18-months ago, she began to develop a concept that would expand her role from working with a client’s team to working across a client’s entire business. Her employer supported and encouraged her initiative, and worked with her to develop an approach to begin discussions with their market.
Alongside her reputation and terrific communication skills, she has deep professional relationships within many organisations, and across all layers of leadership. However, once the first blush of excitement faded, she was surprised and despondent about the lack of impact she was having. Whilst she continued to give the program focus she was genuinely unhappy with her progress.
A few months ago she had a revelation. She had been relying on her existing skills and reputation to influence the market but actually lacked the sales skills needed to be successful. She also realised she’d avoided building her business development skills because she didn’t want to come across as ‘salesy’.
However … in her revelation, she also recognised a need! She wanted to move her career forward and knew that if she was able to break into the market with the new service, more excitement and opportunities awaited her. She wanted those career opportunities more than she wanted to avoid being seen ‘salesy’.
Her success depended on her courage trumping her comfort. She found an industry mentor, an executive whose rise was also built on technical skills as well as success in bringing in new business. After a few meetings with her mentor, the consultant put herself back out there with a fresh, authentic approach marketing not only the company service but herself as well. Within the shortest period of time, her sense of what she wanted to do, what she could do and what was possible expanded beyond the initial ideas she had for both the new service and her career.
Most of us have been in the situation where we know we need to develop knowledge and skills in order to progress our careers. Yet, what may become guilty of is hoping that a vocational osmosis washes over us and we miraculously find ourselves with an ability to do something that we've never done (well) before.
Relying on managers to identify development areas is OK early in our careers, but as we finesse and shape our pathways towards long term career goals, we need to take responsibility for own our professional development. Whilst that might include conversations with your employer, often you'll need to independently seek out appropriate learning opportunities*.
A thoughtful, self-directed career path not only gives you focus, it can surprise you with what it reveals.
* Whilst I have respect for formal qualifications, I think we can also over-emphasise the value of academic qualifications (hello Masters of anything) over 'hands on' practical and successful experience.
Image supplied by Death to the Stock