As I look back at my career (no it’s not over ), I think on the important lessons I have learned. When I first started in IT, my first two promotions happened without any real involvement by me. I worked hard, did my job and my manager promoted me. I remember thinking this was great, but it was really my boss who was responsible for me being promoted.
All of a sudden, I noted that others who worked just as hard, were also getting promoted around me. As a result I wasn’t moving up as quickly as before, comparatively speaking. I began to spend time trying to understand why this was happening. I hadn’t changed anything in what I was doing — I was still working hard, arriving on time and working well with others. So it took me a while to figure it all out.
I saw that these newly promoted individuals were taking an active role in their careers by seeking out new opportunities and new ways to demonstrate their skills to a wider audience. They were taking on projects that others didn’t want and delivering results.
I was not doing that.
Truthfully, the thought had never even occurred to me. To reach out and ask for work that was not inherently mine wasn’t something that I intuitively pursued.
From this realization, I started to look for these opportunities. I viewed it as a way for me to expand my knowledge and demonstrate the work I knew I could perform. Taking the time to meet with others, I focused on how I could help my surrounding colleagues and managers, and just as important, how they could help me. In this way, I connected with people that provided me with mentorship and guidance throughout my career.
The hard lesson that I ultimately learned was that my career was my own responsibility. I had to take an active role by seizing opportunities. It wouldn’t be in my interest to wait around and play the selection game. I couldn’t expect for things to just happen.
For me, this change came about when I took the initiative to take on the projects that no one else wanted — the assignments that came with no fanfare. However, these menial tasks were still key to actual delivery, albeit their success was not easy to measure. In such cases, failure was definitely an option. But while I thought that failure would mean early termination from the company, the truth was that it was only through failure that I was able to learn so much so quickly. As long as corporate policies were followed and we learned something during the process, our “failures” on a project would never be the cause of getting fired.
As I’ve worked over the years, I have come to a profound discovery regarding career promotion. When you start to climb the ladder, your boss is the one that promotes you. But as you reach the middle rungs of the corporate hierarchy, it’s actually your peers that promote you. And as you get closer to the upper reaches of executive level leadership, it is the peers in your specific industry or executives outside your current path that are the ones that move you up the ladder.
More often than not, this happens much sooner if you get directly involved rather than simply being in the right place at the right time.
Good luck with the climb and connect with me on Twitter to let me know what you’ve learned along the way.