One of the most rewarding things about leadership is seeing colleagues flourish. However, developing others can mean that our own career goals can take a back seat. Let’s pause for a moment, evaluate where we are in our own career path and review some useful tools to help us practise what we preach.
When planning a journey, you need to know two things: your starting point and your destination. The more precise you can be about these two things, the easier it is to plan an efficient route between the two. Begin by considering your professional goals. This may be in terms of career progression, a move into a different organisation, role or area, or the skills you would like to develop or be recognised for. It may be a grand life destination, or just the next little step. Either way, write it down.
The second crucial aspect of planning a journey is knowing your starting point. Carry out an audit of your knowledge and skills – what is termed your “career capital”. List not only your skills, but also the context or conditions under which you can perform. For example, it’s one thing doing a brilliant first vaccination consult with a happy family, but can you communicate well with a client who is angry, upset or distracted? Can you work to tight deadlines, or under emotional pressure, or with competing inputs? Do you thrive when meeting new people or leading a well-established team? These will demonstrate your versatility and show your organisation that you’re ready for the next step.
Next, it’s time for some deeper thinking. Obviously we all have to make a living, but other than a salary, examine what motivates you. What makes you happy, or fulfilled, or feel valued at work? Do you like to feel that you are making a difference to others, or advancing animal welfare, or providing great customer service, or supporting the environment? Would you like to be an influencer? After that, consider what’s stopping you. What are the barriers, distractors or other demands on your time or attention that prevent you from moving towards your goal? They may be work-based or things from other areas of your life that impinge in some way. Acknowledge them and consider ways in which they can be managed.
One of the most daunting steps of this process is to actively seek input from others. There are, however, some simple starting points. If you are looking to progress within your organisation, make sure you know what you are evaluated on in your current role, and what the criteria are for the next step up. If you don’t know, ask! It’s also helpful to do some research outside your organisation, and ask recruiters what they would expect to see on the CV of someone going for your dream role.
It’s very easy to skip over asking colleagues because we’re afraid of what we might hear. Start by asking trusted peers who can act as “critical friends” without damaging your self-esteem. Then try to expand this into a more diverse set of people – include those with different job roles and at different seniority levels to build a more complete picture. Ask for an honest appraisal of your strengths as well as areas for improvement.
Making the most of colleagues also includes seeking sound advice and mentoring. Join your professional association(s) and make the most of their social media groups and networking opportunities. Don’t be afraid to contact people whose work, ethos or career path you admire
One theory of professional growth suggests that 70 percent of our professional learning comes from our working experience, 20 percent is from our interactions with others and just 10 percent is as a result of formal learning. Maximise your development by consciously reflecting on your working week. There are a myriad of tools available to help you do this: you can explore reflective writing, journaling or vlogging. Just make it a habit to note down what went well, what not so, how you felt under different circumstances, what you learned and what changes you will make as a result.
Career planning can be daunting – especially if you don’t have a clear picture of where you’d like to be. If that sounds familiar, rather than planning the entire journey at once, just think of the next step to help you to focus. Once your plan is in place, revisit it regularly – review your progress, adjust as necessary and actively prepare for the next step.