2014: The Year of Your Career

When it comes to career development, leaders frequently put themselves at the back of the line. Day in and day out, they handle customers, employees, and the business. They execute strategies and tactics. They help others learn, perform, and grow. And there’s often little left for themselves.

The problem with this selflessness is that it’s not sustainable. It’s as if leaders are rushing around putting oxygen masks on everyone else but becoming dangerously close to passing out themselves (metaphorically... at least in most cases!).

To be able to optimally support employees in their career development, leaders must support themselves in it first. So, consider making 2014 the year of your career. You don’t need to be contemplating a job change to take the challenge. Simply turn your career development attention inward with any or all of these strategies.

Conduct a 2013 inventory: Returning to work after the holidays can be an overwhelming experience. It’s easy to get sucked into the mounds of mail and avalanche of emails... and be off and running without a proper year-end review. Set aside at least 90 minutes to comprehensively consider the past twelve months. What new responsibilities did you assume? What challenges did you face? What did you accomplish?  What can you do now that you couldn’t do before?  What skills did you develop?  What did you learn? How did you contribute to the organization and those within in?

Update your resume: It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a new job or not, your resume is a powerful statement of who you are and where you see yourself going. Look at your objective statement... does it still reflect what you’re looking for from your work?  Your experiences of the past year may layer on nuance or take your objective in an entirely new direction. Then refine the description of your current role to reflect your 2013 inventory. Update your responsibilities, contributions, and skills. Whether you plan to stay in your current role or explore alternatives, an accurate and complete depiction of your value proposition will set you up for success.

Cast a wider net-work: Networking is not just for those looking to make a change. Developing a strong cadre of supporters, collaborators, and mentors is one of the most powerful strategies available to support your own growth and development. Consider the skills you’d like to develop, the knowledge you’d like to expand, and the activities you’d like to engage in... then strategically seek out others who can support you in doing so. But don’t forget that it’s a two-way street. Determine what you can offer them in exchange to establish sustainable win-win relationships.

Take a good look around: According to Aristotle, “where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.” So, become an explorer of those needs.  Whether it’s the world you occupy daily in your workplace or the broader world stage, what are the forces, pressures, and challenges that must be addressed? How are customers changing? What’s the impact of new regulations? Where is technology leading us? Become a keen observer of the business landscape... looking for niches and needs that you are uniquely qualified to address.

Fill up on feedback: No matter how honest we might try to be with ourselves, self-perception is limited. There’s no way to understand how others experience us... except to ask. Feedback can help bridge the gap and provide a more complete picture of how our intentions play out with others. And it doesn’t have to be hard - no onerous task or lengthy survey - just a quick conversation. Ask those with whom you work most closely to offer their thoughts on one or more of these questions... then listen hard to what’s shared and reconcile it with your own experience.

  • What skill or talent would you consider to be my greatest strength?
  • What’s one thing I could do to be more effective?
  • How might I be undermining my optimal performance without even knowing it?
  • Under what kinds of conditions have you seen me thriving?
  • What kinds of conditions don’t bring out the best in me?

Find ways to develop others: Teaching and helping others benefit the giver as much as (sometimes more than) the receiver.  Sharing your talents, wisdom, and experience will help you to better understand yours strengths and the value they bring. It helps you put a finer point on what you do well and find new and creative uses for what you may have come to take for granted.

So, perhaps 2014 is the year for you to become a little selfish, put the oxygen mask on yourself, and take care of your own career. If you do, you’ll model what it looks like to do it well... and be better prepared to deliver career development support to employees and peers alike.

What about you?  What will you do to make this the year of your career?

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