This is something I’ve been asked far too often in my career: “When is a good time to start thinking about my career prospects, I mean, advancing to a team management role?”
Here’s the short answer: Day 1.
For the long answer, here’s the first thing I always ask individuals to consider: Do they truly believe that, in their organization, or even in their team, they’re the only ones thinking about such a move?
This may seem like a no-brainer but this is a fundamental sort of mental switch that you need to activate – the realization that you should be striving for this goal from the very first day you arrive at an organization, as at any given time, there will be several people vying not just for growth, but the same sort of growth as yours. Therefore, once you’ve trained yourself to be a “land on the ground running” sort of person, you can move to the first real step towards fast-tracking your career growth.
This, I believe, is the first step to initiating growth: Don’t plan too much! Remember, growth is not going to happen from plans alone, nay, no plan survives first contact with real-life. What gets you ahead, and this is something I always advise professionals, is your ability to develop and translate that thinking into action – the sooner the better! You don’t want to be caught in the “is now the right time or should I wait and settle better first” comfort zone!
The thing to remember, when choosing a pathway for your career success, is that you create your own future, your own leadership path. Even a fresh university graduate will need to fend for themselves, lucking into a good mentor is a rare thing and not an actual path to consider – you have to take ownership of your life there and then. That’s the first step to climbing any ladder and here’s the secret sauce to acing that: Understand what is expected of you in your role. Just meeting the requirements of the job description is never enough, you have to perform exceptionally well and dream beyond the limitations of the role! Excellence should become your habit – ensuring that you deliver what is expected of you AND more, rather than delivering something not required. Walk into your workplace with the mantra “today, I am going to excel”, not “let’s see what tomorrow brings”.
The next step is consistency – you can’t hang onto “chance” to determine the course of your career. Luck and chance are two things that come to hard workers, not slackers. Why is that? It’s the fact that their consistency in their performance improves their ability and their skill and opens up more opportunities for them – what the slacker would call “good luck” or “chance”. If you want to fast track, you can’t think to slow down, that way stagnation lies. You also need to be nimble in your thinking, expecting the unexpected at all times! Life likes to throw curveballs at you and only the most agile and active of us can handle every one.
Networking is another key factor in growth and it ties back to the previous steps as well – whether within your organization or beyond, who you network with will ultimately become your promoters in the larger scheme of things but that will only happen if they have something to promote, i.e. your consistency and excellence at all you own in your job role. That’s how your brand develops, through authentic word-of-mouth from your network about your ability – faking it can only take you so far!
That said, there is a severe distinction between a brand and flagrant self-promotion – the former is built around a professional network spreading word, the latter is a house of cards built at your own expense that can topple the day someone questions the authenticity of your claims. Self-promotion also induces false hope inside you – tell yourself you’re so great at so and so and you’ll end up deluding yourself into actually believing that.
Next, don’t take your colleagues lightly, you need their sincere support – as a team and as a network! Groveling and trying to please everyone will backfire rapidly, guaranteed. Choose those who align with your job and your career growth and nurture that relationship. You will live and die (figuratively) by the support of your colleagues, something that builds into the next point:
Don’t stall on deadlines! This one’s an absolute killer for your career and will permanently brand you as an unreliable deliverer. Whether alone or through the help of your colleagues or team (as mentioned above), you have to ensure that your deadlines are deadlines, always!
Job hopping, while not a career killer, is a fast-track killer certainly. Moving to whatever low level position takes your fancy will stall and even halt your upwards trajectory and add significant delays in reaching that treasured managerial position. Your position change should be calculated, planned and executed at the right time and place, just any move won’t do! If you see a good opportunity, take it! Choose wisely and job hopping will reward you in leaps and bounds. Remember, there are times when job hopping will be out of your hands. That’s where the earlier points about excellence and consistency come in – they build and effective brand around you and turn an unplanned job change into a positive as well, it really is a culmination of all the above-mentioned good habits!
A top tip for mid-career professionals and beyond, pertaining to job hopping – role switching is more preferable at this stage of your career but moving from an AM position at a good firm to a Head of-position at a 5-person company will likely not look good on your CV. Remember, at this stage job hopping is about building up that CV and unless the work you do there is absolutely cutting-edge, such a move won’t reflect an upward move on that ladder.
Bottom line, and this goes for fresh grads as well as experienced professionals, don’t go for the title, go for the career! If the first thing you do after graduating is become CEO of your own small firm, you can’t expect that title to take you anywhere unless you get down in the ditches and learn the skills and tactics of every position! Don’t let the title deprive you of the grooming and learning of officer positions. Again, always go for the career! This can’t be stressed enough.
To sum up, I’d like to refer back to an old point. There are many unexpected factors that can disrupt momentum, some of which may not be in your control. The takeaway here is not to blame those things for your growth stoppage, but instead to focus on those things that are actually in your control and extract a 150% from them to compensate for those times when control is ripped from your hands. In recent years, several popular studies have concluded that time spent at a job (before moving to a new one) has decreased dramatically. That means people are accelerating their career growth several-fold and your competition, even now, is executing their plan!
Everyone has their own formula to success. Prepare ahead, plan early on, execute well and success will become a matter of when, not if.