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Owning Our Career Path

Dilbert cartoon talking tongue and cheek about a career path. Credit: Scott Adams.

Who Owns a Career Path?

The ownership of our career path sounds like such a simple question. Yet it remains “one of those things” that we know deep down we own yet we tend to put it on the back burner, for any number of reasons. As human beings, secretly many of us like it to “just happen” where we need to do little, if any, work. The reality is often far from this secret desire. 

The truth is that unless we take charge or ownership of our careers, no one else will. Of course, we have cheerleaders throughout our journey, but that’s often not enough – we need champions. Our best champion, as you might expect, is ourselves! 

I am not talking about ego or narcissism as a championing technique; I’m talking about the strength and humility to confidently articulate and believe in our value to the organization. 

So, how do we do that without sounding vain or a braggart? And do we need to leave the organization, or can we do that within our existing one? 

A few techniques to jump-start our career path

Let’s tackle the first proverbial elephant: do you need to change companies to progress a career path?

To answer this question, we need to identify the determining factors for career progression. The most influential differentiator surrounds people skills – often referred to as emotional IQ. The Carnegie Institute of Technology [1]found that 85% of success comes from people skills, and 15% from technical skills. 

The second skill is our technical ability, in other words, do we have the skills necessary to be accountants, retail sales agents, engineers, baristas, dentists, or whatever it is that we do?

The last one is an opportunity, commonly referred to as having a little luck. 

People skills for career growth

The first skill to focus on is relationship building and networking

  • Connecting with decision-makers, influencers and champions also establish the foundation for opportunity. Networking is important, beyond the obvious benefits, it also helps us develop important skills that serve us well throughout our life and career path. 
  • The skills include effective listening, connecting with others, collaboration, cooperation, negotiation, compromise, communication, and empathy (understanding others’ needs) amongst other things. 

The second is surrounding yourself with champions

  • Champions, also known as our cheerleaders, are an important element of success. They help us remain positive, focused, and successful in achieving what we set out to do for ourselves. 
  • These skills build on networking to include being self-aware, open-minded, and agile in our ability to listen, learn and adapt our skills
  • Champions also see us in action so they can speak of our accomplishments and capabilities from a first-hand perspective. A brilliant strategy where champions sing our praises!

Technical skills support our career path

Always prepare yourself for the next role.

  • The skill here is understanding what our next role will require. For instance, more senior roles with greater responsibility require that we shift from doing the work ourselves to getting work done through others.  
  • We will need to strengthen our ability to plan, assign work, measure outcomes, coach, and motivate team members. 

Throughout my career as a leader, I’ve encouraged my team members to always ready themselves for the market. This advice was controversial in years gone by because there was a fear in HR or with senior management that it was akin to encouraging them to leave. I disagreed then as I do now, I have always believed that individuals make good decisions particularly when we create a positive work environment where they can grow and thrive.

Final Thoughts

So, back to the original question – do we need to leave to enjoy a fulfilling career path? The short answer is no if we are within a work environment that focuses on both people and technical skills and provides opportunities. If an employer fails to create these conditions, it follows that we will lose our talent to other employers that are providing them. 

We need to remember that although our champions and network connections can help us move ahead with our career path, we will go infinitely faster when we can help decision-makers see us in action and when we prepare for greater levels of responsibility. 

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your advice for others on accelerating career paths that you’ve used or seen to move along the journey quickly and successfully.  

Give it a try!


[1] A Study of Engineering Education, authored by Charles Riborg Mann and published in 1918 by the Carnegie Foundation

Cartoon credit: Scott Adams Dilbert

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