June 18


Driving Our Careers: Why we can’t wait for employers to take the wheel

By Sara Canaday

June 18, 2013

career, career path, development, growth, high potential, leadership, ownership, professional success, rotation groups, training

As I travel across the country speaking to management groups and meeting with operations leaders, I am consistently seeing a common problem. While companies fully recognize that reaching their goals and being successful is dependent on quality leadership, the vast majority of them struggle to make that a priority. They simply don’t have the time, energy and budget required to grow and develop their leaders in a meaningful way.

Many times these organizations make well-intentioned and valiant attempts to offer leadership development, but their efforts are often watered down to a non-customized “training in a box” with little or no emphasis on the specific needs related to a particular job or industry. To make matters worse, the training that is available only filters down to a select few.

I certainly understand the intense pressures these organizations are facing. Companies are shifting and expanding their business models to keep pace with global demand. Employees are spread across the U.S. and beyond. Expectations are higher, and teams are stretched to the limits. But while they are frantically focused on the overwhelming details of day-to-day business, they are left to skimp on what is arguably the most important thing they can do to differentiate themselves from their competitors: maximizing the value of their leaders (current and future).

So what does this trend mean for professionals at every level who aspire to increase their leadership skills and take on more responsibility? In short, it’s a bold reminder for all of us to take ownership of our own career progressions. Seek out tools that can boost your job performance. Take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow through online conferences, Internet research or specialized apps. Keep pace with industry trends and use that knowledge to anticipate the implications for the future. Build your network, and take deliberate steps to communicate your value more effectively. Identify a career coach or mentor. In 2013, we can’t wait for employers to shepherd us through some type of formal training program. It’s all up to us.

The good news is, some companies do offer resources to employees who are willing to take the initiative on their own.

• Ask whether your company offers self-development courses or will supplement enrollment fees for those who participate in independent training.

• Seek honest performance and behavioral feedback from your workplace team, whether that means having informal discussions or using a robust multi-rater assessment tool that can gather detailed data about your business impact.

• Find out if you have options to broaden the spectrum of your career choices by moving laterally or into different functional areas (“job families”) to diversify your skill set. If your company has started an enterprise-wide career path initiative, this may provide you with additional alternatives for growth.

• Determine what programs your organization offers that are specifically designed to groom high-potential talent. Should you be lucky enough to work for one of the more progressive companies, you may also have options to participate in job rotation opportunities to broaden the breadth of your own knowledge and experience. If not, take the lead and propose that type of program.

• Proactively nurture and cultivate key business relationships, and pay keen attention to how you connect people and information. Doing so will provide you with a robust and productive network of professionals who can offer you career guidance and advice.

Whether you have development choices in-house or not, the point is to find them and take advantage of them. Don’t wait. Take charge of your own personal growth. When you drive your own professional development, you’ll be in the best position long-term to maximize your potential and accelerate your career.

Sara Canaday

About the author

Sara began her journey working full-time while she earned an MBA. As she climbed the ladder of corporate America, she repeatedly observed a surprising phenomenon: the most successful people weren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ or best job skills. She recognized instead that career advancement was much more closely linked with how people applied their knowledge and talents — their capacity to collaborate, communicate, and influence others.

Today, Sara is happily fulfilling that commitment as a keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. These venues have given her the opportunity to mentor and support thousands of people in diverse situations, inspiring many of them to move from insight to action with dramatic career results.

  • I love the point that an employee need not wait for their boss to plan their personal growth. Those who take the bull by the horns and manage their own path end up with more opportunities inside their current company, and also get noticed by other companies who come to hire them away!

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