By Cindy Key
Are you a floater or a paddler?
Anyone who has spent time on a river knows the difference.
Floaters let the river take them and their flotation device wherever it chooses. They are content to watch the world go by at its own pace—with their progress and direction at the mercy of other forces. Floaters sometimes take an unexpected dip because they are not prepared for the currents. Floaters just let it happen.
Paddlers, on the other hand, take charge of their direction, path, and speed. Paddlers are going somewhere—with a purpose. Paddlers make it happen.
There are floaters in the workplace, too. They allow bosses, department heads, and other forces to direct their careers. Unprepared for change, they can find themselves “in deep water,” trying to figure out what happened—wondering if that promotion will ever come and where their career is going. Floaters don’t take control of their careers; they don’t live their purpose.
Paddlers have a distinct mindset and a purpose. They think like the CEO of a business. They assess their strengths and weaknesses, develop their skills, and hone an understanding of the currents, conditions, and environment. Paddlers, such as kayakers, have a plan for the trip. If they take a spill, they have the ability, confidence, and self-understanding to right the craft quickly and continue their journey. What might have been a disaster becomes a minor detour.
To the paddler, career management—like the river—is serious business. It means taking control and focusing on “career” as a business, taking action in key areas and selecting an effective coach as a guide when necessary.
If you are—or seek to be—a paddler, here are eight strategic steps for managing your career.
1. Don’t turn your career over to anyone else to run.
The coaching process can help you discover any number of blind spots you may have, where you are allowing others to manage your career to their advantage. Bosses or human resources departments usually work in the company’s best interest. Sharing appropriate information with them about you may help advance your career.
2. Define who you are and the unique value you bring to the marketplace.
Identify your strengths, your interests, and your passions. This is where the use of assessments can assist you. Typically, these factors drive your career accomplishments and motivate you. Coaching can help you discover and better express your message to others in a manner that enhances your value in the marketplace.
3. Know your customer.
If you want to be effective, you must know your customer. That means learning customer needs and wants and understanding how you can fulfill them. You must sell your expertise to both external and internal customers.
Critical internal customers to every employee are bosses, the boss’s boss, other departments, and the organization itself. Each of these constituents buys your services on a daily basis. Discovering how to build relationships and sell to those customers can enhance your career on many levels.
4. Understand your value-added issues.
What value do you offer? What qualities make you unique? Often, they are the tasks you do better than most other people. Understanding how you communicate this value to your employer/customers is critical. You must be able to articulate your value-added qualities to get hired, be promoted, and continue to be compensated accordingly. Are you aware of the way you communicate your value and help others to link their value-added qualities to the organization?
5. Quality and customer/employer satisfaction are principal to your success.
If the people who use or purchase your services or products are dissatisfied with the experience, they will go elsewhere. Just like a consumer, an employer will shop elsewhere if your services are not up to standard. A cooperative attitude, timely delivery of quality work and all other aspects of the employer’s expectations must be met consistently. If they aren’t, you are out of business or out of work.
Do you have an open mind about your performance? Effective coaching works to connect you to an awareness of your habits, your decision-making, and performance that can significantly influence your results. Coaching brings clarity to your assumptions by placing your efforts and energy on the activities that can alter outcomes. A good coach will challenge, question, and help you get to the truth of the situation.
6. Know your industry and what’s happening within the industry.
Is your industry growing? Stagnant? Shrinking? Individuals who plan carefully and stay abreast can succeed even during times of radical change. Strategic planning, discipline, and focus are a must to take advantage of changing industry conditions.
7. Keep your skills current at all times.
To be successful at managing your career, you must constantly upgrade and enhance your abilities. Seek out continuing education—learn new skills, methods, techniques, strategies, and tactics to stay at the leading edge of your field. Whether you’re an executive chef, senior manager, or an individual contributor, you must be as good as you can be—there’s always a competitor one-step behind you.
8. Always be open and able to change direction.
Business changes at a dramatic pace. Your career soon can be outdated or obsolete due to shifts in market conditions, changes in consumer preferences, and emerging technology. Coaching opens minds, creates awareness, helps you use new information quickly, and sparks the creativity within you. Career opportunities abound, if you are open to seeing them and willing to take control of your career
Recently, a client who enjoys the rivers of New England shared this insight. For her, a river is much like life. She can choose to travel the river in many different ways . . . she can float on an inner tube or paddle in a kayak. Either choice will take her somewhere.
She chooses to paddle down the river—her river—because she has discovered that choice provides her with more enjoyment, fulfillment, and satisfaction. It allows her to take control of her journey and of the results, she desires in her career.