In my recent post on going places, I put forward some of my thoughts on how a young college graduate should approach their career. Here is a different take on the same topic. Let me indulge the civil engineer in me (or what is left of what I learnt in my college days). Let us think of your journey to the corner office in terms of the construction of the building which contains that corner office. Using this as an example, let us look at it.
Choose your construction site
In real estate, location is everything. You want to have your property in the right spot. If you do not, you will not realize the full potential of your building. You might end up with not enough demand, or you might be really unlucky and have a catastrophic failure. In the same way, in your career, you have to choose the right spot. The right spot can include things like right field or industry, right (sized) company, right location, etc. The simplest thing is to take up a job in a field that you are in love with. If you do so, you will attract success by way of good work, job satisfaction, and career enhancement, all the while having fun.
Invest in the foundation
You cannot build anything until you get the foundation right. And the foundation takes time. In your career journey, this can include getting the right education, training, apprenticeship, etc. This includes developing strong character traits and good habits. This is an investment that reaps huge rewards later.
Learn to work with a team
Every builder has looked at a building’s drawing from an architect in their career and scratched their head as to how that building can ever be constructed. Yet, they will all agree that the architect’s input, while different from theirs, enhanced the building. So, they learn to work together as a team. Similarly, even though it is your career, the teams that you are a part of will play a big part in your success. While it is a good objective to have a team where everyone likes each other and works well together, it is also very important the teammates complement each other. You need to learn to recognize where the team is collaboratively by respectfully bringing different ideas towards the fulfillment of all goals. You must learn to recognize when the team is just an echo chamber of the same ideas with no contrast and avoid such teams.
Plan for unexpected events
The construction of a building takes part out in the open. As a result, the progress can be slowed by natural events such as a storm. Then there are the delays that can happen because of poor planning or poor work quality. So, a good builder plans for these. Likewise, while plotting your path to the corner office, don’t expect that everything will go in a straight line. Setbacks will happen from time to time; as will some good surprises from time to time. Be prepared to absorb these in your journey. It is good to remember that the journey to improvements can sometimes look like the ‘S’ curve. Things need to get worse before they get better.
Have a Plan B
When things do not go according to plan, it is helpful to have a different approach. Sometimes, this entails aiming at something different altogether; sometimes it means taking a different path. Being flexible is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. A quote from the movie Lincoln comes to mind: “A compass, I learned when I was surveying, it’ll… it’ll point you True North from where you’re standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… What’s the use of knowing True North?” So, have a plan to avoid those swamps should they happen to be in your original path.
Change the view if you do not like what you see
As you get into your corner office, perhaps the view is not to your liking, even if the only change has been in your perspective. Not to worry; since you are the owner of this building, you can move to some other view. Likewise, in your career, you might find that what you aspired for is not all that it seemed to be from a distance. Perhaps you favor other things now. If this happens, do not despair. Once you have made sure the change is for real, make a move. Change the view. If you’re done with non-profits and want to move to corporate sector, well, nothing is stopping you. If your heart wants you to work for a non-profit, why not?. Once your mind tells you the race you are in is not worth it, go run some other race.
If you do these things, not only will you have constructed your own corner office, you would know exactly what to do if you change your mind. Go ahead, start building. See you there.