Taking stock of your career: an alternative approach

You, like many who lead busy lives, probably take stock of your career at holiday time. Or, like others, you may do so more frequently and more formally using a variety of career management tools, books and even leadership consultants like me.

I offer the following approach as an alternative to these and, in some cases, complementary to them:

First, decide on your life’s purpose. That’s a tall order. And it’s completely different from “objective setting”. It can’t be done in five minutes but it can be done. And unless you carry out this step properly your career review will be flawed.

You don’t have to decide on a life purpose forever, just for now. You can change it later if you like. What’s important is that you have one.

But how do you go about it, properly? What more can there be to it than setting clear medium term financial, physical, psychological and any other goals you feel are appropriate?

There’s nothing wrong with this list of goals. Indeed if we all attended to this list in a robust way we might all lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

But I propose a different starting point because it delivers better results: what can and should you be?

Abraham Maslow, creator of the Hierarchy of Needs, invited us to “be what we can be”. His invocation should be part of your answer.

But I propose an additional nuance to his challenge: what should you be?

If this smacks of paternalism it’s unintended. By “should” I merely mean “ought” as in “what should you do to make the best of what you can be”. Maslow + , if you like.

So what can you be? Well that depends on what you’re offering to “the market”. For the avoidance of confusion my analysis excludes those who are not engaged with the market in any way.

In other words, what are you offering the market as an employee, consultant or pro bono volunteer or NXD in return for cash and/or intangible benefits? What could you offer? What should you offer?

You could offer more of the same, less or raise your game and offer more. But what could you offer at a maximum and what should you offer as a minimum?

The answer to what you could offer is a function of the difference between your best behaviour and worst. I use the word behaviour in the widest possible sense. It includes what you can do as well as how you do it in relation to others.

The answer to what you should offer is the difference between what you need from your work in financial and intangible terms and the cost to you in those terms.

So let’s apply this analysis to you as if you were a typical client: a senior leader in a business or organisation, although my analysis applies to all levels.

You have a reputation, a set of skills and experience as well as a level of emotional intelligence. Together these constitute your perceived value in the market.

As part of this perceived value you are known to be excellent at doing X , and have domain knowledge of Y. But what about your potential, Z? What do you or the market know about that?

In addition you have a known outstanding behavioural weakness at work A, and other career contextual weaknesses B and C comparative to others. The latter might include – though they shouldn’t and are illegal – age, race or gender. The extent to which these issues are abused is truly shocking.

Perfectly legal comparative weaknesses might include education, years of service, or a narrow range of experience. Whatever your weaknesses, your task is to manage them not ignore them.

The two most important components of this model are A and Z. Your outstanding behavioural weakness at work, as agreed by others, masks your deeper potential.

You have skills, competence and passions which no one has seen but which only you can reveal. Furthermore no one else owns your potential. That’s an awesome competitive advantage. And one which we rarely exploit fully.

If you can confront your outstanding behavioural weakness and commit to making small changes in it then you will soon find your hidden potential. It’s your hidden potential that is most valuable to the market. It is this you should focus on in your career review.

Once you have confronted your “A and Z” then you can figure out what you need from your work and at what cost.

For example, if you need high levels of autonomy, complex problems to solve and plenty of people around you but are not willing to “work all the hours” then you have to find a context that will deliver that outcome.

In rough terms I believe that if you can say 75% of the time “I love my job” – then that’s as good as it gets, except for those who make a living from their hobby.

If your self score is today less than 75% then the cost of what you are getting isn’t worth it. Often scores of less than 75% are reported to be related to a person or persons who are “making my life a misery” and “not to do with the job per se”.

This doesn’t stack. Managing relationships is what work is about. Either you find a new way of managing these or you should leave.

Either way you deserve your 75% and it’s there for the taking. The catch is that you must be willing to make the small changes necessary to achieve your true potential. Anything less is selling yourself cheap.

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