Briefings Magazine

Our Time to Take Control

Imagine if you were starting over in your career—would you do things differently?

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By: Gary Burnison, Chief Executive Officer

Mulch, leaves—you name it, I sent it flying! Nothing stood in my way…

In the earliest weeks of the pandemic, my wife gave me an electric leaf blower. Totally unexpected from her—and out of character for me. Then came those particularly dark moments in April 2020, when it just seemed like all we had was the hope that “everything will be OK.” That’s when I went into the backyard and powered it up.

Taking a step back, with the perspective of the past two-and-a-half years, I can now see that this was my way of reframing the moment, taking control of something—anything—in a world that seemed so uncertain.

No doubt, the workscape has changed. But have we? Ultimately, careers are a series of collaborative moments—all orchestrated by individuals who are influenced by personal journeys.

So, here’s a question I’ve been asking senior executives lately. Imagine if you were starting over in your career—and in today’s work-from-anywhere environment. Would you do things differently? After giving it some thought, everyone said that, yes, they’d absolutely have to change their approach to get ahead in today’s reality.

“In our careers, as in life, with perspective as our lens, personal development opens the aperture to our growth.”

Here are some takeaways to always take control and get ahead:

Understanding how we’re wired.

It starts with self-reflection. Often, it’s too easy to overestimate our strengths and underestimate our blind spots. That’s why we always need outside perspective to accurately see ourselves—our abilities and competencies, passion and purpose, as well as the drivers that motivate us. Are we relying too much on our left-brain technical skills? Have we really developed the right-brain people skills to influence and inspire others? In our careers, as in life, with perspective as our lens, personal development opens the aperture to our growth.

Knowing how to get ahead.

Early in my career, someone gave me some invaluable advice: “Be known for something.” In other words, be indispensable. It’s not what you know; it’s not who you know. It’s getting the people you know to know what you know.

Learning—letting our curiosity lead our careers.

If knowledge is what you know and wisdom is acknowledging what you don’t—then learning is the bridge between the two.

Today, we’re all career nomads. The days of approaching a career path as a ladder—moving slowly and steadily upwards, eyes on where you want to be a decade from now—are over. The focus is much, much shorter. As a result, career paths are really career lattices, moving in all directions.

There’s a timeless truth in all of this: the Six Stages of Career Development—Follower, Collaborator, Instructor, Manager, Influencer, Leader. This master plan governs any professional journey. However, we are the architects—as we take control of our career destiny through every stage, form, and function.

But make no mistake, you can’t build a skyscraper by yourself. It takes guidance, nurturing, coaching, mentoring, and development at every stage. And ultimately, that’s the job of the leader.


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