Don’t Just Build a Career, Create Potential


I’ve worked with a lot of folks lately who have had a change in careers or are looking for a new one and one thing keeps becoming clearer to me as I have conversations with these folks. It’s not about the ground gained, it’s about the potential created.

So many people who were focused on gaining yards and moving forward with their career find themselves back at the beginning, and now the game has new rules.

Most of us have observed others who worked every day with their sights set on the next promotion, the next opportunity to impress someone, or the next power shift they need to align with. Managing up becomes the skill they master.

It’s easy to understand; in fact, in many companies, it’s probably been one of the most lucrative skill sets you could possess. Many a fortune has been made by reading the company politics and positioning yourself to be the next heir to the corner office. There’s also no question that building effective relationships with the powers that be is necessary in any organization, and it’s not inherently a bad thing.

The challenge enters when it becomes how some individuals spend the bulk of their time at work. We’ve all known people who made a living by telling the boss what they wanted to hear and keeping them happy. They have focused years of energy in a direction that now has no lasting benefit. It’s akin to a master’s degree in typewriter repair.

All of that effort fails to pay off if they are now looking for a new job due to layoffs. Or, in some cases, the boss they were in favor with is let go and they have to start all over again, possibly in a much less friendly environment.

One of the dangerous side effects of too much managing up, is that you may be adding value to the boss, but not necessarily the organization. Another is that rarely do others go out of their way to support or partner with people who have a loyalty only to the next rung on the ladder. People like to work with people who are passionate about making a difference, driving positive change, and building a sustainable enterprise.

Those who focus on becoming better leaders, building broad relationships by seeking out others they could learn from, and creating a community of others who value their efforts, have a much easier time when the waters get choppy. They get recommendations, phone calls with new opportunities, and solid reviews when prospective employers start doing their research.

I once heard the quote that it’s not what you get that matters, it’s who you become. That’s hard for many of us to keep in mind in a “what did you get today” world, but those who have been operating that way in their last job, will have a much easier time landing their next one. For those people, a sudden job loss is an opportunity to find a new challenge where they can use their skills and fulfill their potential.

Make sure that you use your current opportunity to create more knowledge, skill and experience that you can easily transfer to any organization that you might end up adding value to. When we work on who we are becoming, who the boss is matters a lot less.

Leading Through Influence

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