Be the Cause: Owning Your Own Career Power

Be the Cause: Owning Your Own Career Power

An internal drive to accomplish is inherent to being human.  How “accomplishment” is defined can be uniquely individual. Career aspirations is one way personal development and accomplishment can manifest.  As we grow up, many of us had wild career aspirations or dreams of what we were going to do with our lives. For me, I was going to be an astronaut or long-haul trucker… that was until I realized long drives just make me sleepy.  So sometimes there are forks or twists in the road that lead us to adjust our plans but at some point, we start to really define our goal. Once we know what drives us, and if we’re lucky, creates passion in us, we can focus in on the steps needed to accomplish that career aspiration.  It can be hard to do it alone though.  

That’s where mentoring can come in.  Some companies have internal mentoring programs--if yours does, jump in and make the most of the opportunity!  However, many times, it is up to you to grab the reins of your own career trajectory.

A lot should go into selecting a mentor.  Be open-minded in identifying your list of possibilities.  This is best done when you are clear on what specifically you are trying to achieve.  Finding mentors could be a multi-step developmental process as well. For example, you may not need to jump to a senior vice president of a Fortune 20 to be your mentor right off the bat if there are other skills or experiences you would benefit from first.  Considerations include, but are not limited to:

  • Do they need to be in the precise future role you want?  

  • How experienced should they be?  

  • What benefits could be derived if they are in a tangential industry versus your same industry?

  • Do they share the same values as you?

  • Do they want to be a mentor and are they willing to invest the time to make it meaningful?

  • How willing and able are you to put the additional work to continue your professional growth at this time?

  • What are your expectations of a mentorship and how will they compare to the mentor’s expectations?

  • How open and ready are you to receive feedback - both positive and constructive? 

  • Do you want a more formal arrangement or let it develop in a more organic way?

  • And many, many more questions and considerations...

C’mon Business… You Can Be Better

To be straightforward, if you are a female or a minority, you will have a harder climb.  While you may not be specifically aiming for the top spot, it is still noteworthy that only 6.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female.  Analysis of 16 Fortune 500 companies revealed that 73% of senior executives, regardless of gender, are white.  So it’s worthy of concern when Harvard Business Review states that “research from the Center for Talent Innovation reported that a full 71% of executives have protégés whose gender and race match their own.  That means that women and minorities don’t benefit from sponsorship like their male colleagues do, and organizations lose out by not gaining the full potential of diverse talent.”  So if you are in one of those groups, does that give you entitlement to throw up your hands, claim “woe is me” and assuming the world is just too hard? Heck no!

Brace yourself now--this may come as a shock for some readers.  But businesses are not indiscriminate robotic monoliths… they are actually simply made of people (surprise!).  And people can do and should do better. Harvard Business Review went on to describe that gender balance in companies and on teams improves a host of outcomes including financial results, innovation, decision making, organizational commitment, retention and job satisfaction.  Remember how we discussed at the beginning that a drive for accomplishment is human nature? This is a prime example of where, and why, people who make up organizations can drive greater accomplishment and success within their company and among their talent development processes and programs.

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Be the Cause

Clearly, there is a role for organization’s to play in owning this discrepancy and righting this imbalance… but today, let’s focus on what you can directly control and act on.  You can be the cause of your life, not the effect.  Rather than wallowing in feeling overwhelmed or that it’s just too hard or society is set against you, take the first step and you determine where you want to go.  Then you create a plan to get there.

It starts with taking ownership of the situation and of your personal power.  The Institute for Social + Emotional Intelligence (ISEI) defines the emotional intelligence competency of personal power as “a sense of self-confidence and an inner knowing that you can meet life’s challenges and live the life you choose; the ability to have the difficult conversations in life, and to speak your truth quietly, sincerely, assertively and appropriately.” 

For many of us, this is easier said than done.  But you can take control and own your power, or confidence if that term resonates more with you.  Worthiness is not something that must be earned, it simply needs to be claimed. Remember when you were a kid and you were fearless, jumped off the playground equipment, drew pictures no matter how (un)artistic they were and proudly displayed them, read outloud before knowing all the words.  You did all those things because you set your mind to it and then just did it before telling yourself all the reasons it might not work. While artwork may or may not be a critical component of your role now, rediscovering that unrelenting confidence can be done and can lead to the career you want -- as long as your courageous enough to go after it.   

The Plan

  1. Be clear on your career objective and write it down

  2. Establish your expectations for your mentor

    • Are you wanting answers on how to handle specific scenarios?  Are you simply wanting a sounding board? Is the mentor empowered to share feedback they feel is valuable even if you haven’t asked (it could blindside you)? Are you expecting them to be a sponsor (advocate for you to internal company powers to advance your career) and if so, do they have that capability?  

  3. Make the ask (refer to questions in the first section as a starting point to determining who your top contenders are going to be)

    • Have an open and honest conversation about your objectives and expectations.  This provides the potential mentor an opportunity to make an informed decision to determine if they are in a position to provide the help rather than realizing mid-way into the partnership that you aren’t on the same page.

    • It’s okay if they say no.  This gives you the chance to learn from that conversation and continue to find other possibilities.  They may even give you a “no, but…” response.

  4. Outline the Engagement

    • How often will you meet? How long will the mentor/mentee partnership last? 

    • Prepare an agenda or have topics in mind, for each meeting to ensure the time is used efficiently and you both gain value from the meeting. Some of the expectations in regard to how feedback is given may circle back in here as well.

  5. Determine how you will also give back to the mentor

    • Make it a win/win - Perhaps it’s through a cross-collaboration between your two areas of experience, new network contacts, a skill or technology that can be shared, or some other area of development or learning that the mentor has an interest in.

Pay It Forward

Collectively, we all win when all are treated equally and given the opportunity to contribute to their fullest potential. Remember this when you reach further in your career, remember those who helped you--formally or informally. Pay it forward and take the opportunity--or create the opportunity--to help advance those below or around you. Author and research psychologist Brené Brown defines a leader in her book Dare to Lead, “as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.”

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