Don’t be a commodity in your career. Stop doing and start growing

Don’t be a commodity in your career. Stop doing and start growing

By Matthew Butler (Entelect, General Manager : Managed Solutions)

You could coast through a career of 40 years, or become formidable in 5. This is a look at two mechanisms to stay on the accelerator, grow as a professional and make an impact wherever you are. These mechanisms are your attitude towards learning, and your willingness to understand context. These are two stand-out concepts I've learnt and observed in my own journey from junior to leadership. It is scary how this conventional wisdom is lost or diluted in many companies.

Essentially these do boil down to critical thinking, but let’s take a moment to explore learning and context as two of the easier ways to change your mindset towards your work, get ahead of your peers, and stand out! We individually have control of these areas of our professional lives. In particular, attitudes or mindsets like these have nothing to do with industry knowledge, experience or technical skill. Your stance is your key to a massively accelerated career, if you want it.

We land in our roles full of uncertainty but ambitious because of it. We are motivated to learn and are terrified of underperformance. The mystery of a new career energises us greatly through new purpose and problems. We must justify our selection to join a team and hold a position. Does this sound familiar?

Sometime into your role you learn the recipe. You solve many of the mysteries, and deeply understand how a team or organisation operates. Through this clarification the novelty of the role wears off, and human nature dictates that we start to lose interest. We stop pushing ourselves as our expectations align with our customer’s or employer’s expectations. We stop growing and start doing. As these external factors - new people, new expectations and environments wear off, it’s time for internal factors to kick in..

So here they are, two dynamos which you can apply to change your perspective; to stop doing and start growing:

One: learn on your own time.

This is self-investment. You’re not waiting for your employer to force you on training or sponsor you, you’re doing it on your own time and your own dime. You’re realising that you are the captain of your career and have an obligation to do this for yourself. It also accelerates you within your organisation because you can offer more (incidentally why you were attractive to an organisation in the first place). If you are clearly investing in yourself it sends a critical message to your team and management that you care about your productivity in a vacuum. If you aren’t relying on your employer to carry you, it sets a very different balance of power.

People who invest in themselves regardless of circumstance, employer or project are independent. They’re keeping themselves ahead of the curve, which is a hugely magnetic concept. You probably want to work with other people like this, because they have so much to offer. It’s not just wisdom or skill either. Independence breeds positivity and focus, characteristics which help projects succeed and businesses grow. If you commit openly with yourself, your team and your company to spend your own time learning and developing yourself, you become a giver and not a taker, a transformation.

Two: obsess over context.

This one is a little more complex but still nothing ground-breaking. The idea here is to always remember why you’re doing something. Some call this big picture thinking but I believe it is more nuanced. Context is about self-awareness; it’s about business sense, selflessness and objective thinking. Introspect for a second, ask yourself if everything you’re doing and saying right now within your current project is in the best interests of the success of that project? Does your attitude show a care for, and understanding of circumstances? Business environment, customers, budget demands, time pressures. Does your team and leadership absolutely trust you to think for yourself; have you demonstrated that you can?

This is harder to balance because what we need to do or say in the best interests of the project may not align so perfectly with our personal measurement of things. This is also a common perspective (or measurement) of maturity - our ability to put personal agenda aside in these circumstances and to prioritise the team or business’s needs. Once context is mixed into the picture, motivation will come more naturally as we demonstrate a balanced intent and clarity of purpose.

Another introspection for you to try: when the dust settles, what will your contribution be? Douglas Kruger talks about this in his book “Own your Industry” (a cool read by the way). He talks about speaking the language of results when we are trying to sell something. He encourages us to think about outcomes as what people and businesses are attracted to, as opposed to the input, features or tasks. If you “do a thing” you’re a commodity, if you “get a result” you’re a in a position of power.

These two mindsets are made even more interesting because they present a curious balance of their own. Self-investment can be considered selfish and unrelated to your role, but context is 100% selfless and focused on the narrow agenda. The important realisation is that our stance when it comes to these two elements of ourselves are powerful levers to pull. They influence how we are perceived in our roles and should be understood to be taken advantage of.

Coast along a career through the slow march of time, or force some perspective. Motivate yourself to continuously learn for your own sake, and remember to deliberately empathise with business objectives. Make a bigger impact, get noticed, grow.

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