There is a breed of executive out there that goes for well-roundedness. ‘I’ve put in some time in finance/HR/consulting’, they say, ‘so now it must be time to really broaden my skills in general management’. Or ‘golly gosh, I know Asia Pacific inside out, so surely it’s time to seek out that post in Upper Bleeding, Sussex’.
Whenever I hear something along these lines, I must confess to having all sorts of difficulty refraining from blowing a big raspberry.
Well-roundedness is overrated. Being strategic about your career is overrated. Don’t get me wrong; you may well climb the ol’ corporate ladder successfully, but will your eyes light up when you go to work? Will you be as energetic and as purposeful and as successful as you could be? Nope. You will not.
What to do instead? Focus on what you’re great at. Do as much of this as you possibly can. Say no to things that don’t interest you. Say no to opportunities that you may be good but not fabulous at.
One of my coaching clients did just this last month. Her CEO handed her a plumb opportunity to work across the organisation – and more closely with him. She looked at the role. She realised that, strategically, it was a good move. But she also realised she would hate it. She could do it, but not as well or as energetically as she could do other things. She said no – and her CEO’s opinion of her rose even further.
Here’s what I think. I bet you are smart, disciplined and valued by the people with whom you work. I bet you could take any opportunity and make a good fist of it. I bet you would even get promoted as a result. But herein lies the rub. If we do work we are OK at, and do a good job of it, we will get known for work we are only OK at. Our reputation will build in an area that has little to do with our purpose or our passion. And, because as humans we naturally seek progress, we will find it hard to take a step back from the rung we have reached and ‘start again’ doing work we love. This is when clever, proactive people start referring to themselves as stuck.
So make a pact with yourself: seek out opportunities that energise you, not those that would be ‘good for your career’. This, I promise, will end up being the very best thing for your career you could ever do.