Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Career Progression Factors, part 2 (Your Purpose and Ambition)

In part 1 of this series on Career Progression Factors,  I outlined that there are three factors to master in order to prepare and increase the chances of advancing to a senior leadership role.  They are:
  1. Understanding Your Environment and Organisation Objectives
  2. Your Purpose and Ambition
  3. Self Knowledge:  Values, Strengths, and Drivers
Part 1 outlined the considerations in Understanding Your Environment and Organisation Objectives.  Part 2 focuses on Your Purpose and Ambition.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my various postings on Purpose, or as I like to call it, Purposeful Selfishness.  This blog focuses on four areas to think about in making your purpose and ambition known.

1.  How well do you convey your personal purpose and ambition?

It is more likely that senior leaders in your organisation will think of you for new opportunities if they know what you are looking for and can see specifically how you fit into that role.  It is therefore important to be clear on the kinds of work you are most energised by, and how you would like to contribute further.  Often people want a promotion because it is a way of being recognised and it comes with a bit more money. But being broadly ambitious of advancement is often a turn-off to more senior leaders because it indicates a lack of reflection about what and how you would contribute at a more senior level.   Unless you also think about what would be required of you in a senior leadership role, and how you would manage the heightened responsibilities, it is unlikely that you will be convincingly prepared to take that next step.  Therefore...

2.  Give yourself the time to reflect and dream about the future.

When I start working with a new coaching client, I ask him to visualise how life will be different once he has met his goals.  Who will call him?  What kinds of projects will he work on?  What decisions will he be involved in?  How will he feel when he has achieved his goals?  How will work with his team be different?  These are the same questions you need to ask yourself when you are ambitious of a senior leadership role.  Unless you can visualise it clearly for yourself, how can you communicate it clearly to others when opportunity arises?
Creating a compelling vision of the future is essential for you to feel motivated and to make progress.  You can reinforce this for yourself by writing it down.  It is also recommended that you write about your future achievements in the past tense.  How did you achieve what you set out to do?  You can be as creative or as efficient with this as you like.  Some ways to do that are:
  • Write yourself a letter as if you were at some point in the future (3, 5, or even 10 years from now).  What would you tell yourself?  Some people prefer to think about what achievements would they like to look back on at their retirement party.
  • Write a series of newspaper headlines that describe your future achievements.
  • Place yourself a year in the future and write a narrative about how the year has been, now you have achieved your goals.
  • Be sure to utilise your understanding of the Environment and Organisation Objectives (see part 1 of this series) as you consider your ambitions.  How can you leverage what you want to do, given your predictions for future trends in your company and industry?  

3.  Practice talking about the direction you are heading and use the present tense.

It is intensely uncomfortable for many people to talk about where they want to go without feeling boastful.  So start simply by talking with friends who you think will be supportive of what you want to achieve.  You may find that friends who are more associates than close friends may be easy to do this with.  Close friends can sometimes feel threatened by the purposeful advancement of another friend's career.  The unstated question is how much will your relationship change?  This can be particularly true for ambitious women with families and their female friends who are also mothers, and for friends who are former peers in a previous company.

When you talk about your direction, try to use the present tense, rather than the past tense or conditional tense.  Compare these two sentences: 
"With my experience as a technology systems architect in a top tier bank, I now want to work in a specialist team where we create something together from the ground up."  
"I have worked in a top tier bank as a systems architect, but I would like to work in a smaller team where we create something together from the ground up."  
Both say the same thing, but the first one is an active voice (with my experience...I now want), and therefore sounds more compelling and focused.  The audience is more inclined to believe the speaker will actually achieve his ambitions, and will therefore be more inclined to take an interest and help him.  The second statement sounds more like a complaint.  The passivity of it (I have worked...but I would like) implies the second speaker sees a tougher road ahead and needs more confidence.


Once you have your ambition statement down, try to arrange to meet with people who are influential in the kind of work you desire, but who don't know you very well.  Because their context and knowledge of you is narrow, if you do a good job painting the picture of your hoped for future, complete with an understanding of the Environmental landscape, you will be more engaging and they may be more inclined to help you.  Which leads to the last piece of the puzzle...

4. Ask for advice.

Think of the last time somebody asked you for advice.  Chances are you were flattered.  And if that same person also painted a compelling vision of the kind of work they are ambitious to do and how they want to contribute to an organisation, chances are that you would naturally think about ways that you could help them.  It is hard not to like a future-focused contributor.  Articulate your desired future as realistically and clearly as possible, and ask for your contact's advice and insight on specifics (rather than generalities).   What do they see in the market?  What hurdles is your plan have you not thought of?  Who do they know that you can meet?  Avoid asking if they know of any upcoming job opportunities.  If the person is sufficiently impressed by you, they will tell you about any openings.  

In conclusion, don't be hesitant to step forward.  It is much easier to find what you are looking for if you can clearly describe it to others.

In part 3 of Career Progression Factors, I will address Self Knowledge.

Victoria Hall, Executive Coach
Founder of Talent Futures

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