I used to work for General Electric (GE), a company who does leadership development well. From processes around annual reviews to training opportunities to identification of talent, they are invested in leaders and their growth and development. While I worked there I was asked by HR to give a presentation to our division on “Managing Your Career” presumably because I had managed mine well. Except that I hadn’t, at least in one sense.
Because GE is a big company, I had a number of different resources to do this presentation including an HR-produced slide presentation. But the overall thrust was to tell my own career story and communicate tricks and tips that were helpful or successful. I did use some of the slides offered which were beneficial.
But I didn’t stay on message. Because I very rarely thought about my career, and that was my central advice to those assembled. Don’t manage your career. Do your job, whatever the job is at the time, to the best of your ability. That was my whole M.O. (and still is).
The notion of managing your career misses the point of work and vocation. As a leader, if my focus in on the management of my career, well then, I’m not a very good leader because the work that I am doing is centered on my advancement, not the work. Leadership means focussing on the task and work in front of us, whether or not that advances my career and status. If my focus is on the “next thing”, my attention has wandered from the job I have now, which is my primary responsibility.
While it is worthwhile to consider, from time to time, where I am going vocationally, the focus of my efforts needs to be in the present – on the job in front of me. In doing so, I actually create career opportunity. It’s like writing a book. It’s good to know where the plot is going, but if I don’t give my attention to each chapter in its turn, it will end up a very poor story.