Three sim­ple steps to help ad­vance your ca­reer

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - REPORT ON BUSINESS WEEKEND - DAN RICHARDS Fac­ulty mem­ber, Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, Univer­sity of Toronto; au­thor of Get­ting Clients, Keep­ing Clients

In to­day’s re­al­ity, what does it take to achieve a ful­fill­ing and suc­cess­ful ca­reer? Hav­ing built and sold two star­tups and af­ter 25 years as a mem­ber of the mar­ket­ing fac­ulty at the Univer­sity of Toronto’s Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, ear­lier this year, I was asked to serve as fac­ulty ad­viser to 35 first-year MBA stu­dents un­der­tak­ing an in­tern­ship this sum­mer.

Among the top­ics in our con­ver­sa­tions, we have dis­cussed three keys to be­ing pro-ac­tive in man­ag­ing ca­reers – carv­ing out think­ing time, ask­ing the right ques­tions and build­ing a sup­port sys­tem.

Carve out think­ing time

When he ran Mi­crosoft, Bill Gates fa­mously took a week off each year to re­flect on the fu­ture, go­ing to a re­mote lo­ca­tion to read and think. In the e-mail that emerged, he shared his thoughts with Mi­crosoft’s se­nior team. Along sim­i­lar lines, a re­cent New York Times col­umn ad­vo­cated that we all take a weekly “Shultz hour,” named af­ter Ge­orge Shultz, Ron­ald Rea­gan’s sec­re­tary of state in the 1980s, who carved out an hour a week for quiet re­flec­tion.

To­day, ev­ery­one feels as though they’re drown­ing in the vol­ume of on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tion. As a re­sult, many of us have be­come so im­mersed in send­ing and re­spond­ing to e-mails that we’ve got­ten out of the habit of step­ping back and think­ing hard about the im­por­tant is­sues in our busi­nesses and ca­reers.

So that’s the first step – pe­ri­od­i­cally carve out the time for re­flec­tion. Once a week (say on Sun­day night), I sug­gest that stu­dents take 30 min­utes to shut off their phones, go for a walk and al­low them­selves to step back and think, car­ry­ing noth­ing but a notepad and pen to make notes of their thoughts.

Ask the right ques­tions

For this break from your rou­tine to pro­duce re­sults, you have to ask the right ques­tions. Whether you’re com­mit­ted to the com­pany you’re work­ing for or ex­plor­ing al­ter­na­tives, I be­lieve

that once a week, peo­ple at every stage of their ca­reers should ask them­selves five ques­tions. Writ­ing down an­swers in a notepad you keep for this pur­pose, these ques­tions can be sum­ma­rized by the acro­nym CLEAR. In the past week: What did I con­trib­ute to my com­pany and my team? What new skill did I work on and learn?

What idea did I ex­plore? What did I do to ad­vance my ca­reer? Who did I reach out to in or­der to ex­pand my net­work?

Next, you ask the same ques­tions go­ing for­ward. In the next week: What will I con­trib­ute at work? What new skill will I learn? What idea will I ex­plore? What will I do to ad­vance my ca­reer? Who will I reach out to in or­der to ex­pand my net­work?

Build a sup­port sys­tem

Whether it be a new diet, ex­er­cise pro­gram or way of work­ing, ev­ery­one rec­og­nizes how in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult it is to make fun­da­men­tal changes to our rou­tines. Some of this stems from the power of in­er­tia and en­trenched habits, as we start with en­thu­si­asm but quickly re­turn to our pre­vi­ous rou­tines. When try­ing to im­ple­ment change in our business lives, this is com­pounded by time de­mands that make it all too easy to re­vert to our pre­vi­ous ways of op­er­at­ing.

To max­i­mize your ca­reer out­come, you need strate­gies to stay fo­cused on the things you need to do dif­fer­ently. One of the best ways to achieve this is to re­cruit three to six friends and col­leagues who you like, re­spect and trust to cre­ate a per­for­mance team, meet­ing for 90 min­utes every month or two to share ideas, mon­i­tor progress and hold each other ac­count­able.

Ac­count­abil­ity groups are de­scribed by Har­vard Business School’s Bill Ge­orge in his book True North Groups: A Pow­er­ful Path to Per­sonal And Lead­er­ship Devel­op­ment. In per­for­mance team meet­ings, each mem­ber com­mits to pa­per and then talks about: What did I com­mit to do­ing the last time we met? What did I ac­tu­ally do? What re­sults did I see? What did I learn? What will I do dif­fer­ently in the pe­riod ahead?

Let’s rec­og­nize that there is no sure­fire for­mula for ca­reer suc­cess – it’s im­pos­si­ble to elim­i­nate the el­e­ment of ran­dom chance, both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive. That’s why even when you’re mov­ing in the right gen­eral di­rec­tion, you have to stay flex­i­ble to cap­i­tal­ize on un­ex­pected op­por­tu­ni­ties. In fact, it’s use­ful to think of plan­ning your ca­reer as us­ing a com­pass rather than a road map; rather than fo­cus­ing on the pre­cise route you’re tak­ing, think in­stead of whether you’re go­ing in the right gen­eral di­rec­tion.

Be­ing proac­tive im­proves your odds of pro­fes­sional suc­cess as you shape events, rather than hap­lessly float with the tide. This puts you in po­si­tion to get lucky, cap­i­tal­iz­ing on for­tu­itous events as they present them­selves. By us­ing this sim­ple three-step model – take the time to re­flect, ask the right ques­tions and es­tab­lish a sup­port sys­tem for im­ple­men­ta­tion – you will max­i­mize your odds of a suc­cess­ful and ful­fill­ing ca­reer. Ex­ec­u­tives, con­sul­tants, lawyers and hu­man re­sources ex­perts con­trib­ute to the on­go­ing Lead­er­ship Lab series.

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