It is often said that experience is the greatest teacher. Take a moment to test that by thinking about your career. How long is it since you took your first job? How many different jobs have you had? What have you learnt along the way?
The sum total of your capability is made up of many parts. Sure, your education gave you a foundation but what came afterwards shaped a lot of who you are today and how you lead. You acquired fundamental skills by performing routine tasks and progressed to more advanced skills as you took on assignments with greater complexity.
Then, there were those challenging times that had a powerful impact on the speed and intensity of your learning, taking your competence to a whole new level. Most likely, they occurred at times when you took on something completely new and you had to master skills uncalled for in unnecessary in previous roles.
The question to ask yourself is what has been the pattern of your career? Have you had a series of jobs in a familiar discipline or a range of jobs with a variety of responsibilities? This matters because different jobs offer different learning opportunities. Hopefully, you will have built the depth and breadth to take you where you want to go. Or, maybe not.
Consider the case of Simon, a manager who earned hero status in his organisation as the ‘turnaround king’. Over seven years, he took over no less than four poorly performing units and restored them all to profitability. He brought a high level of energy and determination to each new assignment. His natural autocratic leadership style played out well and he quickly learnt how to analyse a business and implement change decisively.
Success in doing what he already knew how to do may have been good for Simon’s company but not for his career over the long term. When a general management role came up he was passed over for promotion because he wasn’t seen to have the broad perspective and interpersonal skills to sustain critical relationships with the new joint venture partners.
Unknowingly, this can happen to the best of us. We sail along confidently in our career until suddenly we are faced to deal with a set of new and unfamiliar challenges. These scenarios will invariably broaden your experience base and add new skills to your toolkit.
Perhaps, reading this is prompting you to think about your career and what the next chapter is going to be. If so, think of taking stock by listing the jobs you’ve had and the skills you have acquired. Make a note about times in your career you have particularly enjoyed and why.
Next, find a colleague or mentor who would be prepared to talk through your reflections, help you identify what’s driven your success to date and what opportunities you should be exploring for the future.