Your Career: A Straight Shot or a Shot in the Dark?
Miriam Bamberger, CPCC, and Heather Bradley, CPCC, are the co-founders of The Flourishing Company, which helps emerging professionals sharpen their leadership skills to generate immediate and lasting changes in their ability to successfully manage complex work relationships. For additional information, visit: www.TheFlourishingCompany.com.
Some of us are lucky. Our careers are progressing exactly the way we want. Others are not so fortunate. We have allowed our careers to progress in ways that we would never allow a case to progress — passively, haphazardly, ignoring the consequences as if we had no control. Circumstances, such as salary and perks, simply made it easy to stay the current course.
If we are not careful, managing our careers becomes like playing a game of Simon Says. Early on, Simon Says go to the "best" law school. Simon Says get the "right" job. Later in our careers, Simon Says skip dinner with your friends to get the brief done. Simon Says don't ask that partner for further instructions; you should know the answer on your own.
Who is calling the shots in your career, you or Simon? If it isn't you, then fire Simon!
The current environment offers less job mobility and flexibility than previous years. It is not as easy to call the shots in terms of income and perks, or even progress along the path that Simon Says to take.
Having fewer alternatives forces you to take added responsibility for having the career you want. The following case study illustrates how to begin identifying sources of career satisfaction and taking steps to create it.
A Case Study
Jane was a senior associate at an international law firm. If everything went according to plan, she would be elected partner in two years. Or would she? Jane frequently asked herself if this was really the right path and if she had what it takes to be partner.
The more she tried to ignore these questions, the more they haunted her, dragging her down and distracting her from her work. Finally, Jane had enough; she decided to face these doubts and questions directly. She invested time to reflect on whether she had chosen the right path, or if it was what she "should" do. After careful consideration, Jane determined that being an attorney was exactly what she wanted to do professionally. She loved the nature of the work, the assignments and the people she worked with. However, her lack of knowledge about the process to be named partner concerned and scared her.
Jane's firm was typical of many large law firms in that the standards for promotion were never discussed and appeared to be applied arbitrarily. She had no idea what actually occurred in the partner meetings, and the politics of the firm precluded her from asking even her most trusted colleagues who had made partner.
Jane wondered if she should make a career change. "What if I went in-house?" she asked herself. "Surely corporations, with their more formal policies and procedures, would be more predictable than this mysterious trail to partnership." Jane talked with a few friends who had successfully made the transition from a law firm to in-house counsel. They pointed out to her that her habits and patterns were not caused by her workplace. She controls what she knows and how she reacts to it, whether inside a firm or in-house. Thus, a change in her work setting alone would not fix her problem. With these insights, Jane realized that she really wanted to continue her career inside her current law firm.
Still not knowing exactly what to do, Jane made a choice about how she would approach the situation. "I choose to take responsibility for this journey to partner and make it exciting." She wrote that commitment to herself on letterhead, sealing it and placing it in her top desk drawer. Each time she opened the drawer, she was reminded that she had taken charge of her career.
Calling Your Own Shots
Step 1: Take Aim
Jane was clear that she wanted to progress along her current course. Her next move was to decide what partnership criteria she needed to showcase. She knew her hours and the quality of her legal work were already being evaluated by the firm. Her next step was to anticipate the other standards that would factor into the partnership decision. She quickly brainstormed a short list: business development, client relations, and project management. These were the areas where she would focus her attention.
If you are not yet clear on which path you want to take, consider how satisfied you are with factors such as your industry/work setting fit, work/life balance, company or firm culture, work assignments, and career advancement.
- How are you approaching your situation?
- How would you like to approach it?
- What do you want to be different?
- What do you need to do to make that happen?
- What is working right now? What is not working?
Step 2: Your Control Analysis
As Jane did, realistically assess your current sphere of control. Make two lists. What can you affect, and what is truly out of your control?
Jane's Control Analysis
|Things I Can Control
||Things I Cannot Control
- How I approach my circumstances.
- How I interact with other people.
- My reaction.
- Where to focus my attention.
- The partnership vote.
- Labor market.
- Organizational culture.
- Other people.
- Which list gets more of your attention?
- How is that moving you toward your aim?
- What is the best use of your time, energy, and focus to help you achieve your aim?
Step 3 – Take Your Best Shot
Once you have made your choices, it's time to take action. Start by identifying the necessary steps to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Depending on the size of the gap, your timeline may be very short or may cover an extended period. Realistically prioritize what you want to do, what you need to do, and establish reasonable time frames for both.
- To take responsibility for this journey to partner and make it exciting, for the next month I will read my commitment to myself every morning before I begin work and every evening before I leave.
- To be more comfortable understanding the process of becoming partner, I will make a list of the three things that I most want to know and informally interview three partners within the next two weeks.
- To improve my business development skills, I will get approval within the next week to shadow a section head during a meeting with potential clients, and within two weeks, I will schedule an appointment with the person I will shadow.
- What is getting in your way?
- What action are you willing to take today?
- This week?
- In the next 90 days?
- By the end of the year?
- What structures and/or accountability measures will support you in achieving your plan?
Whether actively or reactively, you call the shots in your career. Like Jane, it is up to you to choose not only what to do, but also how to approach doing it. Even if Simon doesn't say so.
Miriam Bamberger and Heather Bradley are the cofounders of The Flourishing Company, which helps emerging professionals sharpen their leadership skills to generate immediate and lasting changes in their ability to successfully manage complex work relationships. For additional information, visit: www.TheFlourishingCompany.com.
D&B Brief – Teleclass
Throughout 2003, MCCA® is initiating an integrated strategy to assist members in taking responsibility for their professional development. This article is the third in a series that will address a collection of specific skills to assist members in proactively managing their own careers. Each article will be supported by a companion teleclass known as Diversity & the Bar® Briefs.
The one-hour career management teleclass is scheduled for August 27, 2003 at 4:00 (eastern standard time).
From the September/October 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®