2 lessons learned in my career and I’m not done learning

If you’ve ever spent anytime inside a youth baseball dugout you’ve probably noticed that sometimes the boys tend to fixate on the unimportant things in a game. Most often, it’s the results of their individual performance. When this happens they can lose focus on their future plays and the greater context for how they fit on the team.  As adults we can be blinded by the same weakness related to our career performance and growth.

I’ll admit, that just like gaining a larger perspective on sports, it’s taken me some time to gain a larger perspective on my career.  Learning and maturing is a process. It involves successes and failures and while not always easy to go through, makes one stronger.  Here are 2 lessons learned in my career and I know I’m not done learning.

Accomplishments are only part of the equation

In school, our success is based on our individual performance. The system of receiving a grade teaches us that if we work hard then we’ll be rewarded with excellent marks and moved to the next level. If we make superior marks then we could receive additional rewards. As I look back, I came out of school deeply in this mold. I made good grades in high school and developed good study habits. In college, I worked hard and finished with a 3.6 GPA. This led to a good paying job right after graduation.

In the early years of my career, I believed that as long as I continued to perform worthy of an “A” that I would advance to the next level. For a few years, this continued to work for me. Eventually though I hit a ceiling and it took me some time to realize that I wasn’t progressing any longer despite my additional efforts.  When I stopped long enough to observe the environment around me, I found there was an another dimension to growing and maturing that they didn’t teach me in school. More than what I can contribute as an individual, I needed to learn to contribute with other people through team work and influence.

It’s about other people

In so many ways career maturity and advancement is about relationships with other people. In many of the books I’ve read, senior executives admit that their advancement in an organization was about being prepared and having a little luck. I’ve seen what they’ve written within my own organizations. People who advanced and matured were prepared because they worked relationships with people as much as they did their individual accomplishments. They learned about their emotional and social intelligence and how to use it to strengthen bonds with others. They learned how to influence-up 2 or 3 levels beyond their manager. When the timing worked in their favor, they were prepared and ready to move up to the next level of responsibility.

Working people relationships is like seeing the bigger context of the baseball game. You learn how your actions affect the overall progress of the team trying to achieve its goals. You learn how to strengthen others so that they can achieve their objectives. You learn how to influence others through your knowledge and authenticity. You learn how to serve others. It’s the team player philosophy. It’s about becoming a leader as much as a doer.

Now, as I’ve come to realize all this, it doesn’t mean that I’ve perfected it. But recognizing something is usually the hardest part of making a change. I think I’ve got some momentum in this area and I’m glad I’m still learning.