Single Moms: Ready to be a Next Gen Woman Leader?
3 Ways to See Your Career Long Range
by Selena Rezvani
Why is it so frustratingly easy to lose sight of the “big picture”? Our vision of what we want, who it is that we want to grow into, and where we’re going professionally aren’t just blurry, for many of us they look like a question mark. In our daily juggle, we can work feverishly―yet bob aimlessly―unsure of “how it all fits together.” How do the best navigators remember to look up periodically, getting guidance from what Martha Beck calls their “north star”?
If you’re looking to steer―rather than meander―toward your destination, try on the following strategies:
Master your preferences: Get crystal clear on what you naturally gravitate to and what gives you energy. You’ll never paint a bold, vivid image of where you want to be if you don’t know what you love. Take your own battery of self-assessments (I personally don’t favor one in particular, but like to take several so I can look for overarching trends). The DiSC and Myers-Briggs are good places to start. Find out what keeps popping up time and again. Is it your love of problem solving? Equipping others with critical information? Grappling with analytics? Once you have this baseline information, you can play with it and start envisioning the future.
Ask the hard questions: One of the most effective questions you can ask yourself is, “What kind of legacy do I want to leave?” What’s more, consider what adjectives your community, friends, family and colleagues will use to describe your impact. Asking and answering these questions is a worthy investment of your time. By identifying words, images or phrases that call to mind your legacy, you’ll have a compass that you can use to guide everyday decision making. I encourage you to ask often, “Is what I’m about to do in line with how I’d like to be remembered?”
Remove mental limits: Many of us hamper our own progress by focusing on the reasons our wildest dreams can’t come true. Try some revealing exercises that force you out of analysis paralysis. Start by asking yourself, “If I was on the cover of TIME magazine, what the accompanying caption say?” Or, “If I had unlimited power, what would I do with it?” Finally, take the time to write out your dream bio. In a maximum of three sentences, use your imagination to articulate your optimal level of experience, credentials, and significant roles you will have held.
Be sure to include some aspirational tidbits, for example being the youngest vice president at a company or the valedictorian of your graduate school class. You might also ask yourself where your biography would appear. On your company’s website? Featured in a conference brochure where you will be delivering a keynote address? At the end of an article about you in Forbes? Think BIG.
Once you know you have a picture of where you want to be, you can reverse-engineer your way there. Karen Holbrook, Ph.D. understands this. One of the few women to run a major university – Ohio State – she advised, “You…want to position yourself for your next job if you are considering moving up in your career. When I became a vice chairman, I positioned myself to be an associate dean of the medical school. When that position opened, I wrote to the dean personally telling him why I was the right candidate. When I wanted to be a president, I filled holes in my resume by first taking a job as a provost. Always think ahead to your next career step.”
If anything struck me about women leaders I’ve met and interviewed for my book, it’s that they identified that one of their greatest sources of power was really knowing themselves – to the point that they didn’t really have any gaping blind spots. They asked for so much feedback and did enough self reflection that they had a clear sense of their signature strengths and where they needed to compensate for lack of skills. At the end of the day, that’s what leveraging your brand is all about.
The higher you go in your career, the more you’ll hear the terms “strategic” and “visionary.” Why not apply that same lens to your own career?
Many of us live in fear of screwing up. The possible consequences are all too familiar: embarrassment, a damaged reputation, and of course, what “they” will think of us.
But what happens when we’re afraid of succeeding? How strange it is to think that at times, each of us is uncomfortable with our own potential.
Consider the experience of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Harper Lee. After releasing To Kill a Mockingbird to great fanfare, Lee confessed, “I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”
Our adult fear of being great makes us particularly interesting creatures. As kids, we don’t have any compunction about excelling at something. In fact, we do more of it, enjoy the applause, and move on. Success becomes much more personal as we age however. Many of us start to see success or failure as the building blocks of our identity and as a result, we begin to insulate ourselves from risk.
And yet, if you really consider who around you is most successful, you’ll see they have one thing in common. They allow themselves to be vulnerable. To be great, they are open to screwing it all up and going down in flames, in the name of pursuing their dream or actualizing their goal. They understand what Brene Brown and Voltaire told us; that “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” and that banking on flawlessness can leave you squandering your ideas and talent.
As you think about who you have yet to grow into, don’t let your own potential frighten you. You have this power now, and you’ll have more of it in the future.
You might see yourself as an improve actor. Improvisation troupes understand the beauty that can emerge from taking risks and being vulnerable. Just like they create an architecture for succeeding, complete with rules (i.e. You don’t have to be funny and Make your partner look good), so too should you. Your own guard rails could be, “Let me take on this challenge and uncover a new strength of mine – however small or seemingly insignificant” or “I don’t have to do this perfectly.”
If you’re going to ratchet your way to your most outlandish goals, thicken that skin, get out there, and make it happen.
Selena Rezvani is a recognized author, speaker, and consultant on women and leadership. She is co-president of Women’s RoadmapTM, a consulting firm whose goal is to propel more women into leadership positions and to help companies position an inclusive workplace as a competitive advantage.
Rezvani established Women’s RoadmapTM while writing her debut book, “The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead but Won’t Learn in Business School” (Praeger, 2009), and after identifying the need for Generation X and Y women to be seen as a viable talent pool and leadership pipeline. She is a regular commentator on NPR’s nationally syndicated 51 Percent and writes a women and leadership column for The Washington Post. null
Rezvani’s professional speaking credits include the following organizations, among many others: Harvard University, Comcast, Northrop Grumman, Princeton University, Duke University, the Clinton Foundation and the Fort
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