Owning Your Career

What might you do to put yourself more confidently in the driving seat of your career?

The most obvious time for career development conversations is the annual Performance and Development Review. However, in my experience, the focus of such reviews tends towards past performance as opposed to future development, not least because of the link between performance and remuneration. And yet, if you grow – in confidence, capability and competence – your organisation grows too.

So, if it’s a win-win situation, how can you best ensure that your personal and professional development is given the priority it warrants? As food for thought, I’d like to share some reflections from my own career in the British Army and some practical advice that, if it chimes with your own circumstances, you might start to apply immediately.

Have a career plan

  • Whilst I didn’t have a long term plan, I did plan role by role in line with guiding principles, such as wanting interesting and challenging work, and in particular the leadership and change roles in which I felt I could really make a difference.
    • Advice: try to look forward as far as possible and to consider both career and personal ambitions, including family and any other relevant personal aspirations. With a career/life plan (looking up to 5 years forward in detail and beyond that in outline) you can set goals and try to work towards specific objectives. Planning is an investment in you and a more structured and personally empowering proposition than just waiting to see what turns up.

Get out of your comfort zone

  • Despite, at the time, certain restrictions on the employment of women, I pressed for command and Ministry of Defence roles – some ground-breaking – and one or two way outside my comfort zone. As luck would have it, these roles, alongside my developing technical competence, enabled me to develop breadth of understanding (strategic, operational and tactical) and a leadership capability that held me in increasingly greater stead in every subsequent appointment.
  • Advice: you don’t have to be constrained by stereotypical thinking – of others or of your organisation (as well of course of your own) – about what you can or can’t, or should or shouldn’t do. Research your options carefully, believe in yourself and consider taking calculated career risks. By broadening your experience, you can broaden your knowledge, understanding, horizons, expertise and capability…making you a more compelling candidate for a promotion or role than the next man or woman.

Evidence potential

  • I developed a true appreciation of ‘potential’ in my more senior roles, developing and assessing the capability of others, in particular as a Head of Talent in the Army’s Personnel Centre. When assessing suitability and readiness for promotion, I was laser-focused on finding individuals who demonstrated the aptitude to operate at the next level.
  • ‘Potential’ takes many forms, including: thriving on responsibility, with the resilience and capacity to assume more; the ability to think at the next level up (operationally or strategically); a ‘can do’ rather than ‘can’t do’ mentality and, if being considered for a leadership role, an ability to lead, inspire, support and empower others.
  • Advice: if you are seeking promotion, evidence your potential and endeavour to think and act – as and when appropriate – as if you were operating already at that level.

Communicate ambition

  • I have seen many over confident but less capable people, push past others who are more capable but less evidently ambitious.
  • Advice:
    • Make your ambitions known, as and where it matters. Encourage those who are in a position to support you. Ask them for advice and guidance – and act on it – to inspire them to become more personally invested in your success.
    • Seek out mentors (people who can help you get to the door) and sponsors (people who can help open it). Sponsors want to back a winner – so a powerful combination of delivery (in your current role), potential (for the next level) and ambition (evident and well placed) should make you a compelling proposition.
    • Taking a broader view, careers are personal…and not every one wants to (or can be) the CEO. If your ambition is to remain at the same level, doing a job you love, that’s just as valid as the differing ambitions of others.
    • So be comfortable with your own choices and supportive of those of others…there’s invariably no joy or success in trying to be something you’re not.

Ask for and value developmental feedback

  • Whilst positive feedback, recognition and thanks were always important to me, the most valuable information was arguably the constructive criticism and insights that helped me to understand how I might have done things differently and better; feedback that enabled me and my team to raise our game. My work – as an executive and career coach – leads to conversations with far too many individuals who have not been given formal feedback, in some cases for years.
  • Advice: seek out constructive feedback, both from your boss and from other trusted sources; positive feedback might make you feel good but thoughtful developmental feedback, ideally ‘in the moment’, has the potential to enable and empower you to perform better.

Identify and deal with career derailers

  • My biggest challenge in the early stages of my military career, was a fear of presenting and an inability to do it well. Some might argue that it’s better to play to one’s strengths and not to invest time in dealing with things that really challenge them but, if something is core to your role, not so do so can be career-limiting. It was a major undertaking but, over time, I developed simple tools and techniques that would enable me to improve, practising tirelessly to set the conditions for success. I thrive now on speaking clearly and authoritatively without notes.
  • Advice: whilst our instincts might lead us to avoid or withdraw from things that we fear or find uncomfortable, it is in my view entirely possible – with the right mindset, personal endeavour and perhaps some learning and development support – to make substantive positive developmental change. Henry Ford of the Ford Motor Company artfully captured the power of a positive mindset: ‘whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right’. So identify your career derailers, make a plan, and deal with them.

Make ‘you’ time

  • People (you) are the heart and soul of organisations; you matter. So if there’s no ‘you’ time in your diary, something’s not right.
  • Advice: give yourself the priority you deserve and build time for career reflection, planning, learning, development and action.

Conclusion

If my advice is relevant and helpful to you, please use it. If not, disregard it. Just one final, overarching thought…it’s your career…own it.

 

Nicky Moffat was the British Army’s highest ranking female officer. As HR Director she was in charge of promotion, appointment and development. To book her or any other speaker for your event, contact JLA here

 

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