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Strategies for enhancing your executive, personal, and career development.

How successful am I in my career and personal life? In what ways is executive success viewed by colleagues, superiors, or others?

Such apparently simple questions have great importance in every manager's career. Designed to promote upward career mobility, a good career plan should encourage self-reflection on the key facets of executive and managerial success.

Author Peter Drucker recently contended that the most important challenge to business in the 1990s may well be the development of its managers. However, he asserts we are unprepared for such a challenge.

To prepare for the business world's challenges, every manager does well to formulate a career plan that clearly relates actual performance to his or her desired personal and career success. For the informed and well prepared executive, there are many strategies available to expand the frontiers of personal and career success. But before learning those strategies, become familiar with the myths of career development.

The 5 Myths of Career Development

What follows is a synopsis of the most common myths about career planning and development. The underlying philosophy or basis of each myth is discussed, and various strategies are presented to help prospective and current managers in furthering their personal and career success.

Myth 1--Persistence, Luck, and Hard Work Will Substitute for a Good Career Development Plan

Although these factors are essential, the fallacy of this myth is that persistence, luck, and hard work will take the place of good career planning. The reality is all these factors are necessary. Luck, or good fortune, is the external factor that is a result of one's environment. Persistence is a measure of one's willpower and tenacity; thus, it is an internal factor that is shaped by individual effort. Lastly, hard work is a misnomer for "working smart" by doing the right work in an efficient and economical manner. All three of these factors are important to a manager's personal and career success. Yet, none of them substitute for good career planning.

The Myth Resolved--Career planning sets the direction a manager wishes to pursue in his or her career. It is based on personal and organizational needs. Without a clear direction or map to follow in one's career, confusion or chaos can result. Managers do well to assess their needs, formulate relevant and measurable goals to meet these needs, make intelligent choices to expand their opportunities, while persevering to overcome any adversity that may arise.

Myth 2--Career Planning Flows from a Person's Goals, Interests, Values, and Attitudes

The inherent error of this common belief stems from the fallacy of the myth in absolute terms, rather than in relative terms. Frequently, career planning is done only in times of employment crisis, such as during layoffs, downsizing, terminations, and outplacement. In a preponderance of cases, career planning focuses on short-term goals and vocational interests without giving serious attention to conducting a thorough need or skill assessment of the individual.

Many career plans go to great lengths to address personal goals and interests. Some go beyond this to define and analyze a person's needs, values, attitudes, and employment skills. Rarely does a career plan cover all of these areas: interests, goals, values, attitudes, needs, and skills. The success of such best sellers as What Color Is Your Parachute?, by Richard N. Bolles, or Discover What You're Best At, by Barry and Linda Gale, is partly a result of the key emphasis given to the goal and comprehensive assessment of an individual's employment skills.

The Myth Refuted--Other than defining a person's goals, interests, values, and attitudes, career planning must assess key needs and employment skills. By requiring assessment of one's employment skills, such as business, clerical, logic, mechanical, numerical, and social skills, a realistic response can be given to the major career questions. Some of these are briefly summarized below:

* What do I do well presently?

* With training and practice, what can I do well?

* Which of my skills is most marketable?

* Where are my skills and experience most in demand? (In which fields, careers, and organizations?)

* How can I improve upon my most marketable skills?

* What can I do to achieve personal and career success?

* How can I add significant value to customers, prospects, employers, or client organizations?

These seven questions reveal the importance of skills in the career planning and development process. Thorough and comprehensive need and skill assessment should be given serious emphasis in an executive's career. Before goals are set or interests are defined, individual and organizational needs must be identified so stated goals can address target needs. Because of this, career plans do well to integrate interests and goals with target needs and employment skills.

Myth 3--Career Development Focuses Primarily on Business, Employment, or Financial Goals

Contrary to popular belief, many people work for reasons other than financial security and independence. Unfortunately, some approaches to career planning focus primary attention on the achievement of financial and employment results, such as retirement, promotions, and financial wealth. To be effectual, career plans should address key life goals, not just those involving employment, business, or financial pursuits. These three pursuits are essential parts of a good career plan, but besides the personal, family, spiritual, social, and total fitness areas of life, they are shallow motivators for virtuous living.

The Myth Reconsidered--There is plausible merit to the argument that destitute persons cannot extend their resources to meet others' needs if they are unable to meet their own. From this view, financial, employment, or business pursuits are necessary for fulfilling the needs of self and others. However, many view these three pursuits as means to an end, not as ends unto themselves. Hence, they see achievement of employment, business, and financial goals as a means to reach their other key life goals and/or as a way of reaching out to help others. A good career plan, then, relates the achievement of key life goals as an extension of a person's employment, career, and financial activities.

Myth 4--A Viable Career Development Plan Is All One Needs for Personal or Career Success

Effective career planning requires thorough skill and need assessment while encouraging self-reflection on the key facets of executive and personal success. Despite its importance in the personal and executive development process, however, it is no guarantee for success in life. Instead, the career plan is a guide for defining success, assessing needs, setting goals to meet stated needs, and comparing actual performance to anticipated personal and career success.

Without the creativity and intelligence to "work smart" and the persistence and ability to "do a good job," even the "best" career plan is unlikely to produce lasting personal or career success. What is needed in career planning and executive/personal development is a three-step process that moves an individual from uncertainty to the planning phase, from planning to the development phase, and ultimately, from the development phase to the personal/career achievement phase.

The Myth Revised--Without the ability to work smart and do a good job, it is difficult to attain career success in life. As implied in Myth Number 1, persistence, luck, and the ability to work smart and well cannot substitute for a good career plan or development program. Conversely, a good career plan or development program cannot substitute for the willingness to work smart or the ability to do a good job. Managerial logic requires that these characteristics be combined with a viable career plan and development program.

Myth 5--Career Planning Is Ineffectual for Proprietors, Entrepreneurs, or Small Business Owners

There is a misconception that career plans are meant for those in large organizations rather than in small businesses. This myth assumes that proprietors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners are unable to plan their careers since they operate independently of the "typical business organization," or operate in environments where career plans are ineffectual. Nothing could be further from the truth. Entrepreneurs, proprietors, and other small business owners often face greater risk or uncertainty than do their counterparts who manage larger businesses or organizations. This greater risk requires them to give serious consideration to applying the phases of career planning and development.

The Myth Rescinded--Regardless of the type of organization that one manages, owns, or otherwise operates, career planning can be a valuable tool for improving managerial performance and personal achievement. Recent research studies, in fact, have shown that persistent job seekers who keep informed of current employment market trends, and who follow an organized career plan, are at least 60 percent more successful in attaining their preferred career goals than those who do not. As with the techniques of financial management, market research, or economic analysis, the tools of career planning are as valuable to entrepreneurs and small business owners as they are to executives who are employed by larger corporations.

Assessing Your Executive and Career Success

The road to executive and career success begins with the key questions: "Where Am I Going?" and "How Will I Get There?" and "What is Success?" and "How Will I Achieve It?" To succeed in the global market, executives must be able to effectively define and exploit career opportunities that complement their unique strengths, limitations, and business orientation.

Adaptability is needed to retrain and reorient oneself in competitive markets as new opportunities arise and previous job markets close. Self-knowledge is needed to stay on track with changing career fields, changing interests, and personal values. With change being such a constant in modern society, one must follow a development program to promote optimal growth and interpersonal skills.

Moreover, in addition to adaptability and self-knowledge, market analysis skills are needed to target and exploit select opportunities in one's primary or secondary career. Such skills may be needed to "pave the pathway" for a promotion, to remarket oneself in a down economy, or to make a career transition from one field to another or from a homemaker's role to a small business entrepreneur.

By thoroughly answering, "Where Am I Going?" and "How Will I Get There?" executives can avoid the trappings of Myths 2, 3, and 5. To know where one is going and how one plans to get there is an act of empowerment. Such power flows from a sense of direction that one is working to achieve a worthwhile purpose in his or her career and personal life.

An inherent benefit of career planning is the direction and meaningfulness that flows from the need/skill assessment and goal setting process. Done properly, the career planning process should result in increased adaptability and self-knowledge that can lead to greater personal or career opportunities.

The remaining myths, 1 and 4, can be overcome by taking a holistic approach to answering the questions, "What is success?" and "How Will I Achieve It?" Success, as shown in a review of the literature, is defined as "the achievement of worthwhile goals." Since the average worker makes from seven to ten job changes over a career lifetime, and averages two to three changes in occupations before retiring, one's definition of success must be broader than what the current job market promises. Other than employment, business, or financial goals, one's definition of success should encompass personal, family, training/development, health, and spiritual goals. Such a holistic approach to career planning and development offers a broader foundation to deal with the stresses or challenges that life often brings.

Adaptability, self-knowledge, and market analysis skills are desirable results of an effective career development plan. Such traits are essential factors in the attainment of personal and career success. Their application is as much a need in career planning as in related fields like strategic management and analysis. As with strategic management and analysis, career planning allows the participant to move initially from uncertainty to need/skill assessment and goal setting; secondly, from assessment/goal setting to the development phase; and thirdly, from development to increased personal and career achievement. This three-step growth process, as stated in Myth Four, is a logical outcome of effective career planning.

Career Development Strategies

There are many strategies and techniques available for expanding the frontiers of one's personal and/or career success. Any of the following strategies and techniques can be applied by managers, entrepreneurs, or small business owners who seek to enhance their career development opportunities:

Mentoring. Mentoring others and being mentored are essential processes in career development. Mentoring fosters a spirit of cooperation and guidance that promotes enhanced job performance, encouragement, and feedback.

Join a Support Group. The proverb, "in a multitude of counselors there is wisdom," expresses the value of a helpful support group. Listening to others and participating in a good support group promotes empathy, key interpersonal relationships, and the ability to network and reach out to others.

Read Inspirational Books. Reading one good, self-help book a month is a way to refresh and expand one's mind. Thirty minutes a day of inspirational reading from the Bible or such classics like How to Win Friends and Influence People, or How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, or Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business, by Dale Carnegie; or others such as The Greatest Salesman in the World, by Og Mandino, or Think and Grow Rich and Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude, by Napoleon Hill (and W. Clement Stone), or Life's Not Fair But God Is Good, or Success Is Never Ending, Failure Is Never Final, or Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do, by Robert Schuller, are several examples of excellent books for inspiration and career development. Selected magazines and periodicals should also include one's reading program for career and personal development.

Training/Development Programs. The Nightingale-Conant Corporation (7300 North Lehigh Avenue, Chicago, IL 60648, telephone 800-323-5552), the Fast Track Best Business Books Summarized on Tape (produced by MacMillan Book Clubs, Chester Avenue, Delran, NJ 08370, and Newbridge Communications, Inc., Cindel Drive, Delran, NJ 08370), and the Soundview Executive Book Summaries (5 Main Street, Bristol, VT 05443, telephone 802-453-4062) are three examples of companies that offer a variety of training/development programs in audio cassette and/or print form. Such programs are excellent sources for use in an organization's or individual's career development. Check with your company or public library to see what is available.

Get Out of Debt. Making a career change, starting a business, or being laid off, transferred, or discharged can be stressful experiences. To reduce the stress associated with such changes, set a timetable for getting out of debt and then start this month to build your own savings base (a "golden day reserve fund") which you can draw upon if you face a career change or employment layoff. Even if it takes years to get out of debt, the progress you make monthly in reducing debt and increasing savings can be very rewarding. Financial independence will never be yours as long as you are a servant to debt. Develop a plan to get out of debt and begin to implement it this month.

Follow Written Goals. Those who set and apply written goals in their career and job performance are more successful than those who do not. Use a day-timer, a weekly planner, or a personal calendar to measure your daily progress in achieving your goals. Based on your needs and skill assessment, set realistic, measurable, and progressive goals that will take you from where you are now to where you wish to be. (An excellent book for this activity is Getting Your Act Together: Goal Setting for Fun, Health and Profit, by George Morrisey, John Wiley & Sons, 1980, ISBN #0-471-08185-x).

Keep a Daily Diary for a Week. Record your daily activities, how you use your time, with whom you interact, how often, and with what results. Make your entries in your diary every hour or two to ensure that the information is complete, accurate, and representative of your day. Do not wait more than two hours between entries. If you miss a day or two due to illness or other reasons, record the same day(s) next week so you have a representative sample for one week of your day-to-day activities.

Once you have completed a week (or so) of your daily diary, you can review it to learn about yourself. For example, you'll discover how you use and waste your time, what activities you most and least enjoy, what challenges you face at work and elsewhere, with whom you interact and how often, and what type of problems, concerns, and issues you face daily. This information is helpful in setting development goals, assessing needs and priorities, and making career changes. (For samples of the 24-hour diary format, refer to the book Self Assessment and Career Development, 3rd edition, by James G. Clawson, John P. Kotter, Victor A. Faux, and Charles C. McArthur, Prentice-Hall, 1992).

Maintain a Success Journal. Journalizing can be of prime benefit for improving self-esteem, introspective skills, or reduction of job-related stress. The "I ACT Successful Journal" was designed by the author to help clients express their primary issues, activities, concerns, and time use practices. Those who keep an "I ACT Successful Journal" have found it to be helpful in increasing their performance, communicative, and introspective skills and decision-making ability. A secondary benefit of keeping a daily success journal is the increased discipline that comes from completing the process. It, furthermore, provides individuals with a much needed sounding board for learning to express themselves better.

Retain a Qualified Career Counselor. Considering the significant time, money, talent, and energy that can be wasted with poor career choices, it is wise to consider retaining the services of a qualified career counselor to assist you in your career decisions. Seek a counselor who is well trained in business or your specific career field, who you find to be personable, easy to relate to, and who specializes in career planning. It is helpful to have objective advice and information on important decisions you face in business, family, and financial matters. Also, a qualified career counselor can provide generous assistance and direction in preparing your comprehensive career development plan. Think of this person as a coach you are hiring to help you win the "championship playoffs" of your career.

These strategies and techniques can help expand the frontiers of your personal and career success. When these strategies are combined with the recommendations of a good mentor, support group, and/or career counselor, the possibilities for enhancing one's career success improve.

Jay Zajas, Ph.D., C.M., is a senior management partner with Corporate Management Counsellors in Georgetown, TX.
COPYRIGHT 1993 University of Memphis
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Career Development
Author:Zajas, Jay
Publication:Business Perspectives
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Words:3073
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