It’s probably a fair assumption that most of us want to be successful at work. We want to do well. If there’s a preferred group or favored clique that gets special things, we’d like to be in it. If there’s a little “club” of people who get all the best opportunities, we’d like to be part of it. And if there’s gold-plated career development offered to the “worthy ones”, we’d like to be one of the “worthy ones.”
Traditionally, you had to rely on your employer for that honor. Even as you look around most workplaces today, you’ll still see people and groups who get special or privileged treatment from management – for reasons varying from excellent to very bad. Almost all workplaces have islands of opportunity; favored and disfavored people; resourced and non-resourced areas; selected and non-selected tribes. And for many, this already-excluding system seems to be getting worse.
But like the eight-ninths of the iceberg that hides beneath the surface, there’s more going on.
What’s actually happening is that, as people spend less and less time in one organization, employers simply can’t afford to develop most peoples’ careers in the way that they used to. There has never been less resource for organization-wide career development. Those gold-plated, “favored” career resources are being offered to fewer and fewer people in more and more specialized areas. All in all, you can easily end up feeling like the last penguin left behind on an ever-shrinking iceberg.
Some overwhelmed employers today (remember, the changing environment can be as frustrating for them as it is for you) would much rather classify people into streams using completely scientifically-discredited “personality tests” – they might as well read tea-leaves – and then distribute the limited and decreasing development resources on that basis. If that’s your workplace, you might want to leave.
But most people will put up with that silliness, hope for the best, and cross their fingers that opportunity will knock on their door regardless. They’ll let themselves be classified by personality type and the work they happen to be doing now, by background and social standing, and by anything else that occurs to the higher-ups. They will allow their employer to define them completely. And then they’ll be quietly resentful when they are treated according to that definition.
It is absolutely vital in the new workplace that you do not let others define you. Never give up that right.
The good news is that you no longer need to be selected or anointed or defined in the right way by some high-up manager before you can get the opportunity you deserve. In the modern workplace, you can simply select yourself. And you deserve to be selected.
It is up to you to find the special opportunity you need, and then to make it happen. Finding the right kind of development that gets you where you want to be has never been easier, the choices have never been better, the need has never been greater, and the cavalry isn’t coming.
Start with research. Look for professional development – on the web and through networks – that is properly run by qualified people, that has a good name, that has excellent references which you can confirm through your own checking, and which has already probably helped people like you get to the kinds of places in your working life that you would dearly love to be. Don’t believe the hype from providers. Start with that by all means, but then do your own rigorous and diligent checking.
Also look for professional development that includes fabulous networking with the type of people who can help you get where you want to go. Education in itself is nowhere near enough. You will do much better with networks and contacts than you will with qualifications alone. There are plenty of unhappy, under-promoted, under-resourced people out there with advanced degrees.
After that, go and see your leadership and try to do a deal. Maybe they’ll pay for it. Maybe you have to pay for it, but they’ll adjust your hours or duties to fit. Maybe they’ll help with resources like books or the use of a car. Maybe they’ll laugh at you. But you have to try.
If you can’t make any kind of deal with your employer, see if there’s some professional development you can do that has no impact on your paying job. And if you can’t do that, adjust your settings and try again soon. Sometimes the time just isn’t right, and employers are not in a position to help you.
But what if your workplace consistently blocks you from opportunity that you need in order to get where you want to go in life and work? Well, that’s when you keep your current position for now, but start aggressively networking in off-hours to get a job somewhere more friendly to your needs.
The alternative in today’s workplace is to become an accidental tourist, going nowhere you want to go. One day soon you’ll look at your 55-year-old face in the bathroom mirror and think “Oh no.”
A lot of professional development providers are still on the old model, dealing direct with big companies or agencies and hoping to land big deals. But many providers have woken up, offering development in small, digestible, affordable chunks to people who want to take charge of their own careers. Look for these providers, and look for people who really want to help you.
Never let others define you. Select yourself. Take charge today.
On the one hand, marketing is cheesy. On the other, I do run a training company for a living, and I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I gave this advice while doing nothing about it myself. So for what it’s worth, yes, we do offer a professional leadership development program that is specifically designed for individual people who want to take charge of their future. It’s cheap, fast, local, and yet is the same world-class training offered to fast-track groups at places like Pfizer and the State Department. If you want somewhere to start on your search, take a look here.