Adam, a client of mine, recently shared with me the struggles of his perceived career path. He’d just had their annual development conversation with his supervisor and was told the areas he should focus on in order to continue to progress in his discipline. The problem is that he’s not sure he wants to continue in this discipline. So he finds himself at a crossroads: Does he follow the prescribed career path or carve his own? I faced a similar decision point early in my career, so I shared my story with him.
I’d spent a handful of years continuing to learn and grow in various operations roles and the organization I worked for was grooming me for greater and greater operations leadership positions. But a critical leadership incident helped me to see that my strengths and passions were more aligned with Human Resources than Operations. I came to understand that Human Resources, done well, can have a far broader influence on the organization as a whole than most any operations position (shy of the C-suite).
With this knowledge, I approached Human Resources to determine how I might “make the switch.” How would I get off the Operations career path and get onto the HR career path? Their initial response was to try and dissuade me. They’d been privy to conversations about my “potential” and knew the trajectory senior leadership had in mind for me. I took their perspective to heart and decided to have a conversation with the General Manager. As I laid out for her my assessment of my strengths and passions and my views on the critical role Human Resources could play in the overall health of the organization, she understood that I’d thought this through and believed that I would be of more benefit to the company in this discipline.
While these conversations were occurring in the organization, I was also dealing with friends and family who couldn’t understand why I would take a “leap” backward in my career. In order to make this transition, I would need to join the two-person HR department as the junior person and learn from the ground up. They viewed my career through the lens of title, authority, and salary. I viewed my career through the lens of impact. My role was not to make them comfortable with my choice, simply to be certain that I was comfortable with it.
As I shared this story with Adam, I reminded him that he is the protagonist of his life. Only he can decide what is important to him. While he can take feedback, perspective, and insights from those around him (supervisors, mentors, friends, and family), ultimately, he’ll need to discern what information most resonates with him.
One place to start would be to take some time to reflect on his strengths and passion. When has he felt the most engaged? The most challenged? What types of work, teams, and/or managers bring out the best in him? How might he see the organization leveraging these attributes? Said differently, what’s the win/win? This information can be used to open a dialogue with his supervisor that has Adam taking a leadership position in managing his own career.