Many leaders have worn the “guidance counselor” hat, informally sketching out a career path for a wide-eyed employee across their table. While this can be a very effective tool to set expectations and paint a long-term vision, leaders might still find the recipient of the casual “napkin talk” back in their office months later, frustrated by the lack of a true, certain path. “What’s my next step?,” “I’m not sure where I see myself in a few years,” and “What am I working towards?” are concerns even the best employees sometimes consider.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to set plans completely in stone and maintain a productive work environment. For example, as leaders, we can’t promise a promotion or lofty pay increase for every team member -- there are simply too many variables, like an unpredictable economic environment, future revenues, individuals’ future performance, etc. Anything is possible in business.
The beautiful thing about uncertainty, though, is that when there’s no finished script, you can change the way the movie ends. We have the power to influence the world; the world doesn’t just influence us. It's a lesson that doesn't always come easy. For those in search of certainty in business, here are six pieces of advice:
1. Get the winning attitude now.
For career-minded individuals who work in an environment where their future isn’t cemented, it’s understandably challenging to stay 100 percent mentally engaged. However, I’ve always found that when you wait for opportunities to present themselves before you commit, those opportunities are a lot less likely to surface. In fact, the sheer process of dedicating your all and having a winning attitude can cause others to take notice. It may even push leaders to seek other opportunities that fit your ability, potentially accelerating your career.
2. Work on yourself.
Even the most successful companies have a laundry list of things they are seeking to improve. Every organization has pain points and challenges. Instead of focusing your attention on the imperfections of the company you work for and your frustrations over the lack of perceived opportunities, direct your focus inward. Growing personally and further developing your skills will prepare you for whatever is to come.
3. Believe in where you are.
Do you believe in your company and its leadership? Do you believe those you report to have your best interests in mind? If the answer is yes to both, half the battle is won-- you’re in a place where your efforts can be rewarded. It doesn’t mean anything’s guaranteed. You’ll still be taking a calculated risk, but a fighting chance is all you can ask for. If the answer to either of the questions is no, then it’s probably time for a heart to heart with your superior to get on the same page, or to potentially find a company you can believe in.
Related: Do You Believe in Magic? Don't.
4. State your intentions.
Share your professional goals with your leaders. They are the ones equipped to guide you into the best position for advancement. What’s more, by stating your intentions clearly, they are less likely to misread your ambitions.
5. Ask questions.
As my career has developed, I’m reminded more and more about what I don’t know and need to learn. Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to surround myself with lots of terrific peers and leaders who have patiently and generously fielded my countless questions. Perhaps it’s because of my relentless curiosity that now, as a leader, I find myself placing stock in those who ask insightful, growth-related questions. Never miss a chance to take advantage of the wisdom of others.
6. Stay the course.
Even if you truly apply the five points above, your career won’t skyrocket tomorrow. All good things take time to develop, including your career. Keep focused, and remember that new opportunities have a way of presenting themselves at the right time.