Be the architect of your own career

Last Updated 19 April 2022, 09:38 IST

During our scholastic years, our responsibilities and goals are clearly delineated. While we progress from one class to the next, we also receive feedback in terms of grades that indicate whether we are on track and meeting expectations.

However, once we enter the world of work, gauging our progress becomes more nebulous and less linear. One colleague may rise gradually through the corporate ranks within the same firm, while another lunges and leaps across many rungs and companies in just a few short years. Yet another peer may turn in her papers to found her own start-up, while your boss also may quit in order to enter the social sector. Just witnessing all the myriad changes around can be dizzying. How do you decide what you should do next? How can you manage your own career?

The pioneer of modern management, Peter Drucker, emphasises in an article titled Managing Oneself, in a 1999 edition of Harvard Business Review, the importance of learning to “manage ourselves” career-wise. Foremost, we need to identify our strengths because great careers can be built on them. However, he rues that most people aren’t necessarily accurate at pinpointing their capabilities and affinities. Drucker suggests that we perform “feedback analysis,” a practice he has had for decades, to zero in on his own strengths.

Analyse the strengths, weaknesses

Basically, feedback analysis involves writing down your expectations whenever you make a significant decision or take a crucial action at work. Then, after nine months until a year, compare the actual outcome to what you had hoped you would achieve. So, within a span of two or three years, you will be able to ascertain your strengths and areas that are holding you back.

Drucker also sagely advises you to focus on and hone your strengths so that you may realise your potential at work. While you may remedy your weaknesses, don’t waste too much time toiling over “low competence” capacities as they are unlikely to catapult you to success.

Next, you need to know and understand yourself at a deeper level. This involves introspecting and reflecting on your values, goals and purpose. You need to ask yourself if your organisation's goals align with your ethical outlook. If there is a mismatch, it is better you change your job or career as it will only end in disappointment and frustration.

Further, you may cultivate your metacognitive awareness wherein you become more attuned to how your mental faculties operate. Do you work best alone or with a group? Do you prefer leading or being part of a team? Are you comfortable taking high-stakes decisions under duress or are you better at advising others without being a key player? Do you feel more energised working for a large corporation or a smaller outfit?

Then you need to examine whether your current job meshes with your values, capitalises on your strengths and allows you to work in ways that maximise your contribution. If the fit is right in all these three dimensions, Drucker believes that “an ordinary person” can morph into “an outstanding performer.”

Maintaining relationships

In addition to managing various facets of yourself, you need to factor in your relationships with coworkers if you want to truly succeed in the workplace. Even if you work in a silo, you will be more effective if you understand your coworkers. And, this entails getting to know their strengths, work preferences and values.

While leaders need to get to know their teams so that everyone makes meaningful contributions, individuals who are conversant with and can adapt to their boss’ style of functioning are more likely to thrive. To get acquainted with your coworkers, take the initiative to ask them about their strengths, preferences and values, and don’t be shy to discuss your skillsets and predilections as well.

Drucker advocates taking a proactive role in shaping your career trajectory. Don’t expect your colleagues, boss or company to sculpt your career for you. Instead, ask yourself, how and in which areas you can contribute to making a discernible difference. Again, pick goals that are challenging enough to stretch but not break you. Ensure that your aims are meaningful and resonate with you. Ideally, the results you hope to achieve should be measurable or at least visible to you and others. For knowledge workers, Drucker emphasises that each person is their “own chief executive officer.”

(Published 19 April 2022, 09:33 IST)

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