Over the course of my professional life, I made good and bad decisions that significantly impacted my career. Most of my good decisions were the result of what I learned from prior experiences, the influence of good managers, and advice from trusted co-workers & friends. Most of my bad decisions were the result of a lack of business acumen, naivety to the politics of Corporate America, and failure to receive constructive criticism. It took several years for me to figure out that my work environment wasn’t going to change to suit my wishes. I needed to change.
Below are just a few of my career blunders.
- Failure to demonstrate leadership – Leadership is an important attribute that demonstrates the ability to guide and direct a group. Early on in my career, I failed to take on leadership opportunities or speak up on various topics within project teams. As a result, I was viewed as a shy employee who lacked the fortitude to lead teams. I noticed coworkers who had started their careers with me were quickly moving up the corporate ladder as my growth opportunities remained stagnant. When I compared their skills to mine, our educational qualifications were similar. The difference was that they had clearly demonstrated leadership skills in their daily interactions with management.
- I soon realized that I needed to make an effort to demonstrate leadership. Consequently, I began assuming leadership roles on various project teams. Although I was somewhat introverted, I intentionally discussed topics in meetings to show my engagement and knowledge. Lastly, I let my manager know that I was interested in opportunities that strengthened my leadership skills. Doing these things helped resuscitate my career development and enabled me to transition into leadership roles within the organization.
- Failure to work as a supportive Team Member – While highlighting individual skills and knowledge are very important, it is equally important to work as a supportive team member. Teamwork encourages cross-functional input that is essential to project success. One of the mistakes I used to make was failing to assist coworkers on projects when asked. My excuse? I always had too much work to do. Naturally, this didn’t endear me to my coworkers, and you can take a guess as to whether they reciprocated and helped me when I needed it. As I look back on those days, I realized that no matter how much work I had to do, I always had an opportunity to assist my team in some manner. Even small, sincere efforts demonstrate teamwork and support, and actions like these are what people remember when you ask for help with a critical project.
- Failure to diversify skills and abilities – It’s good to be proficient in a specialized area. However, if you fail to diversify your skill set, you limit opportunities for growth and career advancement. After graduating from college, I worked as an Industrial Engineer doing tasks such as time and motion studies, production management, and quality assurance. While these were great skills to have, I knew that I didn’t want to continue doing these tasks long term. As a result, I sought out training opportunities to diversify my skill-set so that I would be considered for other roles. I was trained and certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt, which opened up roles for me in Human Resources, Healthcare, Market Research, and Education.
- Failure to accept constructive criticism – Constructive criticism can be difficult to receive, but it provides useful insight into opportunity areas. For years, I was never able to receive constructive criticism without becoming defensive. Before the feedback was given in its entirely, I was already thinking about my rebuttal. As a result, I missed out on a great opportunity to grow and develop professionally and personally. Luckily, a manager explained to me that he wasn’t giving feedback to be critical, but to ensure that I was successful in my role. This feedback was eye-opening for me. Since that discussion, I resist the urge to be defensive when someone gives me constructive criticism. I listen to determine how the feedback can be used for growth and development.
I didn’t always make the best decisions in my career. But I was committed to learning from my mistakes and making better decisions to make my career successful. As a result, I’m now a Corporate Director of Process Excellence, who leads employees through a systematic continuous improvement method, and a Certified Life Purpose Coach® who coaches and mentors individuals to achieve their personal and career goals.
Are you making any of these career blunders? What can you do differently to ensure career success?