“Optimistic people play a disproportionate role in shaping our lives. Their decisions make a difference; they are inventors, entrepreneurs, political and military leaders — not average people. They got to where they are by seeking challenges and taking risks.”
Great leaders have clear vision. Not only what is in front of them. They stay alert to potential opportunities on their right and left.
While I have often been too focused on the path straight ahead, my greatest experiences were blessed when I made a turn.
My left turns have turned out to be right.
As we enter the holiday season, the question we often reflect on with family members and friends is “what am I going to do when I grow up?” The choice we face is do we stay the course or stray off course.
Staying on course means proceeding straight ahead — a comfortable, steady path with few surprises. We can resign ourselves to believe our imperfect career is good enough.
Straying off course, taking a few left turns, is where our skill sets and behaviors are challenged. For example, taking on a new role beyond our expertise. Deciding to become self-employed. Our turns enable us to discover the leader we are, and what is needed to become the leader we aspire to be.
Turning left we demonstrate the courage to act. Proceeding ahead driven by hope can leave us unfulfilled.
The left turns in my life have made me who I am today.
One of my major career turns was deciding to move from human resources to operations management. I was on a great path and really enjoyed being a HR Manager. What I realized in my staff role was how much I did not understand about the business. I had the option of staying the course or making a career change.
My transition to operations was humbling and gratifying. I had to reprove myself to a new set of people, learning the business from the ground up. My new world was learning how to follow, asking questions to deepen my growth as a leader.
My career turn proved to be a long-term investment. I developed a broader understanding of the organization, which benefited the company and myself. The outcomes were greater job satisfaction, increased productivity, and promotions to new responsibilities.
My new mindset also built my confidence to continue to take left turns — and encourage others to do the same. A single decision to change my career direction turned out to be right.
Three keys to straying off course:
Your Career GPS
As we travel in our vehicles, we set our GPS to move us straight ahead from point A to point B. Our career GPS requires us to evaluate the best path forward, without a clear destination or ETA. The path is a journey of turns that may not appear to be efficient yet are highly effective.
Peripheral vision is the ability to see straight ahead yet being alert to opportunities on your left and right. In your career, this requires greater awareness of the opportunities surrounding you. When we have our blinders on, professional growth can suffer.
Pick Up Strangers
We are taught to no pick up strangers — stranger danger. The truth is we limit our growth when we rely on what is familiar. We need new voices to challenge and change how we see the world. Relying on your current relationships can cause an echo chamber — when everything appears to be correct and comfortable. Strangers are the spice in developing your career — reach out to someone new.
The cruise control feature in our vehicles may ease our driving burden, yet we release control and are not allowed to make turns. Is your career or life on cruise control? What are you missing as you stay in your lane and gaze through the windshield. Turn the cruise switch off, move your perspective to a landscape view, and retake control. When you stray, you stay on course to where you need to be.
Leading Your Team
Here’s a helpful article on the six stages of career growth. This is excellent advice on moving from follower to leader.
Read to Lead
Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience — old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e-readers.
What I have been reading and is currently in my reading queue:
Surrender by Bono
Surrender is the story of the remarkable life Bono has lived. His path from humble roots to an international artist and humanitarian. He critically explores his growth as a leader through perseverance, reflection, and the role of faith in his development. His messages teach us to be concise and impactful – “Where you live should not determine whether you live, or whether you die.”
Jason Gay is the sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal. He blends humor and intellect in reflecting on the world we live in. I particularly enjoyed his thoughts on virtual work. “The distractions, after all, are what people miss most about the office — not the actual work, but the spaces in between, the diversions, the happenstances, and ‘soft work’ of interactions and gossip and going-away parties for coworkers we barely knew.”