When I first stepped into the corporate world, after (what seemed like) a lifetime in public education, I went from commanding a classroom and being a respected lead teacher to the lowest job title (aka "Specialist") at a Fortune 300 company.
I'm a believer in taking steps back in a career in order to progress, and this was the biggest one I'd ever done. As Sheryl Sandberg says in Lean In, a career is a jungle gym, and sometimes we have to move across and down before we can move up. This was a massive jump-down-two-rails-and-hop-three-spaces-to-the-right move.
My life at the new company was scary. No one knew me. I was out of my comfort zone. Speaking up in a meeting felt terrifying. I knew public education and how to get teenagers to score high on tests and listen to me. I didn't know Learning and Development for a company of 50,000 people.
But in less than 3 years, I found myself promoted three times.
It wasn't rocket science, but the promotions didn't happen by chance either. I took a purposeful approach, which is something many people don't understand is necessary. Instead of only relying on my manager to figure out when the right time was for me to be promoted, I made sure I was doing everything I could to show I should be considered. I was intentional, instead of running on auto-pilot and hoping for the best.
What did I do? It didn't happen over night, but these three steps changed my career:
I started believing I was an expert. Confidence is often a barrier to getting promoted. When we don't believe in ourselves, we're less likely to speak up in a meeting, or share that new idea, or ask for that stretch assignment. In order to start believing I was an expert, I started intentionally learning from other people. I got official teachers (like a mentor) and asked teammates to teach me.I also found unofficial teachers - colleagues who were successful and whose confidence I wanted to emulate. I would watch them in meetings and re-read emails to understand their approach. And on top of that, I started telling myself You are an expert at this! every day, because personal mantras are my jam (and they work).
I asked for feedback. It's hard for me to listen to constructive feedback. Because I have a dominant personality, I think my ideas are the best ideas all the time. And that every decision I make is the right decision (if you're feeling sorry for my husband right now I get it). It served me well in the classroom, but not so much in the corporate world. So I had to learn (and this took years you guys) that in order to grow, I needed to show others that I was open to receiving feedback and willing to act on it. Even if I didn't agree with it. Questions I used: What could I do differently next time? What didn't go well?
I learned self-awareness. See also: humility & grace. Yes, there are jerks who make it to the top. Leaders who steamroll everyone around them and step on others in order to make themselves look better. But that doesn't make it right. I committed to learning about myself - my habits, my personality, my work style - and understanding what skills I needed to work on in order to be my best self (instaed of complaining that no one was telling me what to work on). I was a chronic interrupter and had a habit of taking credit for project that multiple people worked on in order to feel good about myself. Those aren't characteristics I am proud to admit, and it took me a few years to be humble enough to recognize I needed to stop doing them, but once I did, I became a better colleague, which in turn helped me get noticed.
Being intentional about what it takes to get a promotion is important. You can make big career moves and take risks, but you can't run on autopilot and expect others to notice and reward you for it. Take charge of your development and career. That's never something you'll regret.
CLT Leads is a leadership consulting company that helps small businesses live up to their full potential. Find more at www.cltleads.com.