Take 5: How to Take Charge of Your Professional Development
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Careers Jan 2, 2019

Take 5: How to Take Charge of Your Professional Development

Kellogg faculty offer advice for every stage of your career.

mentor and protege discuss careers

Yevgenia Nayberg

Advancing in your career isn’t generally something that just happens. You have to strategize.

Here is a sampling of advice from Kellogg faculty to help you develop professionally, no matter where you are in your career.

1. How to Build Influence in an Organization

Think you need direct reports to have sway in an organization? Think again.

According to management and organizations professor William Ocasio, power in the workplace is about influence, not control. “It’s not about coercing people, but about mobilizing political support,” he says. After all, no one can realize their goals without a broad support base.

To that end, he offers some strategies for gaining and using political capital.

Build reputational capital early, he says. A good reputation generates endorsements, support, and opportunities. To that end, Ocasio recommends seeking out first assignments that are likely to end in success.

Additionally, make sure you can read your organization’s culture. Not all statuses, affiliations, or degrees are viewed the same way in all settings. Having a PhD, for example, might be viewed as a plus in one company but undesirably “pie-in-the-sky” in another, so choose to advertise yourself accordingly.

2. Learn to Negotiate Better

Plum assignments and promotions are rarely handed out from on high. One way to ensure you get the opportunities you deserve is to learn to negotiate better. Victoria Medvec, a professor of management and organizations, offers some time-tested strategies.

To start with, be prepared. It’s not enough to be able to present your own skills and experience—you also need to think through the other side’s needs. How can you advance your employer’s agenda while still getting what you want?

Then, lead the discussion. Contrary to widespread perception, research has found that people who make the first offer get better outcomes. “You will gain an advantage by creating the starting point, putting the right issues on the table, and being the one who frames the rationale,” Medvec says.

And offer alternatives. Having three potential plans to hand, rather than just one, makes it more likely that you’ll get what you want.

3. Learn by Being a Mentor

For those further along in their careers, an often overlooked development tool is becoming a mentor.

While it may seem like mentorship benefits only the protégé, the mentor stands to learn from the relationship, too, explains Diane Brink. Brink served as IBM’s Chief Marketing Officer for Global Technology Services and now works as a consultant. She is also a senior fellow and adjunct professor at Kellogg.

Brink has found that mentoring provides insights into both an organization’s political environment and the effectiveness of an organization in communicating strategy to employees at different levels.

“I might think it’s pretty clear from my seat, but then I might have a [mentoring] conversation and begin to appreciate the fact that, wow, this individual missed this aspect of the strategy,” she says. “That’s an important learning, because it helps me to be better at understanding what we need to do to make sure we’ve got the strategy in place.”

And there are skills to be learned, too. For example, Brink recently mentored a young woman who is a “digital native” with cutting-edge social and digital marketing skills. This relationship helped Brink keep current in a quickly evolving field.

“There was no way, in my role, that I could continue to stay apprised of all the new tools and techniques and applications,” she says. “Just by talking with her, it allowed me to stay current in an area that was interesting to me and essential to my role.”

4. You’ve Climbed the Corporate Ladder. What’s Next?

For some, rising as far as you want in your given career is wonderful. But it’s not the end of the road.

Perhaps you’re ready for a “second act”—a new professional phase during which you take the skills and experience you’ve worked so hard to gain, and apply them in the social or educational arena.

Take clinical assistant professor Ellen Taaffe, who spent more than 25 years in brand marketing before joining the Kellogg faculty, becoming an executive leadership coach, and serving on two corporate boards.

She offers advice for anyone interested in creating a powerful and satisfying second act of their own.

First, find confidence in your story, she says. Reflect on the larger narrative that got you to this point—in Taaffe’s words, “the thread that cuts across all your past experiences and explains who you are.”

And leaving one particular professional arena does not mean you should let your contacts there languish. Instead, keep cultivating your network. It will continue to open doors for you, she says, particularly when it comes to joining corporate boards.

Finally, be ready to adapt. Creating a second act is a significant change and often involves a lot of learning.

“Are you ready to be a novice?” Taaffe asks. “The clearer you are about being ready for this move, the more successful you’ll be.”

5. Self-Reflection Can Make You a Better Leader

Let’s say you’ve used your political capital and negotiating skills to land your dream job. There’s still plenty of room for growth.

One key way to achieve this is through daily self-reflection, according to clinical professor of strategy Harry Kraemer.

For 37 years, Kraemer—the former CEO of multibillion-dollar healthcare company Baxter International—has taken time each evening for a short period of self-reflection. That, he says, is how he avoided “running around like a chicken with his head cut off” while managing 52,000 employees.

Self-reflection is a terrific tool for defining priorities and holding oneself accountable to them, he says. It also allows leaders to ward off disasters by planning for every possible outcome and to build stronger teams by encouraging reflection in others.

Kraemer offers the following questions as potential prompts:

What did I say I was going to do today in all dimensions of my life?
What did I actually do today?
What am I proud of?
What am I not proud of?
How did I lead people?
How did I follow people?
If I lived today over again, what would I have done differently?
If I have tomorrow (and I am acutely aware that someday I won’t), based on what I do today, what will I do tomorrow in all dimensions of my life?

Featured Faculty

Diane Brink

Senior Fellow and Adjunct Professor within the Kellogg Markets & Customers Initiative

Harry M. Kraemer

Clinical Professor of Strategy

Victoria Medvec

Adeline Barry Davee Professor of Management & Organizations

William Ocasio

John L. and Helen Kellogg Professor of Management & Organizations

Ellen Taaffe

Clinical Assistant Professor of Leadership

About the Writer

Anne Ford is a freelance writer based in Evanston, Illinois.

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