Inherent in the definition of career is the opportunity to progress. “Getting ahead” was my father’s way of saying it. Notwithstanding politics, nowhere is the notion of upward mobility more prevalent than in the world of business. More than ever, people are seeking mentors, “branding” themselves and carefully managing their careers in order to dash up that quintessential corporate ladder.
So what is wrong with managing your career? Firstly, there is nothing wrong with ambition; nothing wrong with seeking more responsibility and nothing wrong with wanting a bigger paycheck. My beef is not the end point; it is the means to that end. Let’s be honest; at the heart of seeking out a mentor, personal branding and career management is one undeniable fact — IT IS ALL ABOUT YOU. I’d rather it be about us, about the team. Honorable career management must be anchored in the right values.
Mentoring is a wonderful idea if it is based on helping individuals improve themselves so they become better at getting the job done. A coach or mentor’s advice may serve to overcome personal weaknesses; it may have to do with leadership, how to deal with an impossible boss or a toxic corporate culture. But if mentoring turns to “here’s a way you can stand out from the others”, your mentor is doing you and your company a disservice. Twenty years ago I witnessed scads of managers at Kraft Foods prioritizing career management over business management. It was an epidemic within Kraft. Those who did it well rose to senior positions. These skilled politicians set the example for others, especially their subordinates. You can imagine the culture that kind of behavior created. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that this rampant practice has not been stamped out.
Everyone should take their career seriously, but they shouldn’t be doing it on a daily or hourly basis at the expense of the greater good of the organization. When you consider making a suggestion or a decision in the presence of a senior executive, do you always consider its impact on your career? If you do, you need to reassess your values and ethics. If you work for a company where the political animals are rewarded with promotions, you should get the hell out of that company rather become one of them. You owe it to yourself. Stop managing your career and start managing the business.
Remember, business like life is a journey, not a destination. Fortunately, there are a lot of fine companies out there who will gladly reward for a job well done by a conscientious team player. When all is said and done, isn’t this the way you want to play the game of life?