Build your career with teamwork, diverse skills

By Prabir Jha

As an HR thinker and practitioner, I have reflected often about many myths that surround careers. While everyone begins one’s life wanting a great career, not too many understand the concept beyond a mere progression of titles, rewards and corporate affiliation. While that is for another day, the myth that one alone can manage to build one’s career is very sharp.

Careers must be owned by each individual. However, it is not a solo 100-metre sprint that can be done, forget won, alone. Even the best of athletes cannot claim to have built their careers alone. Nor actors. Nor singers. Virtually, no one! Their careers cannot be a solo sport.

Spotter: Everyone — who had the potential — needed someone to spot their talent. It could be a teacher, a coach, a manager or a relative. But someone who saw a diamond when it could have passed off as just a stone. This may be by design or by serendipity. But we all need a spotter in our careers to give us the early push. If you are still feeling lost, can someone help notice you for something special in you?

Gardener: Once spotted, careers need to be tended. Like saplings, they need to be supported, watered, fertilised and even de-weeded. Sometimes, fast growth needs to be clipped. Certain angularities need to be corrected. Done right and in time, a gardener in our career sets the stage for its proliferation. They can be an interested and capable manager or a competent HR coach. Do you have such gardeners tending to your career?

Competitors and collaborators: A lot of imprinting that happens on careers depends on the kind of peers one builds a career with. As individuals, they may be competing rivals or collaborative friends — but they impact your growth trajectory. You pace your career based on the world around you. The quality of talent and work ethic in your teams and organisations have a deep imprint on how your career thinking shapes. It’s no surprise that when you work with the best, you push yourself to be the best. If you are surrounded by mediocrity, your brilliance, too, would eventually slip into complacency. Are your running mates the right ones to spar with you?

Crucial conversations: Personally, this has been the most impactful element in my career. A manager, coach or even a peer can play this role. Not many, however, want or can do this effectively. Very often, we hallucinate about our careers. Or we develop huge blind spots, more so if we have been reasonably successful. However, in the VUCA world the past is not always the predictor of future success. It is crucial to have these conversations once in a while, howsoever hurtful it may seem then. Careers are about impact and relevance, today and tomorrow. These are the tough mirrors to see ourselves in. They could prevent a smooth career from derailing, as the asks from oneself change significantly at different stages of a career. Have you had someone show you this mirror recently?

Brand advocates: In today’s world, one’s reputation precedes one’s resume. It is all about the brand credibility one has built. Consistent delivery across a range of pitches and in a variety of playing conditions is the best reputation to work at. But even more importantly, your softer dimensions of personality and leadership become the key career ingredients beyond mere functional skills. The best brand amplifiers for your career are those who have worked with you. What do all these various stakeholders typically speak of you? As they spread their wings across various organisations, a consistent positive reputation reinforces your career. A poor or bipolar reputation does create career roadblocks. Do you have the right brand ambassadors speaking up for you?

Diversity buoys: Careers today are always at risk. Industries are disrupting. Functions are being redefined. Workplaces are no longer static. It is imperative to keep broad-basing skills and experiences, learning new behavioural and leadership competencies. It is important to constantly search for newer crucibles of experience. We need more plurality of managers, organisations, functions, locations, maybe industries. It is then that we keep reinventing ourselves. Unfortunately, most people hire for past experience rather than the potential for new possibilities. Look for those possibilities. Get out of your comfort zones. Do something you have never done before. And you would possibly make yourself more relevant and your career more de-risked. But are you scouting for these diversity buoys? Do you even recognise them beyond the lens of your past experience?

Careers then are not guided by mere past education and experience. They are products beyond oneself. But it needs people to not confuse individual ownership of their careers with playing a solo sport. Careers are a team sport. Get your team act right and your career will not remain a game of Ludo.