A short while ago I received the best gift. I was talking with a team member from a prior client of mine with whom I forged a friendship over the two and half years I worked on a major project with them – Rachel. I had already been working with the client team for a few months when Rachel joined their organization as an employee – the team’s Executive Administrative Assistant. We were catching up on each other’s news, and she shared with me that she had just been offered a new position on the team in one of their open Business Analyst/Project Manager (BA/PM) slots. I shouted with joy and told her if I were with her in person I would be hugging her and dancing the jig with her in celebration. There is no better gift from a friend than sharing their great news and accomplishments.
I reminded Rachel how back in the summer of 2011 we sat drinking coffee together at Starbucks one day, talking about her strengths, her capabilities and interests, and her desire to further her career, build her leadership skills and grow beyond an Administrative Assistant role into a BA/PM role. Having seen her stellar work product, her analytical capabilities, and her motivation and commitment many times, I fully believed in her talent and her ability to travel this road. I always get excited when I can help other women achieve their career goals, and I was thrilled to support her in this quest.
I encouraged her to go back to school part-time to complete her college degree, to make her wishes known to those in leadership positions on the growing team, and to take on more responsibility and leadership activities that would start to cross the line from Executive Assistant to BA/PM in other people’s eyes to show she could play in that sandbox. She did all of those things, I took any opportunity there was to involve her in projects where she could get more visibility while I was at the client. Now, here we are, celebrating her accomplishment of being offered this new position. Now we can celebrate her next phase of her career journey as she learns everything she possibly can in this new role and starts to contribute to the team and the organization in an entirely new leadership capacity.
After we hung up the phone, I couldn’t help but reflect on some of the key factors that I believe contributed to Rachel’s development and success. I would like to share these with all the women out there who are continuing to strive to move themselves and others upward and forward in their careers.
- State your goals out loud to yourself and to a core group of people you regard as key stakeholders in your career progression. It is so important to articulate to yourself and to others where you want to go. It helps you make decisions as you assess whether certain assignments and opportunities are aligned with your target direction. It also helps others help you as they know how to position you and your work to aid you in this trajectory. By you continuing to voice your commitment to this goal, it also keeps you and them committed to this outcome.
- Believe in yourself and find others to surround you that believe in you. It is very hard to do things alone. It is so much easier to do things with the support of your key stakeholders. First and foremost you have to believe in yourself, and hang on to that belief even when the going gets tough. But major career moves almost never happen solely due to your plugging away alone. Having others believe in you, advocate for you, and support you in those moments when you may have some whispers of self-doubt, is key to staying the course.
- Look for the opportunity to grow from within your current organization, but if that doesn’t exist, be brave enough to move elsewhere. I admire those organizations that see the value and richness in developing from within their ranks. If you are part of such an organization, embrace it, and remember to always provide such opportunities to others just as they have been provided to you. There are, unfortunately, many organizations that do not embrace that philosophy. Instead they box people in with labels and categories that provide no opportunity to flex and change. If that is the culture you find yourself in, and you have made your best efforts there with no success, then don’t be afraid to make a move. Sometimes you have to make that change to be seen in a new light. Once there, remember the hardship of not having that support, and again remember to help others along in their journey.
- Work hard, very hard, and put in that extra effort to show others YES I CAN DO THIS TOO! Take on that extra project or two above your current responsibilities, be up for a challenge, open yourself up like a sponge to learn from others that are skilled in the area you are working your way towards. As you do those things, and as show your ability to be successful in this new arena, work with others to have your turn in the spotlight so people can know you did that piece of work and you can have your chance to shine and to prove yourself.
Rachel did all of these things plus others over the last year and a half, and now we can celebrate this huge accomplishment and success of hers. She knows she is on the start of a new journey, a new phase in her career. While there will be many others in the course of her career in the years ahead, it was important and meaningful to take some time to celebrate with her, and to reflect on these key factors that I truly believed helped her along the way. So, to my friend Rachel and to every other ‘Rachel’ out there, state your goals out loud, believe in yourself, look for the opportunity, and put in that extra effort. You will accomplish your goals. Go Rachel!