Agility – The Key to Building a Successful Career

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FountainBlue’s March 15 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Agility – The Key to Building a Successful Career. Below are notes from the conversation.

We were fortunate to have a wide range of perspectives on our panel, and that our panelists shared their insights, suggestions and advice with poignant humor and candor. They speak from their deep experience immersed in high tech, challenged by the needs at both work and home, and making tough choices, for themselves and for their careers. There are vast differences in education, experience and perspectives, yet they had many things in common.

  • They made tough, proactive choices all along their career path, some responding to the needs of others around them. They made the best of each of the choices they made, whether they proactively made them or not, and leveraged their successes to position themselves for the next move.
  • They are business and tech savvy, but more importantly people-focused and leverage each of these strengths to deliver value, no matter what their role or title was.
  • They are self-aware professionals who know and leverage their strengths and successes and consistently deliver value for their team and organization.
  • They are great relationship-builders and proactive networkers and strategically manage their careers leveraging relationships and connections (in a good, non-direct, non-manipulative way).
  • They are positive, energetic leaders and lifelong learners who embrace change and encourage and empower those around them to do the same.

To our panelists, career agility is just part of the new way we work: we don’t expect to have a full time job throughout our career. Changes in role, company, industry are a given for today’s worker; your career path would be more like a EuroPass – unlimited travel for a specified period of time, than a traditional train ticket where you go from Point A to Point B with perhaps a transfer or two along the way. As such, proactively managing your career with agility – strength, flexibility, persistence, resilience – will serve you well.

Our panelists advise that you first know what your strengths and passions and skills are, and then evaluate what the needs in the market are. If you start with your strengths and abilities and understand the opportunities, you can at times create your own role, particularly if you are energetic, intelligent and flexible enough to do so proactively.

Everyone who wants to proactively manage her/his career must be seen as someone competent, and easy-to-work with, with a track record for delivering results. Sometimes we get in our own way when we are *too* thorough about doing a job well, so follow the 80-20 rule if someone tells you things like ‘work smarter’, ‘be more strategic’.

Strategically managing your career means delivering results on each of your projects, understanding and anticipating market trends and their implications, and connecting with the right people for the right opportunity for you. Today’s successful professional plans for each transition, and positions him/herself for each new opportunity, embracing the change and learnings which come with the new territory. Their focus is not necessarily on increasingly higher job titles, but more on the larger impact of each new role and opportunity.

Consciously choosing which projects you work on and who you report to will also help you raise the bar for yourself, and support your career trajectory. Connecting with the right people and projects are especially important if you’re getting into a new area/role/company/industry, but note that the stakes are higher here, so it’s even more important that you perform well and build relationships well, if you elect that higher visibility.

Work hand-in-hand with and consciously choose your project/role/boss so you can proactively embrace work you can do and love well. Insist to yourself that you love what you do, and make changes in your role to make it a job you really want and love. Do the same for those who work with or for you. Not only is it more fun to work with passionate, effective people, but you would be more likely to get things done, and done well.

Regardless of what level you work at and whom you work for, have the confidence to take a seat at the table, and share your perspectives and insights. Sometimes it’s a gender thing – men might be more comfortable making it up or applying for jobs where they are not fully qualified. So if more women were to have the confidence to make it up as we go, especially in areas where nobody has the answers, there will be more success stories in many more areas, just because more women would be trying!

Our panelists recognize that life happens, and we make career choices to address the needs of our loved ones. But their philosophy is that this is a given, and they would encourage us to get back on track with your career once the home front is more stable. The work-choice is hard at times, especially when the children say or do something to unwittingly touch our guilt hot buttons. But the larger picture is that as career professionals, we are making a conscious, proactive choice, and second-guessing our own choices may undermine our drive and confidence. Our panelists didn’t say that career comes before children, but they did say don’t be hard on yourself for the choices you made, don’t judge others for the choices they made, and focus on instilling the love and values in your children and they will understand and support you.

One of the tips our panelists shared is to actively engage in community activities as a leader. Benefits of participation included making a difference, learning new skills, building connections, and serving a higher purpose.

The bottom line from this discussion is that you are in charge of your career, so empower yourself to manage it well, enlisting the help of others around you. And agility is a choice you can make at every crossroads in your career. It is your uncomfortable stretch goal, your other-than-what-you’ve-done-before option. It will be what will distinguish you from others around you, and increasingly more so in the new economy.

Resources:

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We would like to thank and acknowledge the speakers for FountainBlue’s March 15 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Agility – The Key to Building a Successful Career:

Facilitator Christy Tonge, Executive Coach & Organizational Consultant, Leadership Expedition Partners

Panelist Diane Bisgeier, Program Manager, WebFWD Open Innovation Program, Mozilla Corporation

Panelist Roli Saxena, Global Director Product Consulting and Customer Success, LinkedIn

Panelist Barbara Williams, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Oracle

Panelist Kirsten Wolberg, VP, Technology, PayPal

Please join us also in thanking our gracious hosts at eBay.

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