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Leadership Lab: Management Competencies

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Using Key Competencies to Manage Career Development and Direction

John Hally

What do you want to be when you grow up? This simple question is asked of children all of the time, but how many of us as adults ask ourselves the same question? It may sound a little strange at first, but we should be asking ourselves this question constantly. By asking ourselves this question, we have taken the first step at setting our personal vision, taking charge, and managing our professional careers.

"A person with no vision has no direction; a person with no direction is lost." -unknown

Visioning may be the first step, but there are other competencies that I believe are essential to managing and controlling the direction of a person’s professional career path. By leveraging these competencies, an individual will also be able to deal with change and manage the effects of change on one’s career. The key competencies I feel have the greatest impact on career development and change management are:

  • Visioning
  • Professionalism and Relationships
  • Self Direction
  • Flexibility
I will explore each of these competencies from this perspective.

Visioning is the first step to managing your career and the changes you may encounter. Without creating the long term goals that make up your professional vision, you will lack direction and ultimately not achieve your full potential. Many leadership experts believe it is vital for you to create you own vision and point out that if you do not, others will direct your professional career for you.

In order to create your professional vision you have to ask yourself key questions such as:
  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What technologies am I most interested in?
  • What are my professional strengths?
  • What are my professional weaknesses?
  • What do I see myself doing in 3/5/10 years?
The idea is to develop your vision and create goals associated within the vision. As you work to attain these goals you can effectively direct your career path. When change does happen, it will either be based on your work towards your goals resulting in a promotion or job change, or some other event that may be out of your control. Examples of these uncontrollable events are re-organizations, layoffs, company acquisitions or restructuring and the like. These uncontrolled events can be used as a point in time where you can make a decision based on your personal vision to accept the change or decide to go in a different direction. Ultimately there are always options no matter what type of change is encountered, but having a clear personal vision makes decision making during these potentially highly stressful situations easier.

Professionalism and Relationships
Professionalism and relationships are also very important in steering ones career. Once your vision is in place, focusing on how others view you professionally is the logical next step.

Being a professional is much more than holding title or position. It also is more than just having the competency to perform a job or task. There are many traits that make up being a professional, but one’s character is most important. It is what you put forth that everyone sees and can make or break relationships that you create both personally and professionally. Why is this important? The main reason is that you never know when you will need to call upon these relationships which can be crucial when managing your career.

If for instance you are in line for a promotion or a higher position with another employer, your character and professional traits will be scrutinized. Many times a person who is well respected within an organization will be considered or even selected for positions for which that person may not have all of the technical qualifications. Instead, that person may exhibit the traits that may assure decision makers of their consideration. With the right characteristics in place, technical skill weakness can be overcome. It could also be that you and your competition for the promotion share equal technical skill sets. This is where having exceptional professionalism and character can tip the scales in your favor.

Self Direction
One characteristic associated with professionalism is doing what you say you are going to do. In order to always adhere to this, you need to be able to focus on the tasks at hand and get things done. Effective self direction will get you there. One key piece to self direction is time management and it is essential to managing your career. Having your vision in place and establishing the goals is all for naught if you are unable to execute because of poor time management or motivation. The best way to start managing time effectively is to be proactive. By being proactive you are taking control of your established goals and subsequently driving you career.

Eliminating time wasters is also a great way to gain efficiency within your workday which can be used to work toward your goals. Key time wasters to avoid are:
  • Indecision
  • Procrastination
  • Poor Planning
  • Poor Prioritizing
Avoiding these time wasters can regain a surprising amount of time.

Personal flexibility is a very important competency to master in order to deal with change effectively and be able to direct your career path accordingly. Being able to adapt to any obstacles that present themselves to you along the way is key in order to continue to reach your goals and continue with the vision you have set for yourself. The hardest issue to deal with during times of change in your career is the fears that are conjured up, both rational and irrational. It’s at this point that the work you have invested in setting your vision and goals for your career will help the most. The most obvious fear is that of the unknown. By having your vision and goals in place, it takes some of the unknown out of the equation and, in effect, lessens the fears generated by any events that have taken place.

Anticipating change is also important. Change is inevitable, and being able to identify change early on allows you to make decisions and modify goals accordingly. If for instance your vision is to be a Network Security Architect within your present company, you would want to know what the long range company plans are in order to align your goals to put you in the best possible position for success. It doesn’t make any sense to educate yourself in the intricacies of one vendor’s network security solutions if your present company is aligning itself with another vendor. What happens if your company acquires another company and its network architecture is heterogeneous? In this case, it may make sense to stay vendor-agnostic and develop the conceptual skills you have identified as critical to meet your goals, thus staying as flexible as possible. As an example, knowing how firewalls work at the protocol level allows you to adapt to whatever solution is eventually decided upon.

Being aware of how your present employer is doing and what new products or offerings are on the horizon is a good way to anticipate what your role may be or opportunities that may become available to you. Always keep an eye on company roadmaps and milestones for this type of information. If there are no explicit plans or roadmaps available to you, keep an eye on the marketing department and the corporate website. These areas can be a good barometer of things to come.

By focusing on and mastering the key competencies of visioning, professionalism and relationships, self direction, and flexibility, a person can effectively manage his or her professional career. Change is inevitable and can come in many forms, but mastering these competencies creates an overall career strategy that makes overcoming any change easier. This strategy will help you stay the course in attaining the goals that you have set no matter what career challenge has been presented.