Having consulted with a number of firms, I have noticed, almost without exception, the frantic activity of senior and middle management as they scurry from meeting to meeting, prepare presentations, work on budgets, hoping to get the best deal for their respective departments, write reports, attend or participate in road shows and generally answer questions and make minor decisions on a daily basis. This is particularly true of larger corporations, where departments attempt to work interdependently to achieve organisational objectives. Managers get sucked into a vortex of digital and meeting overload – there seems to be a perception that everyone needs to be involved in everything and “being seen to willingly participate” is helpful in the potential growth of your career. As a result, fatigued managers cry out for more help, further appointments or additional staff to assist them with the workload. Every evening, they get home exhausted – interestingly, perhaps not one step closer to growing their respective careers.

Many of the above managers are talented and gifted people, but find themselves “spinning their wheels” too often, working hard to get things done that make sense at the time, but which are not really bona fide contributions to the organisation’s strategic goals and even less to personal career goals. Clearly, “working hard” needs to be replaced with a “working smart” strategy – a shift in understanding and application of one’s energy to high leverage activities that produce both business results as well as building one’s reputation. “In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia” – Unknown.

Typically, career growth is based on two elements – reputation (over which you have total control) and opportunity (over which you have less control).

  • Reputation comes from your character and your competence – being trustworthy, a person of integrity, being proactive, decisive and focused, and being consistent in your leadership – all develop others’ perceptions of your character. They sense that you will not let them down, that you will keep confidences and that you will behave in keeping with the company values and tenets of the brand. Competence, on the other hand, relates to understanding one’s role, fulfilling and even exceeding the expectations that others have of it and seriously contributing to company goals. Competence and character work hand in hand to grow one’s reputation.
  • Opportunities – although these can’t always be pre-empted or created by yourself, as opportunities are often the result of strategic shifts in company direction, you can, however, place yourself through the above-mentioned reputation in a position where you become the natural choice of senior leadership for any opportunities that appear. Senior management will always appoint someone in whom they have confidence – who they know can produce business results.

Perhaps we need to take a longer-term view of our work – realising that our current respective roles are just one aspect of a full career within an organisation. We should be tough on ourselves and not allow our tasks to get in the way of delivering results and developing our reputation. Reflecting on the real expectation of our respective roles in the organisations that we serve should guide us to points of focus – saying “no” to plain activity and “yes” to tasks that will culminate in results.

Reducing labour intensity and focusing energy on key deliverables is foundational to career development and ultimately organisational success. Don’t let a plethora of tasks interfere with building your career.

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