The 10 Golden Rules of Career Management

posted by Dilip on December 4, 2017

After having worked with thousands of clients, coaching them to improve their careers, there are some common themes that seem to have a universal applicability in how they impact a career, either positively or negatively. During the past 17 years I’ve found that these same rules come into play again and again, and yet people seem to be oblivious to their existence or impact on their careers. This blog is presented to showcase these rules with the hope that you, as its reader, take them to heart in managing your own career!

  1. Talk to experts, but listen only to yourself: When in a confused state or when you have many options to deal with it is normal to ask those around you for advice. This happens in almost every encounter in our lives: buying a car, picking your wardrobe, selecting your spouse, choosing a profession, just to name a few. There is no substitute for detailed research, hard work, and then, finally, using your own instincts to arrive at the decision you can live with. In career matters I cannot tell you how many clients I work with who cannot tell me what specialty they would want to pursue when given a choice of possibilities available to them. Their typical response is: my neighbor wants me to go for xx, but my brother is doing well with yy, my father always wanted me to go for aa, but my mother does not agree with him, and so on.
    Even when you are getting advice from a career coach, do not blindly follow their advice in the matters of career paths or even choices that they suggest for you to pursue when dealing with a problem with many alternate solutions to it. Think through and carefully ask many “what if” questions and then consider the possibilities of listening to someone who can present the various alternatives as an expert, with pros and cons. It is only then that you can decide what is the one right move that you want to make.
  2. Personal Mastery: One of the most common themes I see when clients encounter career setbacks, especially later in their careers is when they have failed to master the basics of their chosen profession. In the first phase of your professional career—25 to 35 years of age—you must focus on one area of specialty: writing code, circuit design, family law, creatives, or selling a commodity, to name a line of work. In each area of pursuit there are skills that you must master to become the best in that class of professionals. Becoming best at what you do requires mastering the topic that underlies your craft. In my practice I see this as the most common reason why people fail or succeed in their careers: Those who are able to develop personal master in their endeavors succeed even later in life when they change their calling and go in a different direction. It not what you mastered that matters as much as the process of doing this prepares you for any of life’s challenges. And, this is what drives your success throughout your adult life!
  3. Mindset: How you deal with the challenges your face, both in your career and in your life, is a reflection of your mindset. Life presents an unending sequence of challenges and we must equip ourselves to deal with them effectively. A person with a growth mindset deals with any challenge they face or decide to face with openness and with a resolve to apply their inner resources with a creative approach. On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset surrender themselves to defeat even before they encounter the challenge by throwing up their hands and admitting to themselves that the challenge they are facing is beyond to scope of their abilities. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you want to understand this concept further Read: Carol Dweck’s
  4. Relationships: Now that I have worked with more than 6,500 clients in many countries I can say this with confidence that about 80% of my coaching practice stems from the underlying problems with relationships between two or more people in the immediate group in which my client is working. Most of these encounters are with the immediate boss or sometimes colleagues or those in the close-by ecosystem. The central problem in a deteriorating relationship is almost always one’s inability to confront the problem head-on and meet face-to-face with the “offending” party to sort this out in a civilized way. Even when your superiors are involved and even when the issues are of a delicate and personal nature there is always a way to frame the situation and to present it in a way to start a constructive dialog. Most are not well equipped to know how to do this, but those who are able to do this lead happier, less stressed lives and enjoy career successes, because these relationship problems are universal; one must learn how to deal with them! It’s a skill worth developing.
  5. Learning to say No: For some reason this is one of biggest sources of career grief that I see because most people do not learn early how to say no. They are often good at criticizing something and, when challenged, take it on without fully understanding the scope of what they are getting into. In the process they get stressed out and destroy whatever little goodwill they have created among their brethren. Knowing when to walk away from something and knowing when to say no is one of most important career skills you can work on.
    The other reason for not knowing when to say no is when they think that they can one-up someone, who is in trouble. For example, if one of their colleagues is struggling with their projects and your manager approaches you to help out the colleague, it is tempting to take this on and show that you are a team player. What typically happens in such cases is that you save that project by working on your own time, in addition to your ongoing obligations, and the person who derailed the project originally gets the credit. There is often no credit given to bringing back on track someone else’s derailed project.
  6. Knowing when to say Yes: This is the flip side of #5. Often we land in situations where things just line up and everything falls in place for us. In such cases, when a major opportunity is presented we feel obligated not to un-track our focus for the fear that the flow of good tidings may stop and we may land into trouble.

    Recently, a client of mine was assigned a major task at one of the premier high-tech companies. He quickly untracked the derailed project, developed a new approach to how that platform could be re-designed and made impressive progress in just a few weeks, when the previous leader and team were struggling with it for the previous year. Impressed by the momentum his manager agreed to double his team size and he quickly on-boarded several key team members to augment the team and continued his efforts to further the project. His boss saw the potential and offered him a manager role to run the entire project, with the growing team at his disposal. Without giving a second thought to what was offered he said no to her and decided to, instead, continue to focus on driving the project as an individual contributor (Architect).

    Soon, he was ramping up the fast-growing team and driving the project to its milestones nearly 24X7 without considering the impact it was having on his health. Soon, he had a breakdown and had to leave the company to find a less stressful job. If he had taken on the manager role with careful agreement with his boss on how he would shepherd the project with her help and the team, as its manager it may have had a different impact on how his résumé came out from that experience.
    This also happened to me in my early career. When my own boss was seen as a feckless blowhard by senior management my skip-level boss approached me asking me to take my boss’ job. Without giving much thought I felt that he was testing me to see my loyalty to my boss and I said no. It turned out that I was completely misguided by own sense of loyalty to my boss, as he was soon fired and a new boss was hired to replace him. If I had then said yes, I’d have become a director two years sooner!

  7. Taking initiatives: Most of us spend our working life taking orders from superiors and blindly executing them. It is rare that someone sees an opportunity within their own group, business, or even the company that is outside the scope of their work, yet that which will fundamentally shift the calculus of how the company operates or how it treats its customers. It is these opportunities that define your career and your résumé more than any other assignment that you get from the workflow that stems from your job description. Identifying such opportunities requires an open mind, some vigilance, and a creative mind. If you can identify such an idea and show your boss how you can make them look good by executing that idea then more than likely you’ll be allowed to pursue that project, even on company time. It is easier than most realize! Such self-initiated projects make a big impact on how your résumé is viewed by others.
  8. Falling in love with the company: One of the cardinal sins of career mismanagement is falling in love with your company. The problem with such a love affair is that it is one sided: your company cannot love you back. I know of one client who has stayed with one company for nearly 17 years with only modicum pay raises that come occasionally, and despite lack of growth opportunities and dead-end job (his boss has been with the same company and the same role for 25 years!) he refuses to look outside for better opportunities where his peers are earning almost twice what he is paid. His reason for staying at that company is that he loves the view he see outside his window and does not think that any other company can offer him such a view of trees, hills, and lakes! He is wrong! There are many companies in his geography that have even better and more stunning views of the surroundings; he just has not bothered to venture out because of his love for this company—its location! Interestingly, there are many companies with a shorter commute that offer even better surroundings.
  9. When to move on: It is normal that when shifts take place companies shift their priorities. Such shifts do not happen without telltale signs of what is coming. So, when a company is slipping into a bad situation it is not difficult to see how that change is going to affect your job. Being aware of the markets, competition, customers’ priorities and loyalties to your brand, and the outside job market are a good sign of one’s being career conscious. Merely focusing on your everyday work and ignoring signals from these beacons can doom even a promising career. So, when you see the wrong signals impacting your company’s fortunes you must take preemptive action before it is too late!
  10. Managing your momentum: In line with #9 yet another factor to be vigilant about is your career momentum. Career momentum is your sense of how you are moving forward with your success and how you can parlay that into your next job for a higher responsibility for yourself—including a bigger paycheck and a higher title—in another company. When making a change it is important to have high career momentum and know when to leverage that to your advantage. If you want to make a preemptive change this also means that you must build your career momentum—which takes time—and then plan your move when the conditions are right for you to make that move.

Career management is not a spectator sport. It requires vigilance, proactive planning, and diligent execution in a timely way. Do not let career happen to you; make your career happen the way you want and not what someone else wants!

Good luck!