Over 10 years ago when I graduated college with my shiny new electrical engineering degree, I was certain I was going to be Vice President of a large company someday. A decade later, I have experienced many things on my career journey, but I have yet to rise beyond a front line manager at work. I do continued to pursue expanding my leadership skills and gaining exposure to learn from and network with influential people.
When I was a manager overseeing a team of analysis professionals, I had one gentleman that was eager to leap onto the leadership track. He recently obtained his MBA and wanted to put his hard earned knowledge to work. He asked me what he could do to break into leadership. I recommended that he consider expanding his network and proving his leadership interests and abilities through work related clubs. While he argued that he already knew a lot of people in the company. He may have known many people but they were not in a position that could champion and promote him. As his leader, I could give him assignments that would provide more exposure and leadership, but he would be limited to our particular team. While it is important to establish roots and do a good job at your task, making an effort to go beyond your individual program opens up many more opportunities. Advertise your goals with your team and professional network. Our company did have many clubs, diversity groups, and a management club that are looking for leaders to work with their executive sponsors to increase engagement and support the business.
I continue to gain leadership experience and exposure that provides valuable experiences through extracurricular type activities. I remain active in my clubs such as the Society of Women Engineers and Project Management Institute. I also get involved in leadership roles through my family, supporting my son as a leader in the Cub Scouts and filling in as a stand in assistant coach for my daughter. It’s amazing the people you can meet through organizations and clubs through your company and external. With the Society of Women Engineers, I gained professional contacts that helped me get to my current position that I thoroughly enjoy. Through my daughter’s sport leagues, I have met colleagues that work in similar lines of business within my company that I wouldn’t have otherwise known.
Recently, I attended a meeting with the executives in my organization. This meeting was an opportunity to learn about our leadership and network. In that meeting, the speaker discussed his journey to rise in one of his first career paths as an electrician. Eager to earn a better paycheck and knowing he had the textbook knowledge, he voluntarily took and passed certification to make it to the next level, a journeyman electrician. The only issue was that he was still seen as an apprentice electrician at work. When he asked to get the journeymen related work due to his new certification, he was turned down. He had not proved he can do the job he was assigned to do as an apprentice. He did not have a champion to support him making the next level. It takes more than just a certification to grow in a company, rising above your current role also requires networking and proven work. Through all these examples, it proves that if you want to grow, plant some roots and get involved.