The Key to Managing Your Career

By Jim Struck, Leadership Vision, LLC

The Final Four just completed in my home town of Indianapolis. What an incredible four days of energy and expectation. This year was particularly fun because Butler University is from Indianapolis. My guess is you already know this if you were alive in the month of March and you follow basketball at all.

We were fortunate enough to have tickets to the semi-finals and finals. As I reflect on the topic of this “blog” and how we came to acquire the tickets, they have a lot in common. The reason we had tickets was due to our network of people.

Most of us have heard, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I would say it is what you know AND who you know. To successfully manage your career you first have to be competent. People figure out quickly when you really don’t have all the skills you say you do. The cornerstone of managing your career is the ability to bring value. That means:

  1. Building yourself from the inside out. Being a person of character – having what you say and what you do match, doing the right thing when no one is watching, etc. Be a person of integrity. A person people can trust.
  2. Building your skills; being competent in your job, in your industry
    1. Continually growing who you are and your strengths
    2. Working hard and be willing to do all kinds of jobs, some no one else wants to do
    3. Be patient.  Many times to get the best outcomes (from cooking or work) things have to ‘simmer’ to get to the proper amount of ‘doneness.’
  3. Building a strong network of people. That network is about giving and receiving.

There are other items to managing your career, but these represent the critical foundation. Let’s focus on number three.

Building Your Network

Life is about building relationships. I hear people say, “I’m not good at meeting people.” This may mean they are shy, or feel socially awkward, or some other discomfort. I get that. I also get my statement, “Life is about building relationships.” So, it is less about how good you are as it is how do you go about doing it. Sometimes, turning our questions around helps us to remove the obstacles and see the possibilities for solving whatever we are facing. Instead of, “I can’t network, I’m not good with people”, try “How will I go about networking and building relationships?”

I have a friend who would label herself as “not good with people.” She knows, however, that it is vital to her success as a partner in her firm. While it may never be her greatest skill/value to her firm, she has learned how to do it. She does it the old fashioned way. When she is at a meeting of people she doesn’t know she summons the courage to introduce herself and deliberately sits with people she doesn’t know. That may seem like a lot of courage to some of us. For her, it was the only “practical” thing to do if she wanted to be successful. The gain was more important that the pain.

I’ve known her for a long time, including during the times when she was more reticent to introduce herself. The practice of introducing herself has given her the confidence she needs to build relationships, and those relationships have helped her to manage her career well.

What is the value of networking? The value comes in a myriad of ways. When we have complex questions that we don’t know and it would take too long to find on the internet; when we are looking for a new employee to hire; when we are looking for a job; a handyman; a good book; a psychiatrist; a good bill collector. When we ask our network our questions they introduce us to other people. Some of those people become a critical piece of our network…and some of those people become our friends. And this pattern continues. In a very real way that is the power of social media and how a president got elected, but these are topics for another day.

The most important value of networking is that our network is an incredible way to enrich our lives. Many within our network end up as our friends. A smaller number we will create a community with. They help us become more of who we were created to be and we return the favor. When we have a need for a new job, or big questions, or have a serious personal issue we need help with, we have a group of people that we can call upon.

Quick story. My father is a retired chemical engineer. The fact that I barely made it through high school chemistry is a humorous sidebar, but has nothing to do with the story. Being a scientist his natural inclination was to get most of his information from books or magazines. That worked for him. For me, it is many times faster and more meaningful to figure out who I can talk to rather than what I can read. Both approaches have their place and work.

To manage your career well, build a strong you and then build a strong network of people.