Managing the Challenges Associated with Career Advancement
By Beth Wingert
My client Cynthia* had been working for a midsize financial services company for three years. Her direct supervisor was several years from retirement when she shared with Cynthia that she wanted to see her take over her role when she retired; however, a health issue arose that suddenly took Cynthia’s supervisor out of the workplace entirely. After Cynthia was offered the leadership position, she reached out to me for advice.
While Cynthia had been performing – with ease – many of the tasks for which her supervisor had been responsible, there were still several bigger management responsibilities that Cynthia was afraid she wouldn’t be able to handle. She also expressed concern over how to balance her other life roles while managing a career that would certainly demand more of her time due to the travel it would require. Cynthia stated that she felt nervous about taking on a leadership role, but she hadn’t confessed this to her supervisor because she thought she would have several years before the opportunity would become a reality.
When clients need a boost to their sense of confidence, the career practitioner’s role is to help them see and articulate their individual strengths and assets so they can walk away with an empowered view of themselves that they can apply to their life and career long after their advising sessions come to an end.
Building Leadership Confidence
To help boost her confidence, Cynthia and I reflected on the many past successes she had experienced in her life. Cynthia was young, but she had advanced quickly because of her strong problem-solving skills, her thorough understanding of the financial services industry, and her dedication. We looked at examples of times when she had been unsure of herself, yet had persevered to accomplish the task at hand. We also talked about how she didn’t need to have all the answers for the leadership team right away. She could take some time to familiarize herself with their expectations.
We recognized that Cynthia had a tendency to become mired down by the details of each project and had a hard time switching gears to more of a project management perspective. For this exercise she would begin and end each week evaluating her projects from a management or “big-picture” perspective in which she would:
- consider the timeline,
- check for resource requirements, and
- prioritize the level of each project.
This exercise improved the way Cynthia conducted herself as a leader and improved her ability to lead a staff by curbing her micromanaging tendencies. As a result, Cynthia felt more comfortable and confident about taking on the new role.
Balancing Work and Other Life Roles
Cynthia was also struggling with how to integrate the new job’s added responsibilities with her personal life; she needed to devote time to her roles as mother and spouse. Donald Super’s (1990) Life-Career Rainbow theory states that being successful in one’s career relates to an ability to select and manage various life roles. Each of our life roles is affected by the other roles in which we engage because there is a finite amount of time available to express them. For example, in Cynthia’s case, the role of parent is affected by the role of worker when Cynthia is asked to spend her evenings away from home traveling.
Cynthia was concerned she wouldn’t find a good balance between her work life and home life. We discussed her future goals and whether this new role aligned with them. We looked at each of her life roles and how much time and energy each required on a daily basis. Cynthia identified several activities that were not in line with her future goals. She decided to cut these activities out of her life moving forward, which opened up several hours each week. We also explored new pursuits that she could implement to multiply her time and improve her interactions with her husband and two children. By the end of the session, Cynthia was excited about starting the new job and thrilled about the activities she was adding to fulfill her family roles.
The bottom line: Time is a precious commodity. As career practitioners, we can help clients better manage their time by taking an inventory of where time is spent in the form of a daily diary of events and activities. Then, make necessary additions and cuts to allocate their time so that where it is used best aligns with their career and life goals.
Lifelong Learners Embrace New Challenges
While Cynthia was at first hesitant, she eventually rose to the challenge of being promoted and embraced her new role and its accompanying responsibilities. When clients aspire to move ahead in their careers but feel a sense of uncertainty, another tactic that can be especially effective is to encourage them to pursue professional development opportunities. Big challenges become much less intimidating when a person can draw on newfound skills and experiences that act as professional building blocks. Professional growth doesn’t stop when you reach the next rung on the career ladder. Managers should not be excused from professional development when they rise through the ranks; on the contrary, they should be seeking it out all the more.
Another way to embrace change is to make mentors a part of your personal and professional life. Cynthia had regarded her manager as a mentor. With her mentor gone, Cynthia still needed to forge ahead. She had become a manager, but even leaders need mentors. The expression, “It’s lonely at the top” is never truer than in the workplace. A leader shouldn’t have to shoulder each burden alone. This is one of the many reasons I encourage my clients to seek positive role models and mentors as they advance in their careers.
One of the most rewarding things we can experience in our practice is the knowledge that we have supported our clients in overcoming their challenges and reaching their goals. Of course, this is real life, so there is always another challenge, a new obstacle, new goals, and constant change – but we can help them prepare for it.
Super, D. E. (1990). A life-span, life-space approach to career development. In D. Brown & L. Brooks, The Jossey-Bass management series and The Jossey-Bass social and behavioral science series. Career choice and development: Applying contemporary theories to practice (pp. 197-261). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
*This client’s name has been changed for anonymity.
Beth Wingert, GCDF-I, is a career coach and professional development instructor for Kuder, Inc. She is a certified Global Career Development Facilitator-Instructor (GCDF-I), and a member of the National Career Development Association. Beth holds a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University and a master’s degree from the University of Texas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabeth-wingert-5321aa8b