Although there is no definite path in any career, many professional journeys follow a distinct course that leads to success. In fact, Gary Burnison, CEO of consulting firm Korn Ferry, believes there are six notable stages of any given career. Through every step, professional development requires a few key strategies to guarantee upward growth.
The ability to network and stay connected generally reins the most important. Remaining a good contact allows you to keep doors open in future endeavors, should you ever need recommendations or referrals. This skillset is often taught in the first stage, which Burnison refers to as the Follower. Many of us in the working world experienced an internship or first job out of school, traditionally under the eyes of a supervisor. “You will never lead if you don’t know how to follow,” Burnison says. Arguably, this first stage is the most crucial, as it acts as the stepping stone to your future and allows you to begin building your network.
This stage strengthens the skills you learned from your first job. Rather than taking direct orders from one singular person, you are working collaboratively with a group and banding together. In this job, you should be focusing on team building and the skills it takes to produce quality work with colleagues.
Learning to lead is an integral aspect of growing a career. Burnison claims there are two different types of jobs that will exceed your leadership skills: staff leadership and staff to line shifts. Staff leadership jobs “have the responsibility, but not the authority.” Basically, you are in charge of a team, but do not make final judgment calls. Staff to line shifts refer to jobs where there is a pre-determined result and managing larger projects.
This step speaks for itself. Burnison says, “Your skill set builds as you manage larger teams with bigger goals and objectives. You will need to motivate direct reports and learn how to manage them by giving objectives and goals, as well as the means to pursue and achieve them.” This is also commonly referred to as the Commitment Stage, as by this point in your career, you’ve likely netted out what type of work you want to do and can really focus on cultivating it from there.
Not to be confused with the modern take on the term “influencer,” this part of your career is when you start using your talents and experience to influence those working below you. It’s important for your colleagues to not only listen to you, but appreciate and learn from your presence.
The final stage and what you’ve worked so long for. Leaders oversee large groups of people and inspire them to think differently, move forward, and perform their best. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are the CEO of a large corporation. According to Burnison, “Your biggest priority is to motivate people so that they can do and become more than even they thought possible.”
The six stages are not concrete. Often, we might find we are moving laterally or working multiple jobs within one stage. There is no perfect way to climb the corporate ladder, but being aware of your own personal growth and the advantages of these steps is a sure way to better understand where you’re headed.
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