Career Leadership Career Advice from Military Recruiting Firm, Cameron-Brooks

The New Year is always a great time to reflect on the past year, take inventory of accomplishments, and start thinking about the year ahead. The reality in both business and the military, however, is that juggling demanding work and personal commitments makes it difficult to reflect, plan and set goals for the future. With today’s challenges, it is more important than ever to invest the time to reconnect with your career goals and develop plans to achieve them.

In both the military and the business world, I have noticed that there is not much long-range career planning going on. When I ask people why they are not planning ahead, they mostly give reasons that they are too busy, too swamped, too overwhelmed to think about their vision for their career futures. My point is that you cannot LEAD your life or career by only focusing on your objectives today, this week or this month. Long-range planning, taking inventory, reflecting, and long-term goal-setting are the fundamentals to leading your career and achieving your potential. In times when you are swamped, prioritizing career leadership is even MORE important, especially if you want to maintain some semblance of control over your life. Without it, your vision for your future becomes fuzzy, you lose sight of your career dreams, and the pressure from work makes it hard to stay focused and motivated.

Here are some exercises to help you with career leadership.

1. The Timeline Exercise. Take some time and draw your “career lifeline.” Start with high school and plot all the major events of your professional career ending with the present. Identify the high and low points and the events and times you were most proud and most excited. Note the times that you felt the most challenged, perhaps even lost when things were not going your way. Identify the experiences when you really succeeded, when you failed, when you were stretched, and when you learned valuable life lessons. Point out for yourself the transition times when things fundamentally changed for you. Then, take a step back and look at the whole career lifeline. What are some of the major underlying themes or trends over your career? What principles and values are always present regardless of the situation? What roles have the events had in who you are today? The first step in understanding where you are heading in your professional life is to get a strong image of where you came from. You are a culmination of your past experiences. Getting back in touch with them fosters and re-ignites passion, excitement, and self-insight that are such integral aspects of career leadership.

2. Envision the Future. I borrowed this exercise from Daniel Goleman’s book, Primal Leadership. Think about where you want to be sitting and reading articles like this one ten years from now. Think forward to ten years in the future. What would be your ideal career situation? What kind of responsibility would you have? What would your work situation look like? What would you be doing during the work day or work week? What kind of people would you be working around? How would your work environment look and feel? The answers to the questions contain your vision for your career future. Try to write descriptive answers to these questions in a free-form format to better develop the vision. Share it with a mentor and verbalize it into a tape recorder.

3. Extending Beyond Work. This exercise can be really fun. Take a sheet of paper and number it from 1 to 20. Write next to each number one thing that you want to do in your life before you die. The goals can be professional, recreational, artistic, philanthropy related, athletic, and more. The key is to write down the things that are important to you. One thing that makes this challenging is that most people think in terms of what they want to accomplish this week, this month or at best, this year. This exercise helps you break out of short-term urgent focus and think more long term. When finished, take a step back and look at your entire list. Are there any patterns or trends in your list? Share this list with your spouse or someone who knows you. Dreaming and defining long-term aspirations both inside and outside of work is a big part of career leadership.

Stay connected with your career vision, your accomplishments, your goals, where you came from, your dreams and your self-development. It is easier to have passion for what you are doing today when you first have a vision for where you are going tomorrow.

Copyright 2004. Cameron-Brooks, Inc. All rights reserved.