So. 30 years ago this week I started working in corporate. For the same bank I still work at today. Like most long term relationships, we’ve had our ups and downs. But even after all this time, my day-job still challenges me to grow. And it continues to teach me the lessons that I now use every day in my coaching practice. Here are ten of the most important lessons I have learned during my corporate career. (Advance warning – this post is a long one – but then, 30 years is a long time.)
One: Reinvention is important
Don’t think you can’t reinvent yourself in the corporate environment. You absolutely can. In my experience it’s the key to longevity in an organisation. But it does require curiosity. And the ability to keep putting yourself in that uncomfortable spot where you feel like you don’t have a clue. You have to trust that you’ve got the transferable skills to succeed each time you you’re in a new situation.
It also requires the ability to shift your thinking regularly. An idea taught in Neuro-Linguistic Programming is that successful people have behavioural flexibility. Even before I studied NLP, I realised that being able to shift my thinking to take on new ideas, strategic directions and restructures would be important. Especially if I didn’t want to feel frustrated all the time. Not being able to change your thinking as changes occur in an organisation leads to a whole lot of pain.
Oh, and you also need to be prepared to ask for what you want and need in a role. Let me use my own experience as an example. Over the course of 30 years, I’ve worked full-time, permanent part-time and as a casual employee. I even did a compressed working week for a while (wouldn’t mind to do that again one day). I’ve had roles where I’ve travelled for weeks on end. And roles where I’ve been able to do everything from home. I’ve had customer facing roles and I’ve led massive teams and tiny teams. Most of those shifts have occurred because I asked for them so I could balance my family’s needs and my career goals.
Two: Coaching is important
I’ve become increasingly aware of a key difference between female business owners and women in corporate. Women who run their own businesses completely understand the value of coaching. Women who work in corporate? Well, it feels like maybe we have a way to go when it comes to investing in our success.
Please don’t expect your organisation to provide for all your growth. One of the best decisions I ever made was to invest in my own coach. A coach who was completely independent. Someone I felt safe to share everything with. And who could tailor the coaching to my individual needs. (Something that only happens in corporate coaching if you’re incredibly lucky.) Obviously I’m biased, but one-on-one coaching changed my life and career and I recommend it every chance I get.
Three: Sponsorship is important
For whatever reason, when it comes to women’s careers, mentoring gets all the attention. If you believe the hype, career growth is almost guaranteed if you simply manage to find the right mentor. Yep. It’s that simple. Or perhaps not. If I’m being perfectly honest, mentoring never did a heap for my career. And I write that with all due respect to my mentors.
Sponsorship however moved me forward in leaps and bounds. Sponsorship occurs when other people talk about your skills and abilities. When they have enough confidence in you to put your name forward for the next project, program or role, knowing that if you muck up, it’ll be their judgement that’s questioned. Recognise who your sponsors are and keep them informed of the next steps you’d like to take in your career. You never know what doors they might open for you.
Four: Being you is important
Some of the best career advice I’ve ever received came from one of the wisest and most strategic humans I’ve ever met. Luckily for me, she’s also one of my dearest friends. Anyhow, soon after I’d secured my first big promotion into a leadership role, I was lamenting the fact that I didn’t fit the profile of my new peers. I was way younger and way more female than any of the men who already occupied similar roles. I didn’t sound like them. I didn’t look like them. And I knew for sure that I wouldn’t lead like them.
Rather than suggest I change my style, my friend reminded me that it is more than ok to be me. In fact it was entirely necessary to be me. It was definitely one of the most important lessons I’ve learned. In under a year, me and my very different style were leading that whole team. And I learned another very valuable lesson in asking the right question. Instead of asking ‘What if I can’t do it like them?’, I should have been asking ’How can I do it better than it’s being done today?’
Five: People are important
I feel like this one almost goes without saying. But it shouldn’t. Systems and structures don’t do the work – people do. Your relationships with your co-workers can make or break how you feel about your job. I know my most important asset in my career is my network. It’s a place that I can seek guidance, advice and feedback. I nurture it, because building relationships takes time. And I never know when I’ll need to call on someone for help. My best advice for building your professional relationships is to remember that people bring their whole selves to work. So take the time to understand the people you work with, and what’s important to them. When people feel valued they’re more willing to share their knowledge and guidance.
Six: Your brand is important
And your brand’s built on how you treat people and doing good work. It‘s linked to your integrity and delivering on what you say you’re going to do. Your professional brand is exactly the same as you personal brand. And your brand has nothing to do with the title you have or the leadership table you sit at. Because, as I learned from Gina Devee – how you do one thing is how you do everything. Making sure I showed up to deliver great work and consistent results has underpinned most of my career success.
Seven: Understanding what you’re aiming for is important
Like everything in life, if you don’t understand where you’re headed, how will you know when you get there? Being clear on my role goals was one thing. But while my leaders always set the scene for what I needed to deliver, I’ve always had my own success criteria for my job. This criteria considers things like my energy levels, how I want to feel in a role and whether a role uses my strengths. Knowing how you measure success helps keep you grounded and can protect you from taking on too much external pressure.
Eight: Beliefs are important
My business coach suggests that mindset is 80 to 90 % of women’s success. And I couldn’t agree with her more. Whether you’re working in small business, large corporate or volunteering to co-ordinate the school fancy dress parade, managing your mindset is key.
I know that as I’ve taken each step in my career I’ve also had to upgrade my mindset. Dealing with new levels means taking on new devils as the saying goes. So catching my stories, working on my beliefs, not making everything about me and maintaining a curious, growth oriented mindset have remained consistent in my career.
Nine: Countering liabilities is important
Perfectionism. Procrastination. Weak boundaries. Safe to say that over 30 years I have battled against all of them. In fact, maintaining boundaries can still rise up as an issue for me if I’m not careful. If you want career longevity and progression AND a life, then overcoming the liabilities that can bring you down is vital.
Ten: Engagement is important
I’ve already mentioned people and networks are imperative. But finding your voice, communicating your thoughts and overcoming your visibility issues are also necessary for success. Being able to articulate solutions to problems and influence decision makers is essential for getting things done in corporate.
There you have it. My ten most important lessons from my 30 years in corporate. I’d love to know if any of these lessons resonate with you – let me know in the comments section below.
And until next time – stay fabulous.
Warmest, Janelle xx
PS. If you feel like you need some support in mastering lessons seven to ten, make sure you check out my current coaching packages. I think these four lessons are fundamental to success – in both your life and your career. So I’ve intentionally tailored my coaching to dig into these areas. If you’re interested, you can learn more about my coaching here.