You may knock a few sixes out of the park early in your career, but that start may not guarantee a successful innings
Cricket’s thinking batsman Rahul Dravid recently came up with a brilliant insight on India’s Under-19 World Cup win in 2012 and career progression. He pointed out that six or seven members of the Australian team which lost to India in the finals went on to play at the senior level. By contrast, players of the winning Indian team are invisible in the current Kohli regime. Dravid asks: who really won the 2012 world cup – India or Australia?
In the world of work too, we are familiar with many Vinod Kamblis and Unmukt Chands who did not live up to their early potential. This in spite of tremendous opportunities and significant initial success.
Success is not a Skill
The real reasons behind a great start to your career are difficult to decipher unless you get external help. We might attribute the success to our skill and get carried away. But the skill required to perform at an entry level may not make the cut at the next level. Jaw dropping performances at the initial stage would have multiple circumstantial factors including luck. If you are in sales one big customer accidentally might create the success. In other roles, you might have just been in the right place at the right time. Unless somebody whom we respect gives us a rounded perspective we might not rightfully comprehend what led to our success. New skills are required to excel at every level and coaching through that phase is crucial. Most often the immediate supervisors play that role.
The early success probably makes us arrogant, and blinds us from the reality check and maybe distracts from the new challenges.
Coach vs Supervisor
I was amongst the top 20 salespeople in the country in the first year of my sales job. My bosses and HR felt the time was right for the next role and duly promoted me to a manager. The transition from college to field sales to a manager all happened in just 18 months’ time. But the next 18 months were the most torturous period of my professional life. It was a 15-18 hour a day field work schedule away from family. I failed miserably in my role as a manager. This period saw sales dipping, my team members missing their incentives and my manager being constantly unhappy. I couldn’t handle these changed circumstances. As a result, I was forced to quit my job.
In retrospect, I feel the successful salesperson in me never adapted to the nuances of a managerial role. I also conveniently blamed my manager who never took the time to ease me into the role. Though he met me almost every day the time spent was only on numbers than giving guidance. I feel I missed out on the transition or coaching to the expanded role. But then, there are always two sides to a story.
Soaking the Pressure
The key to moving to the next level is the ability to absorb pressure. It all starts with the attention you get due to the initial success. The first few days, you would feel the world is watching you thereby creating new pressure points. There is also the awkward challenge of working on par with people who were your seniors previously. You would be expected to perform almost immediately to validate your previous success. Some people claim they thrive under pressure. But I don’t know how that works.
People who can’t adapt to the expectations of the new roles invariably quit or get stuck in that role forever. Some organizations protect them due to past success, but most get rid of people who can’t cope. It’s important to note that larger roles only look glamorous on paper and media. On a day to day basis, it’s a struggle that requires hard work, discipline and furthermore a constant battle with time.
Probably many of us live in the past which renders us obsolete when dynamics change. A key aspect to graduating to the next level is to add new skills and stay relevant. Learning newer technologies or processes, understanding the team, peer, boss dynamics are aspects that can make or break you. Observing and adapting to emerging scenarios will hasten your growth to the next level. Also, the ability to control emotions and manage the political atmosphere around you is a necessary upgrade to avoid distractions.
To sum up – the right coach, temperament to manage pressure and learning new skills are key attributes that are needed to succeed at the next level. Therefore, don’t hold on to your initial success like a badge of honour and get stuck in the past.
Just like in a sport which has an expiry date as age catches up corporate careers too get defined in the first decade or so. If you have got a great start don’t take it for granted.