If Your Career Stalls . . .

Hit a plateau? Promotions not coming as fast as you want? Turbocharge your flight into the corporate stratosphere.

Want to make me mad? Tell me that your bosses won’t let you advance and grow in your career. It’s just not so. Even if you’ve been glued to the same job for years, you can still stand out and rise up, or even shift to a different career.

It’s a three-part process. The first part is: See what’s holding you back by looking at yourself through the eyes of other people.

Marshall Goldsmith, author of a terrific book called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, recommends (among other things):

  • Write down casual remarks that people make about you -- compliments, criticisms, and so on. Eventually, you’ll see a pattern emerge. Maybe your people skills are weak or you’re not thorough about follow-through.
  • Look at your home life. You probably don’t switch from frog to prince the minute your feet touch your doorstep. If your kids think you’re a pushover or your spouse nags that you always keep her waiting, you might be equally wimpy or inconsiderate at the office.
  • Watch people’s reactions. "What they do is a clue about what they think of you," Goldsmith says. "Do they smile when they see you and pull up a chair next to you? Do they barely acknowledge your presence and sit across the room? If the majority shy away from you, you have some serious work ahead."
  • I’ll add something else: reach out for help. Build a team of about five people -- friends, colleagues, and others who know you well and won’t hesitate to tell you the truth. Ask them to tell you where you should improve. You might not love everything that they say, but they’re on your side and want you to succeed. If most of them independently give you the same advice, so much the better. They’re helping you reduce the number of problems to fix by pinpointing the one or two that are most crucial. (For more about gathering your team, read my article and use my LifeCoach tool.

    While you’re gathering this information, start moving into to Step Two: Motivate yourself by visualizing the goals that you’ll reach once you overcome your problems.

    The key is to make your goals visible. What you give images to is what grows. Personally, I cut out pictures from magazines. I look for photos of people, places, and ways of life that make me say, "That’s where I want to be in five years." You can also search on Google Images for your goal, whether it’s "CEO," "world-renowned expert" or "President of the United States."

    Visualize every part of your goal. I’ve worked out a seven-slice "Personal Success Wheel" that covers all of the major areas in which a person can succeed: wellness, community, financial, personal, professional, intellectual, and spiritual. Conjure up images of your goals in all of those areas.

    Put yourself in the pictures, and imagine them in detail. If you dream of moving your family to a country estate, imagine yourself leaning back against the smooth coolness of your front porch’s white marble columns, inhaling the sweet aroma of your fresh-mown Kentucky bluegrass lawn, and hearing the tingle of your butler’s bell call you into a dinner of onion-glazed roast turkey with buttery garlic whipped potatoes. If you can draw your imaginings, do it; if you can’t, then write them down.

    To keep your motivation strong, consult your visuals often. Get into the habit of looking at your pictures and reading your descriptions at the same time every day. When Jim Carrey was a starving unknown, he got motivated by writing himself a post-dated check for ten million dollars and keeping it with him nearly all the time. It wasn’t too long before he could afford to cash the check.

    Next comes the third step: Seek out people who can lead you to overcome your problems and reach your goals.

    My father used to say, "No better money’s spent than investing in your own education." Are you weak at public speaking? Join Toastmasters or a similar group. If your company’s doing more and more business overseas, find someone to teach you a foreign language. Take up businessmen’s sports such as golf. Study management at a local college, especially if it offers a business degree or certificate. You’ll gain confidence and meet ambitious people from a variety of fields.

    In addition to acquiring skills, acquire friends. The best way to reach new heights is to reach out to new people. Fresh friendships can stimulate your soul and give you new viewpoints that can help pull you out of whatever ditch your career’s veered into.

    In particular, look for mentors. I was a shooting star at Deloitte & Touche Consulting because of my mentors, who included CEO Pat Loconto.

    Seek out mentors beyond your chain of command, too -- leaders in organizations outside your department or your company. They can be your ambassadors to the world for your next career step. For instance:

    • Get involved. Help to lead organizations ranging from your professional trade organization to your political party to your church or temple’s board of directors. You’ll meet potential mentors.
    • Write an article. In particular, interview the top people in an area that interests you. If you talk with enough of these potentates, you’ll find some who like you.
    • Befriend corporate headhunters. Every big headhunting firm has a specialist in your goals. Invite her to speak to your trade organization, refer a talented colleague to her, and even ask her about her own goals and dreams. If you can help her, she’ll be happy to help you.

    These actions will change your career from an organization-chart box to a jet on the rise.

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