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Planning your career requires patience

Would something like a ‘blueprint’ of the path to the top exist?

Can you plan your career? I don’t think so. Every career is unique and is meandering its own way through life. You can take well-considered decisions, but you can only plan things in theory. Health, family, business cycles …; luckily, there are too many uncertainties in life which we can’t predict.

Consequently, as a coach, I wasn’t too eager to participate in a panel discussion about career planning. Yet, I accepted the invitation. Finally, the presence of ‘young talented managers’ convinced me. I have not been triggered by their career planning, but because I was curious to hear their motives.

Impatience seemed to be one of the key words. What struck me, was how impatient young people are. Starting managers, burning of ambition, wanted to become successful in no time. They wanted a quick progressive career with intervals of two years, more or less. This wasn’t new for me, but still, it strikes me again and again. Is life really that short that sitting behind the same desk for two years, is wrong?

According to them, stagnation means decline. That’s true, but if you try to run before you can walk, you will often fall. There’s nothing wrong with a quiet growth process in which you fully seize the opportunities you get. This way, you can elaborate your knowledge and network progressively, without losing yourself.

One of my teachers put it as follows: ‘Until your 30th birthday, you are a pupil; in your thirties, you become a good assistant, which enables you to give everything you have in you to become an experienced leader during the next 10 years; once you turn 50, you will delegate the best you can and you will become a teacher yourself’. To me, this seems like an adage to think about.

To conclude, I give you some more tips:
  1. Consider your job as an interesting learning process. You should ‘deliver’, but also learn from your experiences and mistakes in the meantime! Don’t let your job become routine. Create new challenges by being more and more demanding for yourself.
  2. Learn to love your job. Make a list with things you ‘like’ and ‘dislike’. Use your creativity to eliminate the things you ‘dislike’. Suggest improvements yourself.
  3. Try to solve problems – even between colleagues – instead of complaining. Leaders see problems as a challenge!
  4. Concentrate on your tasks, but also develop your skills for the future.
  5. Don’t be afraid to talk. Talk to your supervisor about your ambitions, without pinning yourself down. Don’t be afraid to dream! Nobody can look into the future…
  6. Don’t forget your family members. Don’t confront them with accomplished facts. Some dreams can have serious consequences in reality. Analyze the pros and cons together. Expats with a family know why…
  7. Keep ‘educating’ yourself. You don’t stop learning once you graduate.
  8. Try to obtain good results. One day, people will knock on your door.
  9. Work step by step (èvery step counts). You only have one career, which is largely based on your own practical experience. If you don’t have any experience, you are building your own castles in the air. And generally, after a big promotion, highflyers are confronted with a hard landing. Icarus knows why…
A HP top executive once told me: ‘In my division, everybody can get nice promotions, but there are two prerequisites: At first you have to deliver in your present job in a sustainable way. Secondly, you must prepare and secure yourself your own succession’.


By Herman van Herterijck

"my ambition is to put the importance of pragmatic and continuous self-coaching on the agenda of current business leaders"

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