Be the CEO of your career!
What is your career model? Why should your career succeed? What is distinctive about you that your customers would be willing to pay for that ‘value’? Unfortunately, many of us hop onto a certain bus hoping it will be the gravy train. Or else, assume the demand-supply inequilibrium for talent will ensure that careers will still play out. Unfortunately, careers need to be designed better than just on pure hope. Choosing a career must rest on clearly founded passion, interest and strengths. And, of course, on anticipating future possibilities in an ever-changing world. Each of us is destined for a certain greatness but do not get into those lines, playing more as obedient cattle. A wrong career choice is like choosing a wrong product or market.
Like a good product or service runs into many copy-cat substitutes so does your skill and ability. What may set you apart early enough may no longer differentiate you in the future talent market. How well does one listen into the market cues? Do we at all? What are the newer nuances that are being asked for by your customers? How soon can you reinvent yourself? What newer skill sets will retain the demand for you? How will you re-skill yourself? Like a good CEO rejigs the portfolio of products, business and markets one needs to also keep evaluating one’s portfolio of skills and experiences? What is still relevant and contemporary? What should be repudiated? What newer experiences must be acquired to keep oneself ‘hot’ in the market?
A good CEO also does constant external benchmarking, not content believing that incremental improvement over the previous year is adequate. The business may actually engage with consultants to sharpen its ability to win the market place. It is no different with careers. Many people I have known are happy living in a make-believe world that years of service will guarantee their future. This can be a fatal assumption for careers. One needs to constantly look for sources of newer competition, including some which may just show a few green shoots in the beginning? Can certain alternatives make them redundant or priced out? Engaging with mentors who can help them get out of their comfort zones is key. Taking help is not a sign of weakness but a pragmatic career rejuvenation exercise. Alas, I see so many living in complete denial, only to become cribbers and cynics. Both are sure career destroyers.
A good CEO is always focussed on enhancing the brand of his product or business. It is no less critical for individual careers. In a place crowded with similar people, how does one stand out? What is your brand recall, if indeed there is one? How do your consumers think of you? Is the attraction strong enough for your target catchment? How can one improve the brand polish still more? At times it may call for just some shelf space adjustments? Or possibly, a complete recast and rebranding? It takes years of creative and diligent effort to build a power brand, tweaking it perennially to prevent it being stale to consumer demands of the day. However, many of us still get overwhelmed with the Icarus Syndrome, assuming that past success will guarantee future longevity. And suffer for our misplaced assumptions. Hence, the big career question always remains- what, if any, is your brand? And how do you make it a winner brand. A history of sustained breakthrough impact, creating outstanding talent teams, thought leadership, inspiring mentorship, outstanding people flair are all elements that can keep the brand from getting rusty. As one rises up the ranks, it is equally useful to remember if an older brand position could be getting to be a liability. The future must never be a victim of the past.
Not everyone can be a CEO. And it is absolutely fine not to be one. In any case, the world hardly remembers an average CEO. However, one must be a CEO of one’s own career. And be an outstanding CEO at that. What is at stake is the one most important: the person in the mirror.
(Prabir Jha is an alumnus of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi and XLRI Jamshedpur. The views expressed are purely individual.)
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