Several years ago, a very senior Microsoft lawyer told me that I needed to be the “captain of my career.” She was absolutely correct, and it was some of the best career advice I ever received.
While being the “captain of your career” sounds nice – what does that really mean? Here are some strategies to help you own your career and transform yourself into a “captain.”
Actively Seek Feedback and Embrace It
A key to positive career development for lawyers is the ability to constantly embrace the growth mindset and to be “learn-it-alls” and not “know-it-alls.” In my opinion, an important element of the growth mindset is proactively seeking feedback from others regarding your job performance and executive presence, embracing that feedback and then making the necessary adjustments to improve as a lawyer. Also create a safe and open environment so that others feel comfortable in providing feedback about you.
Put Your Employer to Work for You
Nowadays many employers offer career growth and training opportunities for their employees as they seek to develop their employees and win the proverbial “war for talent.” Create the necessary space in your work environment to take full advantage of those opportunities to learn and grow.
As a “deal” lawyer for most of my career, I have lived by a motto known as “ABC” AKA “Always Be Closing.” Another key motto of mine is “ABN” AKA “Always Be Networking.” Try to meet one new person every day and actively use leading social media tools like LinkedIn and Twitter to build your network.
Toot Your Horn
Be your own personal evangelist and do not be shy in clearly and concisely articulating to others the positive impact that you are driving as a lawyer. Create an “elevator pitch” about yourself that you can use with others at a moment’s notice – and continually refine that pitch over time. Simply put, do not rely on or wait for your manager or others to advocate on your behalf.
Cultivate Relationships with Sponsors
Having mentors in your career is nice – but what you really want are sponsors. Sponsors are key decision-makers who have the influence to positively impact your career and are willing to put their reputations “on the line” for your benefit. Identify those potential sponsors, learn from them, work hard to get yourself on their radar screens, and find out how you can help them so you can build a meaningful relationship.
Go Above and Beyond
In Corporate America we are all expected to perform the core responsibilities of our jobs very well and that is often considered “table stakes.” What separates good from great performers is a willingness and hunger to do the extra things that drive differentiated and positive impact for your clients. I am an avid baseball fan and there is an interesting statistic in baseball called “Wins Above Replacement” or “WAR.” According to Wikipedia, a baseball player’s “WAR value is claimed to be the number of additional wins his team has achieved above the number of expected team wins if that player were substituted with a replacement-level player.” To be very successful in their careers both baseball players AND lawyers need have high WAR values.
Excel at Public Speaking
In my experience those lawyers who are excellent public speakers have greater opportunities to advance in their careers versus those who are not strong public speakers. Becoming an excellent public speaker is a journey. Take the time to invest in building your public speaking skills and actively seek out opportunities to speak as those public speaking repetitions will help you gain confidence over time. Also do not be shy in enlisting the support of a public speaking coach as even the best public speakers receive formal training.
Be the “captain of your career” so that you – instead of others – navigate it.