I recently posted a video of a powerful speech given by Xerox CEO Ursula Burns to a group of MIT students. It was engaging and informative on many levels and if you have the chance, I highly encourage you to click here to listening to the entire clip.
Of the many meaningful insights she shared in this speech to eager MIT students on the topic of leadership, it was something that she shared related to career management that really gave me food for thought and that I wanted to share with you.
In short, she gave this simple piece of advice, “You can’t move to the next thing as soon as you know the last thing. Getting the “A” is not the end of the job.”
It is a simple statement and yet, for me, a profound one. When I think back through what I consider to be a highly successful corporate career, I was always eager to hit the next hurdle…the next marker as quickly as possible. As a military member, I wanted to get promoted “below zone” (ahead of my peers). In the corporate setting, although the vernacular was different, the goal was the same…fast progress.
I may have been a bit more competitive than the average bear, but I suspect that many of you are similarly wired….
You can’t move onto the next thing as soon as you know the last thing.
What Ms. Burns further explained was that when we take on a new role, there is a lot of “area under the curve” (spoken like a true engineer), that represents the gap between the basic understanding of your job and truly giving back to the organization in that role. Just because you develop the tools to fulfill your job description does not mean that you have remotely given back all the you can in your current role and THAT is ultimately your obligation before taking on the NEXT role.
Getting the “A” is not the end of the job.
She states that when promoted into a new position, one’s goals should be:
- Master the basics and then,
- Recreate the job be adding UNIQUE value to the position. You are ready to move on when you have made that job your own.
Wow. For all that I think I gave to my organizations, I cannot help but think about how much more value I could have added had I been privvy to such simple wisdom. My promotions may have been slower in coming but I would not only have walked into each successive role with greater confidence but in all likelihood, I suspect that my achievements and opportunities would have been even greater. Sometimes, if I was in a role I thoroughly enjoyed, I actually accomplished this by accident but deliberately engaging in all of my positions with this knowledge would have been an even bigger game-changer for me and those around me.
Regardless of your role, are you simply mastering the basics or are you trying to invent the role in a way that only you can?
As for me, I would love to have an organization full of re-inventive contributors.
How about you?