February 1st, 2013 | 6:00 am

A Career Path That Fits Like Cinderella’s Shoes

filed under Ask A Career Coach

Contributed by CEO Coach Henna Inam

Remember the fairy tale of Cinderella? The Fairy Godmother gave Cinderella shoes that were the perfect fit for her. Let’s imagine a fairy tale where our Fairy Godmother magically creates a career path for us that is the ideal fit. It helps us to be inspired, to grow, to make our best magic happen at work, and to shine. Here’s why we all need to make this fairy tale come true.

True story. An executive coaching client company hired me to work with a senior sales leader who was the lead candidate on the succession plan for Head of Sales. As we worked through the coaching process which included identifying her personal leadership brand and roles she would thrive in, it became clear that where she would really stand out would be a General Manager role. What did she and the organization miss? It’s what I call the missing “P” in career planning. Most organizations look at performance & potential in succession planning. What we miss is the individual’s personal leadership brand.

Our highest contributions come when we are fully engaged, experiencing growth, and leveraging our talents. Articulating our personal leadership brand and aligning this with a unique career path helps us take greater ownership of our career and engagement, and make our highest contributions.

What’s In It for Organizations

  • Rapid changes in markets and technology require our organization structures to be agile – we need to take an entrepreneurial view of organization design. As new roles and competencies (e.g social media community manager) emerge, we need to empower people closest to the changes to quickly identify and create what is necessary to respond.
  • As we demand more of our people, we need to work harder at engaging them. Yet as hierarchies get flatter, there are fewer opportunities for promotion.
  • We need to reframe for employees the “reward system” for a job well done from “promotions” within a structured career ladder to the opportunity to create a career path that fits with who they are as a leader – one that allows them to thrive and grow and build their personal brand.
  • We need to get visibility of talent across the organization to quickly deploy them to their highest contribution and potential. Clarity and transparency on personal brands helps us do this.

What’s in It for Leaders?

  • Stand out and be known for our personal leadership brand.
  • Communicate the types of roles that would best engage and grow us.
  • Carve out a unique career lattice that helps us create the greatest value for ourselves and the organization.

Five Steps to Customizing your Career Path

1. Articulate your own personal leadership brand. Our brand helps us articulate to the organization the unique value we bring as a leader. The “Authentic Brand: YOU” process consists of defining: a) Our sense of purpose (how we are inspired to add value), b) Our strengths (that help us add value), c) Our character (core values).

2. Identify the kinds of roles where you create greatest value. Our greatest contributions come from our strengths and our energizers. Articulate the criteria for roles where you will thrive. For example, as I look back on my career, I’ve always thrived in roles that are entrepreneurial, have a high degree of challenge, where I have the opportunity to have a direct impact. What does this look like for you? Another really important aspect is getting clear on work life priorities. Is this a time when you need to focus on accelerating your career, or a time where life demands require a less frenzied pace?

3. Identify experiences that will help you stretch, grow, and be agile. Studies show that 70% of leadership growth happens through new experiences. Organizations are increasingly looking for leaders who are agile. Agility can be learned through new experiences but Catalyst data shows that women get less access to these pivotal stretch experiences. As we get clear on roles we aspire toward (step #2), we need to identify experiences we need to add to our tool-kit to enable those roles. For example, I was clear early on in my career that I wanted to be in a General Manager role with P&L responsibility.

As I shared this with my bosses and sponsors they enabled me to get cross-functional assignments in Sales. During my three years in Sales, I learned how to motivate sales teams, how to connect with customers, and how to deliver the number. This was pivotal to my success as a GM.

4. Connect with key stakeholders and mentors. Once you have completed the above steps, it’s important to get feedback from others who know you well. Talk with current and former bosses, peers, and direct reports to better understand the organization’s needs and validate your own insights regarding the questions above.

5. Proactively share the “Brand: YOU Career Path.” Whether it’s your boss or other sponsors in the organization, be proactive in sharing the information above. I found in my leadership roles that the clearer others were about what they wanted, the less was left to assumptions, and the more confident I felt representing them.

Back to the story. As my executive coaching client worked on her personal brand, she discovered she was highly motivated by learning, challenge, and a broad view of the business. Taking on a Sales Head role would not offer her challenges and would limit her potential to rise in the organization. She has recently been promoted into a General Manager position and reports all the symptoms of being in a job that energizes her.

And back to the story of Cinderella. Remember to not wait for the Prince or the Fairy Godmother. You are your very own best Fairy Godmother so create a career path that is magically made for you, and evolves as you do. If you are an organization or a leader who is inspired by this, I would welcome connecting with you.

Henna Inam is CEO of Transformational Leadership Inc., a company focused on helping women achieve their potential to be transformational leaders. A former C-Suite executive with Fortune 500 companies, her passion is to help leaders be successful, deeply engaged, and create organizations that drive breakthroughs in innovation, growth and engagement. Connect @hennainam. Subscribe to her blog at www.transformleaders.tv.

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