"When I awoke today, suddenly nothing happened"
— Colin Hay, "Waiting for My Real Life to Begin"
An audit manager who worked for me came forward with a sensible point of discussion. He wanted to talk about his career — his future, his opportunities, and, in general, why he had seemed to stall out.
As noted, a sensible and reasonable conversation each of us should have. In particular, if you are stuck and don't know why (shoot, even if you're stuck and
know why or even if you aren't stuck but still want to know how to continue not being stuck), a discussion worth having.
The conversation took an interesting turn as we discussed how he had been promoted in the past. It seems that he had always had a manager "looking out for him," one who would get him his next promotion. So there he sat and, quite simply, he was asking me why I hadn't found him his next promotion.
One of the reasons was that he was not very good at his job — he was not a very good audit manager. And this new insight into his history made me realize that he probably had not been very good in any of his past positions. It also made me wonder if all those past bosses had just kicked their problem upstream, promoting mediocrity to get it out of their way. (I took some personal solace knowing that I had not hired him, but had inherited him with my new position.)
We discussed how he could strengthen the skills necessary for him to be a better manager and auditor. He made the appropriate appreciative noises, but I felt there was still a very passive-aggressive approach from his side. I saw no desire to improve. Rather, I saw someone disinclined to take charge of his career, someone who still wanted to be taken care of.
In relatively short order, a friend of his found him a position in another department. Last I knew, he was still mired there, waiting for someone to give him his next promotion.
A while ago I wrote a blog post about the need to understand what it is you want from every opportunity, assignment, project, or audit. But, to truly achieve personal success, you have to do more. You cannot sit back and assume that any and all of these projects will, in and of themselves, lead to the future you want. Every project/assignment/audit is nothing more than a tool. Yes, those tools will help take you to the next level. But you can't just have the tools, sit back, and expect them to do everything for you. You have to put in the work of using them.
What is it you want from your position/job/situation/circumstances? Where is it you want to go? And how is it you will get there? You have to take the initiative to achieve those futures. And every project, assignment, and audit should come together to build a definition of who you are and who you will become, while also moving you to that next level. And that is how others will see that you are the person they need for the next assignment, the next promotion, the next big thing. It is the personal marketing of Brand You.
Of course we all need advocates. I would not have ever progressed in the internal audit profession if it had not been for the belief and advocacy of a number of my bosses. But advocacy only goes so far if you haven't put in the work. The gentleman I've described above had advocates, but they were the wrong kind. And he had progressed. But he was an example of the Peter Principle at its finest, far exceeding the limits of his incompetence.
As described in that previous post, take every project and find out how to make it succeed for the organization and for yourself, and make it yours. And with those successes, build the resume that will have people coming to you rather than you having to wait for someone to give you the gift of mediocrity.
The Colin Hay song quoted at the beginning of this post starts with, "Any minute now, my ship is coming in." The final verse winds up by saying, "I'll keep checking the horizon. And I'll check my machine, there's sure to be a call. It's gonna happen soon, soon, oh so very soon. It's just that times are lean."
Are you sitting there looking at the horizon, checking your machine, waiting for your ship to come in, making the excuse that "times are lean"? Do you find that, every day, suddenly, nothing happens?
Or have you realized you have to head for the horizon, make the calls, meet the ships that are coming in, and accept no excuses. In that way, every day, suddenly, something will indeed happen.