image of scrabble pieces saying if not now when

Career catalyst: How to make a successful career transition

career advice career progression new job Jan 04, 2023

Often, the skills and experiences that got you your current job may be different to the ones you’ll need when you move into a new role. The initial fit may be uncomfortable for a while as you figure out how to do your new job. You may feel you’re wearing ‘L’ plates all over again.

I remember once being promoted internally from team member to team leader. I recall my initial elation of being offered the role. This was quickly followed by the reality of finding myself responsible for managing people I was used to considering my colleagues. It took me a while to adjust to the fact that, whether I liked it or not, there was now a distance between us. The power dynamic had shifted. I was now signing requests for annual leave instead of meeting colleagues for a coffee. I was responsible for managing their performance, not entertaining them with tales of my weekend exploits.

I found this hard and it took me some time to adjust. If I’d anticipated sooner what I would need to do differently, I may have become a better manager faster.

Find a mentor
Consider requesting support and advice from a mentor-someone who has been in your shoes. If you can, seek the services of a coach. She/he will help by challenging and stretching you out of your comfort zone. A coach can explore how you can continue to grow and develop.

Identify a sponsor
If you are keen to progress still further, consider identifying a sponsor; someone more senior within your organisation who will champion you and help with introductions to other influential people.

Observe others
What do other leaders do really well that you could imitate? Who manages meetings effectively? Who handles difficult conversations and people skilfully and who gives great presentations?

The ‘dressing up box of behaviours’
Six Thinking Hats

Be playful. Give yourself permission to try out different approaches. These will feel clunky and unnatural to begin with. After all, you’re moving from ‘conscious incompetence’ towards ‘unconscious competence.’ Some things will take time to absorb into your new skill set and behaviour toolbox. Some approaches you may try and reject, and that’s fine too. Changing roles requires changing yourself in order to be successful. Have fun experimenting in the ‘dressing-up box of behaviours.’

This may literally through experimenting with clothing- what ‘feels’ right for you in your new role. Or it may be by trying out approaches or tactics you’ve observed others use to good effect. Some of these, with practice, you’ll absorb. They will become part of you. Others won’t feel right and you’ll discard them and try others.

Seek support
Life at the top can be lonely. Invest time in developing relationships with peers at the same level in other parts of your organisation. If you can find people outside your company, that can be a great way to gain some perspective. I have a fellow management ‘buddy’ who works in the same field but in a different organisation. We meet two or three times a year to co-coach one another on a major challenge. This is cathartic. We can enjoy some blood-letting and indiscretion in confidence and gain valuable insight into our respective problems.

Encourage others
Good leaders are generous to others. As you progress, return the favour by offering to mentor more junior staff who are looking to develop their careers and share the lessons you’ve learned. Help them achieve success more quickly than they may do on their own.

To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly. Henri Bergson