Career Evolution: You can change your behavior

published by the Nashville Business Journal

As you grow in your career, the nature of your role and responsibilities requires changes in behavior. What’s expected of you in your first supervisory role is very different from the demands in a vice president role, for example. As your work purpose evolves, you, too, will grow and shift your behavior. 

I had to learn this the hard way. Early in my career I received a promotion that forced me to change my behavior in order to survive and eventually excel. In my first 12 years in business I was in operational roles in which I had line responsibilities. The way I saw it at the time was straightforward enough: I was the boss and could tell people what to do. After more than a decade, I was very comfortable in this type of leadership role. Then one day the chairman of the company promoted me to personnel director. This sounded like a cool job and came with a larger office. Sign me up! 

At the outset I did not realize that this change of roles required a change of behavior on my part. I undertook my new responsibilities doing what I had always done: telling people what to do. Boom! I got my nose bloodied a couple of times before I realized that I could no longer “order” people to do certain tasks. I now had to learn to sell my thoughts and ideas. What an awakening. 

The jump was more drastic than I imagined. I was in trouble and had to change quickly, so I made a list of which skills I should tone down, which I should pump up and which I had to learn fast. I identified the behaviors I had to change and committed then and there to making it happen or risk losing my new responsibilities. My humble but surprisingly effective plan looked like this:

Back off: Stop telling people what to do; you are no longer their “boss”
Slow down: Take time to build relationships
Ask questions: Inquire regularly about important personnel topics 
Really listen: Carefully digest responses and keep notes for future use
Communicate effectively: Craft your messages carefully and completely
Sell subtly: Become a salesman for the right personnel policies

It took about six months for all of this to sink in and for my behavior to evolve to the point that I became truly effective. I think the company leaders saw I was making strides, and I appreciated the opportunity and leeway to make the necessary changes. 

When you contemplate your own career, look to the future and consider how you and your role could evolve. In the role that you aspire to, how do the most successful people act? What do you see in the leaders you most respect that you could begin to practice yourself? Don’t wait until you are in a tough situation like I did. Try to anticipate your future and make plans accordingly.  

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