From: Center for Creative Leadership, Leading Effectively
Career paths and development strategies are increasingly self-directed. How do you gain the information and insight needed to steer your course?
One essential strategy for getting a clear view of yourself, your context and your career is to seek “sense-making” relationships.
“Other people can help us see more clearly how specific activities or behaviors or experiences fit into our career path and our development,” says Regina Eckert, co-author of a CCL white paper, Through the Looking Glass: How Relationships Shape Managerial Careers. “This process of sense-making is an important and often overlooked aspect of why relationships are valuable.”
Sense-making is simply the process of assigning meaning to a phenomenon or development. From a career perspective, a CCL study found that relationships help managers to make meaning of their work and development in three key ways:
1. To Guide. Some relationships help managers define what they want to achieve and why. Friends, colleagues, mentors, parents or other more experienced or senior people may guide informally by sharing their experiences and perspective. Guiding can also be very direct in the form of practical advice and tips.
2. To Affirm. People who know a manager’s field and/or organization are in a position to affirm, encourage and build confidence. These relationships are helpful for calibrating what’s going on in one’s own career development, as well as in the career market inside and outside his or her organization.
Affirmation is especially needed in the absence of obvious career paths and multiple (often competing) choices to make.
3. To Stretch. Another form of sense-making comes from a challenge to managers’ implicit beliefs about their potential and career goals. Some relationships push them to rethink or reframe a situation or experience.
For example, working with someone who has a very different perspective or take on an issue is a huge opportunity. This often feels uncomfortable, but it opens the door to deeper understanding and new possibilities.
“If you don’t have people to help you make sense of your career development, your context and your goals, our research shows you that you have two choices: Either you seek out relationships that give you the sense-making support you need, or you change your existing relationships to be more relevant for your career and development,” says Eckert.
“Depending on your personal circumstances and the kind of support you’re lacking in your relationships, you can decide which avenue is more promising for you.”
Help Wanted to Steer Career
Do you have relationships with people who help you make sense of your work, your organization, your career? Ask yourself:
- Who guides me? Who is a role model?
- Who affirms my own interpretations and sense-making?
- Who stretches and challenges my sense-making? Who adds perspective?
If you don’t have relationships to help you understand and navigate your work life, who can you turn to? How would you go about changing and re-vamping existing relationships so that they meet your needs?