Only you can lead yourself to where you want to go

It was sometime in 2001 that I got promoted from Assistant VP to Vice President . At that time, I was managing the mortgage business in North India for Citibank. Even after my promotion, I continued doing the same role — only the title changed. All my earlier promotions had come with a change in my role and responsibilities.

One of my seniors, on one of his visits to Delhi, took me out for dinner to celebrate my move from AVP to VP. Vice presidents were a rare breed those days, so becoming one did call for a celebration. I took the opportunity and decided to voice my concern. “What next? Does the organisation have a plan for me?”

“As in?”

“Now that I have been promoted, will I continue doing the mortgage role for another two years or is there any plan to move me to some other role?” I asked.

He smiled. I guess my anxiety was obvious . “Do you know Ravi, who all love you?” He asked. I had a blank reaction to this question .

“Remember” , he continued, “Your family and parents are the only ones who love you. They will do things selflessly for you. Not only that, they will always have your best interests in mind. Everyone else will only do what suits them.”

“But what’s the relevance?” I was a bit confused.

“If you think anyone is managing your career for you, you are mistaken. Others will only do what fits in their scheme of things and not necessarily what is good for you. Very few people will put your interests before themselves.”

I didn’t take long to understand what he was saying. The cold, hard truth is: one has to look after oneself. No one else will. This is the reality of corporate life. Bosses, human resources teams, mentors and godfathers, among others, will come and tell you they are really looking out for your rocking future.

Don’t get fooled. They will only take you where they want to lead you. They will channelise your career in a direction that suits them (and not necessarily suit you). Your career is up to you… and you alone. “Be clear in your mind as to where you want to go, what you want to do, what you want to achieve, what kind of experience you need to specifically get to reach your goal, and what your broad career aspirations are. And articulate it to the right people. If you want a specific experience, ask for it.

“Better still, if you can, go grab it,”One of my colleagues, who is now the HR head at a consulting firm said. In one of those candid conversations, he said, “Don’t expect that you will be promoted because you deserve it — it is unlikely that anyone is keeping track.”

Generally, things don’t come to people who do not ask for them. You give yourself a better chance to be in the reckoning if you stake claim for anything that you think should be rightfully yours. This, though, does not mean you should be combative, aggressive, rude or disrespectful. It just means do not be naive when it comes to managing your career.That brief conversation with a senior left me with an everlasting imprint. In spite of what anyone says, you are on your own. In the battlefield that many refer to as the workplace, you need to take charge. If you need to progress, to do well in your career, to be recognised as a good leader of men and resources, you need to stand up and demand what you want. You may not always end up being successful .

Just remember one thing: If you ask for anything, you give yourself a better chance of getting it. Career is no different.

This piece is from my column in Economic Times and was first published in the print version of  Economic Times  dated Jan 24th 2012

Categories: Career, Life Lessons, Personal

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