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Tactfully Positioning Your Career


Believing something is "tactful" depends on our point of view, your upbringing, and probably your belief system. Social norms and the makeup of a group also influence what is considered "tactful" or not. However, just because you don't think something is tactful, does not make it so. How you position your career, regardless of your level of tact, will always be seen by someone as excessive or lacking "tact". You can't base how you position yourself off of naysayers. There are tactful, non-gaudy ways to utilize your network and opportunities to tactfully position your career.

First though, I would like to call out some of the people that build themselves up by putting others down. If you are one of those people trying to guilt trip someone who is trying to tactfully position their career, what are you trying to prove? Are you that much of a bootstrapper that you feel like someone choosing not to navigate their career alone is weak? Corporate America is a team game. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you'll be able to accomplish some of the things you're setting out to accomplish. So lets dig in!

Here are some tactful ways to position your career:

  1. Know where you want to be - In order to position your career you need to know where you want to be. What's your end game? You don't need to know exactly how to get here, or even have a "role" or "position" in mind, but you do need to know what you want to be doing and why.

  2. Grow your network - Your network is the people you can tap on to come through for you. The only way you can grow that, is by coming into contact with more people. So you need to get out of your comfort zone, and meet people of like minds outside of your immediate team. Look for opportunities to get involved with different people in your company by volunteering your time, reaching out, and creating connections, all while making the most of these new relationships. The more people you know, throughout the various groups and organizations in your company, the better off you're going to be.

  3. Let people know where you want to be and why - Once you know where you want to be, and you have developed a strong network, the next step is to let that network know where you want to be, what you want to be doing and why. You can't just leave it to chance. Your network should not have to "guess" where you're headed, they should equate your name with your vision, what value you provide, and know exactly what they can do to help you get there. They should know you as someone who knows what they want, and has the confidence to do it. That's career power! Do this successfully and you have created a team of advocates to get you where you need to be.

  4. Communicate with key decision makers - These are some of the key people in your network. The ones that help to dictate the direction of the company. They need to know that #1- you exist and #2- the value you can help bring to the company. These are the types of people you may be able to meet at organized happy hours, or calling out their Open Door Policy, or even scheduling time after a larger meeting that they spoke at. Another benefit of communicating with key decision makers is because it will really help you to understand the needs of the company, especially if you're still in the stage of understanding what value you can bring to the company. Word of caution: ensure you're promoting your message and your end vision, and not just yourself. That can be poorly received.

  5. Put yourself out there - When opportunities present themselves, go after them! I have another article where I addressed the point of "stop telling yourself NO". Get out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself and put yourself out there. I've been part of enough internal interviews where more time is spent talking about the "runner up" and how to position them for their career than about the person who is actually getting the role. So even if you don't get the opportunities you're going after, putting yourself out there gets you on some of the key decision makers' radar!

Here are some NOT-tactful ways to position your career:

  1. Putting anyone down…ever…to anyone - Bad mouthing anyone for the benefit of laughs, getting ahead of them in the social construct of your group, or simply as part of conversation, is not ok. Even if those around you agree with you, and are laughing with you, deep down they're questioning what you're saying about them when they're not around. They are questioning your integrity, what you say you're about vs. what you're really about. So don’t do it.

  2. Stealing Credit - Never try to get ahead off the backs of other people. Give credit where credit is due. Give credit even when it's partially due. People know who's doing the work, so you're not tricking anyone. The truth will find its way, and when you get labeled as a glory hound that doesn't pull their weight, good luck getting rid of that moniker.

  3. Idea Hording - I see this usually when someone doesn't have many ideas, and they must fear they will not have another one. They hold tight to whatever the idea was, lack a willingness to share it or allow it to be changed as if it's copywritten. This doesn't allow the idea to grow to its full potential. Not to mention, going hand in hand with the last concept of "stealing credit" will lead others to not want to brainstorm or share ideas with you. It's a perfect storm of tactlessness.

  4. Constant self promotion - This has to do with promoting yourself for only your benefit. As it really doesn’t benefit anyone for knowing who you are, because you're not really doing much to help anyone. If you've properly established "where you want to be" and built a strong network, and you strive to help other people, you will have people advocate on our behalf, independent of any self promotion.

  5. Prioritizing positioning over your values - We all have personal values. They are not the same as one another, and it's highly unlikely they match one for one with the company. However giving up pieces of who you are to impress your peers or supervisors is never the way to get ahead. If you value family time but commit to traveling 75%, or if you believe in importance diversity, equity & inclusion but don't vocally push the importance at your company, you've essentially chosen to sideline your values for positioning. That make work in the short term, but I sure don't want to work with you.

Being tactful is built upon the company being in a better position because of your passion, drive and ideas, being tactless is built upon you and only you being better off at the end of the day. If you would like to realign the way you are tactfully positioning your career…

I ask two things of you this week:

  1. Go over the list above and make an honest assessment of what you're you doing in terms of positioning. Then look at the list and make an honest assessment of how you would perceive yourself going about positioning if you were someone else. Are there some things you can change? Other approaches you could be making? Again, no matter what you do there will be people who don't agree with your approach, for the most part, those are the people you're passing up. Just be tactful.

  2. Take a moment to stop judging other people and how they're going about positioning their career. This list above is not an exhaustive list, and others may appreciate a different approach. Respect their grind, and play your game!

Navigating Corporate America is like playing a game of chess. It takes intention with your positioning. Not everyone contributes the same abilities to the cause as you navigate and prepare for the end game. This is a good thing. You will need a variety of skills to get to where you're headed. Unfortunately, many people come into Corporate America thinking that they're playing checkers and don't understand when things don't work out for them. They may look down on you for playing by a separate set of rules or even go as far as to say you're cheating, or brown nosing, and never stop to ask you for advice on how to improve. They don't understand the rules of whatever game you're playing, or see how knowing them allows you to gain the advantage of tactful positioning. It's not cheating. It's not a dirty word. Tactful career positioning will set you up for your desired end game. Don't be fooled into thinking you should be playing checkers, when you know full well it's a game of chess, and you're good at it.


Note: All of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and are not a reflection of the viewpoint of my employer. #leadyourcareer

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