11 Lessons for Those Feeling “Stuck” or “Trapped” in their Careers

Limitless, by David Melchor Diaz, Flickr

Limitless, by David Melchor Diaz, Flickr

Have you ever had the feeling of being “stuck” or “trapped” in a career or job? Most people have at one time or another.

The question of what to do with this “stuck” feeling is vital for anyone facing a challenging season, and is at the heart of what I’d like to engage in this brief reflection.

Changing Your Work Context

Sometimes this experience or feeling leads toward a shift away from one’s current role, whether this shift is dramatic or more subtle.

One expression of this might be the bold step of quitting a job even though a next step is not in place. Another expression of this might be putting your résumé out and getting a feel for other options. Still another expression of this might be going back to school in order to eventual make the jump out of a current role.

Changing Your Perspective on Your Work Context

Other times, the answer is not a shift away from a role or organization, but rather a shift in perspective within that role or organization. This path is about taking a proactive posture toward the stuck feeling. Rather than seeing this as something brought upon you by the organization or others, this is about shifting to take ownership and responsibility for what you have control of as you face this feeling.

Advice for Getting Unstuck

On this point, Robert Steven Kaplan provides thoughtful reflections in his HBR article entitled Reaching Your Potential. Here are some recommendations and reflections drawn from Kaplan’s work for those desiring to move out of this feeling of being “stuck” and “trapped.”

  1. Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses
  2. Use this Understanding to Guide Your Career Choices and Goals
  3. Identify Three or Four Tasks that Are Central to Your Work Responsibilities; Make Sure You Excel at These
  4. Show Character and Leadership within Your Role and Organization
  5. Put the Interests of the Company and Your Colleagues ahead of Your Own Interests
  6. Be Willing to Speak Up, Even Voicing Unpopular Views
  7. Don’t Play It Too Safe
  8. Identify Your Dreams
  9. Develop Skills to Realize these Dreams
  10. Demonstrate Courage to Pursue these Dreams
  11. Remember their Will be Bumps Along the Way

What Are Your Next Steps for Getting Unstuck?

Although we could identify other recommendations to add to these, Kaplan provides great insight here for those wanting to move forward from this place of feeling stuck. The key is to move away from a passive posture and on toward an active posture of taking ownership in moving toward your career potential.

What steps have been most helpful for you in getting “unstuck” in the context of your job?

C.S. Lewis on Empowerment — Exploring Leadership Development

C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Photo Credit: C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Empowerment is vital for effective leadership. It is core to most of our relationships…from teaching, to parenting, to leading.

Leading People to Not Need Us

In discussing love and giving, C.S. Lewis implicitly engages the practice of empowerment. Lewis writes:

The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching.”

Celebrating Growth toward Independence

This principle is not only essential for effective parenting or teaching, it is also essential for effective leading. It raises a heart-searching question for us as leaders: Are we leading our people to dependency on our leadership, or are we leading them to a place of independence and interdependence?

Recognizing Leader Struggles Along the Way

Organizational leaders who hunger for power and position will have difficulty leading followers to a place of independence. Organizational leaders who struggle with personal insecurity will struggle to free followers to this place as well.

Secure and follower-focused leaders recognize that it is a win for both their followers and their organizations to create pathways where leaders may be both developed and empowered for service.

Finding the Reward of Empowerment

Lewis continues to press his argument:

Thus a heavy task is laid upon the Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say ‘They need me no longer’ should be our reward.”

All too often, our saying “they need me no longer” is viewed as a threat rather than a reward. But true love—love that holds the importance of others and their goals alongside our own goals—will lead in such a way that both leader and follower values, goals, aspirations, and dreams may be pursued.

Developing and Deploying Emerging Leaders

In reality, leaders who get the concept of developing and deploying their people do not work themselves out of a job, for such leaders are constantly creating new opportunities for new developing leaders. Great leaders create space for others to flourish. Great leaders identify potential, develop this potential, and release this potential into new roles and opportunities.

Leadership development does not need to be a zero sum game. Thriving organizations and entrepreneurial communities benefit from a regular flow of developed and empowered leaders released into new opportunities.

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How are you wired as a leader around these themes? Do you tend to hold onto authority over others, or are you wired to identify, develop, and release talent in the cause of your organization’s mission? Great leaders empower their people!

Effective Leadership = Effective Self-Leadership

Reflection "I", VisualAge Flickr

Photo Credit: Reflection “I”, VisualAge Flickr

There is one prerequisite for managing the second half of life;
You must begin doing so long before you enter it.”

– Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker brought an insightful voice to management studies in the 20th century. One of my favorite articles by Drucker is a Harvard Business Review piece called “Managing Oneself.”

Drucker argues that there is an explicit connection between excellence in management and the cultivation of understanding of oneself. To extend this, we might argue that effective leadership begins with effective self-leadership. Or, put as a question…

How can I lead others well if I am not first leading myself well?

A commitment to such a question leads to critical self-management questions. Drucker raised the following self-management questions in his article:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. How do I perform?
  3. How do I learn?
  4. What are my values?
  5. Where do I belong?
  6. What should I contribute?

Of these questions, I would argue that knowing ones strengths and values is a top priority for leaders.

Attending to Our Strengths

Regarding strengths, Drucker notes, “To do things well, you’ll need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself,” and “only when you operate from strengths can you achieve true excellence.” Understanding strengths allows us to build on the positive dimensions already present in our lives rather than working to improve deficits. On this point Drucker notes, “It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” In the pursuit of leadership excellence, building on strengths is a first order priority for those engaged in self-leadership.

Attending to Our Values

But strengths are not the only story. Strengths must be grounded in the things that matter most to us and our communities—our values. On this point, Drucker notes, “What one does well—even very well and successfully—may not fit with one’s value system.” Strengths and skills must be guided by values. Values should form the basis for understanding and applying our strengths. Strengths applied without values can quickly lead to ethical and moral violations in leadership. Strengths applied in congruence with deeply held values provide a basis for our natural talents to serve rather than abuse the communities of which we are part.

Effective leadership begins with effective self-leadership! Are you attending to your strengths? Are you attending to your values?

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I’d love to hear how you have engaged effective self-management and self-leadership in your life and work!