When he visited the Ontario Science Centre as a kid, Roger Martin was struck by a display of two side-by-side tracks upon which two ball bearings raced down an incline. The dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto says the lesson he learned from that display has stuck with him ever since.
One of the tracks dropped in a straight 45-degree angle, while, the other much-longer track fell quickly at the start and flattened out at the end. "When the ball-bearings were released, darn it if the long track won hands down – again and again," he recalls.
In short, the up-front investment in acceleration for the ball-bearing paid off in vastly superior speed later on. "Same thing holds in careers," he notes: Invest in your career early if you want to advance later.
As we enter 2013, it's a message he wants to share because it could help you with your career development.
Prof. Martin was one of a varied group of experts who were asked to provide suggestions for Globe and Mail readers on what they can do in the coming year to advance their careers. Here are some other pointers:
Surround yourself with smart people
Many managers get to higher levels of their organization because of their intelligence, their hard work and their ability to plan and implement strategies. But Peggy Cunningham, dean of management at Dalhousie University in Halifax, observes that as you move up in an organization, your responsibility increases, and it becomes tougher to do everything on your own.
"Many people feel defeated when they can no longer succeed through their own efforts. Rather than seeing it as a sign of personal weakness, surround yourself with smart people who have different perspectives and different skills," she says. "Listen to them respectfully and attentively, draw out their ideas, and work to integrate their perspectives into your plans and solutions to problems."
Be your own CEO
Toronto-based success coach Robin Sharma believes an excellent way to rise in your field is to stop blaming others and to start modelling the behaviour you want everyone else at your company to show. You don't have to be at the top of the chain to set a good standard. He argues that the old model of leadership is obsolete, and that anyone can show leadership. They can be, as he puts it, the CEO of their job.
"Leadership isn't about a title. Real leadership is about getting big things done in the face of challenges, being part of the solution versus the problem, and inspiring everyone around you – even if you're the janitor," he says.
Elaine Sigurdson of Insight to Action career coaching in Toronto stresses that the foundation of success is self-awareness – of your strengths, interests, personality factors and the desires that form the basis of good career choices throughout life. She brushes aside the suggestion that this is familiar and, these days, perhaps trite advice: "Yes, it's well known that self-awareness is key. Still, very few people seem to have much of it. We're so focused on doing, it doesn't appear to be hardwired in most of us to spend as much time reflecting on our internal processes." It's a problem in particular for young people making critical career and educational planning choices with no information about themselves or the world of work, and spending thousands of dollars floundering. She suggests it's an important discipline throughout your career to routinely ask yourself: Does what I am doing really play into what I'm best at or really want to do – or am I being sidetracked by the appeal of the money or the status of the promotion?
Develop – and use – your contact list
When you meet people and they hand you a business card, make sure you actually put it in your contact list, and then keep in contact. "I'm surprised how many people don't do that," says Barbara Kofman, a principal at Career Trails, a Toronto-based career coaching firm. "It's a two-minute process to put them in your e-mail contacts and send a 'glad to meet you' note." Then keep in touch, perhaps quarterly or twice a year for the "hot contacts" who might help you down the road to advance your career.
Write an anti-résumé
Your résumé probably looks backward at your career. Instead, Mark Franklin, practice leader of the career professionals team at Career Cycles in Toronto, says you need to write a forward-looking statement of your strengths, desires and influences, and what possibilities intrigue you for the future. It should be about a half-page, perhaps in bullet-point format. "You should update it regularly. It helps you to catch clues about the future rather than look through the rear-view mirror as a résumé does," he explains.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter