Take a moment to reflect on your career and all of the things that describe that career. Now imagine two buckets; one green and one red. In the red bucket, I want you to symbolically place all of the aspects of your career into this bucket. What items will or has defined your career? Think in terms of the items found on your LinkedIn Profile, Resume, CV, Biography etc. The one caveat is that the red bucket only contains the items that you have limited or no control over. What things that define your career would fall under this category of limited or no control? Let’s start with the most obvious; the job title. I have had 4 of them and not once did anyone ask me what title should be used to describe what I do. All of this is left up to HR to decide. Yet, this single element is on every career representation from business cards to online profiles. Executives with great job titles will tell you that these don’t matter which should be your first clue that they are very important. What about your role and responsibility? Do you have control over that or did the business unit look and define what was needed to reach its goals and objectives? Can you change your role whenever you want? I imagine the answer is no. What about the projects you work on? Do you get to pick them or are they assigned? Wow, there seems to be a lot of things filling up the red bucket where we have very little control.
The good news is that there is another bucket; the green bucket. In the green bucket, we are going to place all of the items that represent our career that we do have control over. These things can’t be taken away, they can’t be demoted or promoted, and they can’t be altered due to the climate within the HR or leadership organization. So what is an example of something in the green bucket? How about your four year degree? Once you have it, no one can take it away from you. Even if your manager is a Georgia Fan, they can’t alter the degrees from Georgia Tech. There are plenty of things that can go into the green bucket such as books, publications, conference proceedings, Ted Talks, patents, etc. Newer methods such as blogs, twitter, and LinkedIn conversations could also be placed into the green bucket. These items are owned and controlled by you and no one can change that. So why separate career defining elements into two buckets?
I want you to think of some famous and world class experts in business and technology. Not the ones our Lake Wobegon HR that tells us that everyone is world class, but real experts in the field. Let’s start on the business side. Who are the experts? How about Jack Welch, Harvey McKay, Mark McCormack, or even Steven Covey? Let’s take Jack Welch, is he famous because of his red bucket? Do his job titles, roles, responsibilities or projects make him world renown on leadership? No, it’s the green bucket. He is one of the leaders in leadership due to his books, blogs, articles, interviews, and speeches. He took his ideas, innovations, and concepts to the world to evaluate and the world said, yes. How about the technology side? This time let’s avoid the top of the class like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates and instead look more toward the middle of the pack. How about a Don Tapscott or Andrew McAfee. Dr. McAfee works at MIT do you know his job title? How about what classes he teaches? No? How about committees or students? No? Then why is he known throughout the world as a Collaboration and AI expert? You got it; the green bucket. He has written books, blogs, Ted Videos, Twitter, Facebook and of course, academic publications.
So why do I tell you about this green bucket? Because 98% of you will spend the next 30 years focusing on the red bucket. You will be told that you are world class sprinter but you will never go to the Olympics to prove it. Your manager, leaders and HR will tell you that you are the best of the best to ensure that you stay focused on the red bucket. For these groups, the red bucket is all there is. Do you find it odd that most speakers for the last five years are either executives or external speakers who are green bucket winners? No internal experts are allowed or provided the opportunity. It’s time to remove the blinders and see what it really takes to be world class. The best news is that you control it.