To reach your current level, you’ve done a lot of things right. You’ve established yourself as a reliable professional with significant expertise in your field. Your team values your contributions and seeks your input on critical matters. By most accounts, you’re a rising star but lately you’ve begun to feel stagnant.
While your current approach has served you well, to get to the next level, you’ll need to make some changes. Here are three things you should stop doing if you want to advance your career.
Relying too heavily on your functional expertise
To reach higher levels in an organization, you must excel in your functional area. It is through this functional expertise that you gained visibility early in your career. As a go-to expert, your colleagues and leaders began to value and respect you and your work. This opened the door to new opportunities, enabling you to move ahead in your career.
That same expertise that propelled you forward also has the potential to hold you back. As a leader in your organization, your leadership, problem solving, and communication skills take on much greater significance than the technical skills that got you there. You must be willing to let go of the day-to-day activity and focus on the bigger picture.
Unfortunately, functional activity often becomes a trap for emerging leaders. As an area where you’ve traditionally excelled and been rewarded, it becomes a natural comfort zone, particularly amidst the ambiguity and complexity of higher-level responsibilities. Reverting back to the tasks that came easily to you offers a sense of satisfaction and productivity that is much more difficult to measure at the strategic level.
To advance your career, you need to step out of your comfort zone and embrace your role as a leader. If you’re unclear about how to effectively make this transition, seek support from a manager, mentor, or other trusted advisor.
Limiting your professional network
If you’re like most leaders, you feel overwhelmed by your workload and can’t justify using your limited free time (if any) to build relationships. Because they are the constituents who are most directly tied to your success, you focus most of your attention on your manager and direct reports. While you recognize the value of networking, it’s a luxury you simply can’t afford right now.
While it might seem counterintuitive, this is precisely the time to invest in your network, particularly your peers. By limiting your focus to your immediate team, you risk creating an inefficient silo. The lack of cross-functional communication and teamwork leads to redundancies and missed opportunities to leverage others’ expertise.
Your peers have the potential to offer insights and support that can help you prevent or minimize problems that would otherwise consume your time. They may also have resources available that would free up some cycles on your team. And, if you do need their help, having strong relationships will move you to the top of the priority list.
Perhaps most importantly, your peers can influence your career path. Having strong allies can help you more effectively drive your agenda, gain higher-level support, and stay in the loop on critical, behind-the-scenes information. While it might feel more productive to stay at your desk, neglecting these relationships can cut off your access to invaluable resources, news, and expertise.
Waiting for direction from others
When you’re in an ambiguous situation and feel unclear about what is expected of you, it is tempting to wait for direction from your superiors. You worry that making the wrong move will hurt your reputation. Or, you recognize the criticality of a particular effort and want to ensure that you approach it as strategically as possible. Rather than take a risk, you seek counsel from your boss on how to move forward.
There is nothing wrong with validating expectations before embarking on an important initiative. As a matter of fact, that’s a wise step to take. Waiting for direction, however, undermines your credibility as a leader. You were hired because of your expertise and potential. Your leadership team is counting on you to be proactive and resourceful. Don’t wait to be told how to proceed.
Taking calculated risks is part of being a strong leader. You will rarely have a blueprint to guide your decisions. Leveraging your past experience, tapping your resources, and trusting your instincts will help you navigate unfamiliar territory.