Broaden Your Horizons

Broaden Your Horizons

Background:

In part 1 of this series on Growth and Unhappiness, we saw how the reckless pursuit of career growth (i.e. promotions) can cause anguish. In part 2, we read about the example of Srikanth who refused to grow into leadership and management positions and still had no trouble staying happy. And, in part 3, we explored one easy method to manage our growth.

In this article, we will take a slightly different perspective of growth, and explore whether there is another dimension in which growth might be pursued.

Incubating leaders:

Once, our executive coaching group (an informal group of executive coaches and mentors) performed an informal survey of the backgrounds of several founders of startups and senior executives of medium-size companies. The survey indicated that a large number of these successful leaders had worked, earlier in their careers, at one particular large organization. This large organization – let’s call it LeaderBreeder – was apparently doing an excellent job of building leaders, and was, thus, indirectly helping the industry at large.

Upon a closer look at LeaderBreeder, this is what we found. At a certain level in the organization, say at GM’s (general manager’s) level, this company had a written policy to move people around in the organization such that they got to do totally different things every 2 years. So, a GM in Engineering would move to Finance. Or, a GM in Marketing would move to HR. And so on. This sort of horizontal movement gave these managers the sort of diverse view of the business that would be critical when they grew into executive level positions.

Lush lawns grow along the ground:

There are certain types of Creepers (a type of plant) that grow horizontally. My favorite is one that is used to create lush colorful lawns because the plant loves to grow and spread along the ground. It doesn’t even try to chase the Sun.

When you think about growth, don’t just think vertical. Consider lateral growth, i.e. moving into other groups or departments of your organization. Even within your own department (such as Engineering) there could be many other product or service groups that might be interesting to consider.

A friend of mine – let’s call him Devon – spent a number of years in Microsoft’s operating systems group. Naturally, he came to be called a “Systems Engineer”, and he was proud of being a “Kernel Developer”. One day, he said to himself: “Hey, I have no clue how this kernel and drivers stuff is actually used out there!” So, he transplanted himself into an applications group that used the Windows platform to write software that was used by real people on the street. When I met him during this time, he said he was getting used to Visual Basic – a painfully “lowly” language compared with C or C++ which are used by Systems programmers – but he had no complaints. He was meeting real customers, solving real problems. He loved his new environment and challenges.

Devon is now self-employed: he started a services company that develops Windows based software called middleware. He says, “We are the best in our category because we understand both the upper layer and the lower layer”.

Consider horizontal growth:

The morale of the story is this: professional growth is not always vertical. Depending on your ambition for the long term, a broad range of skills could be more valuable than just deep expertise in one area. If your ambition is, one day, to become a CEO, just building in-depth expertise in (say) the technology of Cloud Computing is not going to be sufficient. You will need to understand Finance because money is the bottom-line of every business. You will need to understand Marketing because that’s where the product ideas come from. You will need to master Sales because that’s where you get to know your customer.

Going a step further, I would say, you don’t even need to be possessed with the ambition to become a CEO to consider this mode of growth. For some of us, learning a variety of roles and jobs is a lot of fun. For some others, a change to a totally different type of work can provide a breath of fresh air that might be badly needed to instill some excitement in our life.

As I have said earlier, there is no one way to ensure happiness in matters related to professional growth. Your mentor or professional coach can guide you in exploring both vertical and horizontal avenues of growth available to you. Depending on where you are in your career, your goals, and your makeup, an appropriate choice of direction would ensure success and more importantly, happiness.

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