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Posted on January 26, 2016

When drawing a line for the course of their desired professional success, many people draw a straight line diagonally upward from the bottom left to the top right. There are varying degrees of incline depending on how optimistic they are about their future.  Others might see it more like a set of stairs that gradually rises over time.  In my experience, observing both my own and those I’ve worked alongside, it looks like a looping line with plateaus and dips along the way.

There are a number of instances where it is necessary, and sometimes wise, to take a bit of a step “backwards” in order to move ahead.  Many years ago I worked for a large corporation and quickly shot up the ranks.  I soon found myself in a management position in my mid-twenties, which at the time seemed amazing.  After a while I realized that my growth was being stifled because I was getting less mentoring from senior leadership.  Instead of our weekly meetings being focused on where I could learn and grow, I was being held accountable for the performance of others.  Not that I didn’t have a LOT to learn about management, but I realized I still had a lot to learn about myself.  When an opportunity arose to take a job at a smaller company with big potential, the role wasn’t a management position.  I could have viewed it as a demotion because the title and significance I felt were diminished. Instead I welcomed the opportunity to reinforce my own foundation before I took on the responsibility of someone else’s professional growth.  A few years in the trenches later, I was promoted back into management and continued to move up the ladder all the way to CEO.

Another time to consider the upside of a lower title is when moving to a larger company.  Being a VP of a $2 million company pales in significance to being a Director at a $100 million company.  Be prepared that your mother and friends outside the industry might not understand that a lower sounding title could actually be a huge promotion.  Some loops really only exist on paper but actually take you to the next level.

Sometimes our life stages require us to take a loop or even plateau for a while.  Keeping proper balance in mind during these times is the key to warding off any anxieties about the implications of these personal decisions.  If your professional expectation is that perfect diagonal line, you could most certainly have concerns about taking a loop.  But accepting and embracing the reality of the looping path will allow you to feel more in control of these decisions, viewing them as the expected and logical course to plot during a long career.

The last expectation to manage is the pace of promotions.  I once had a meeting with a junior team member who expressed frustration that it had been “over a year” since their last promotion.  If people got an annual promotion, every company would have dozens of CEO’s under the age of 35.  The jump from “Jr.” to “Sr.” anything is a significant one, as is the rise from VP to SVP to EVP.  Depending on the industry and size of company, some people retire after 35 years of services to a discipline at the Director or VP level feeling quite accomplished.  As satisfying as it is to get a promotion, new business cards and reasons for your mother to be proud, what’s more important than the duration between title changes is a clear understanding on exactly where you need to grow. This is what will allow you to do the job you desire in the future.  I have often said that people are most easily promoted into the job that they are already doing.  If you’re a “Jr.” and are striving for “Sr.”, get a clear understanding of what differentiates the two roles and work on developing the skills that define the more senior position.

Along the way, secure your harness, keep your arms and legs inside the roller coaster and enjoy the ride.

Sherry Orel

Sherry Orel is the CEO of Brand Connections, an independent global media and marketing company that specializes in Making Marketing Easier for Marketers™, providing tailored solutions that link critical marketing disciplines to help marketers connect the dots to deliver a better business outcome. She has 25 years experience in working with Fortune 500 brands to develop strategic, multi-channel solutions, integrating disciplines from out-of-home, digital, mobile, social, promotion, sponsorship, experiential, CRM and retail activation.

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