Recently I had the amazing honor of giving the wrap-up keynote at the 2015 SLA conference. The conference itself was a pretty intense several days, as SLA is currently undergoing some very difficult but important revisions to its structure, vision, core competencies, and identity. But conference discussions also provided a vibrant, real-life example of how we all need to be able to meet changing circumstances head-on, even if the choices we have aren’t the ones we’d hoped for.
My wrap-up keynote carried the same message. Titled “Improvising Your Career: How to Not Freak Out, Run for Cover, or Have to Move In With Your Folks (or Kids),” it focused on the necessity of having, to quote The Start-Up of You (Hoffman and Casnocha, 2012), a permanent beta mindset when it comes to your career. In other words, consider yourself always in start-up mode, and assume that your most important core competency is your ability to adapt. To improvise. To tap dance as fast as you can….
While doing research for a client recently I came across the Broaden-and-Build theory of positive emotions – basically, you’re building on your existing positive emotions to broaden your positive experience of the world, and then continuing to build out from there. It dawned on me that this is a terrific analogy for what most of us are ending up doing with our careers.
We start with a basic “platform” of LIS skills, then broaden and build out from there, usually either to create new opportunities or in response to new job responsibilities. The question is, in what direction does it make sense for us to broaden and build? If you commit to ongoing professional development, you want to make sure the new skills you’re mastering open up the opportunities that pique your interest.
A Broaden-and-Build Career
I spoke with an amazing information professional today, Michele Lucero, who is the Director of Client Development for LAC Group. Her career began with ten years of public library work. But between then and now, she’s worked
– in law librarianship (first legal research then management),
– for a vendor (client relationships, market development, training),
– as a Communications Director for another law library (public relations, social media, events planning, branding),
– as an adjunct professor for an MLIS program as well as for another university in a non-MLIS program (instructional design, teaching, mentoring), and
– as a local coordinator for a remotely-delivered MLIS program (outreach, communication, marketing, recruitment).
During this period Michele also completed an MBA to boost her business skills, a master’s degree in Dispute Resolution to enhance her ability to work with individuals and groups (including clients), and is currently completing her doctorate in Organizational Leadership. In addition, during her less than three years with LAC, Michele has progressed from Director of Business Development & Recruiting to Director of Business Development & Client Services to Director of Client Development.
The “Broaden” Part
Among all the interesting aspects of Michele’s professional trajectory, one of the most fascinating to me was all of the “broadening and building” she has done throughout her career. When asked what additional skills she felt had been important to pick up along the way, she mentioned sales, project management, instructional design, team management and leadership, conflict management, customer service, public presentation skills, relationship management, and recruitment, which is a combination of almost all these skills.
Needless to say, Michele is an exceptionally high achiever, and if she weren’t such a delightful, caring, and warm human being we could almost get away with tagging her as a fluke of nature. But the reality is that she’s a perfect example of how far – and in how many diverse directions – you can take your career if you adopt a “broaden-and-build” mindset.
Where Will You Build?
Although I’m not at Michele’s level of amazing breadth of skills, my own career has broadened beyond my initial MLIS skill set to include instructional design, business writing, online content development, client relations, marketing, public relations, personal coaching, project management, and team leadership, among other skills. Some were developed in response to career opportunities, others to new responsibilities. But regardless, each eventually ended up being part of my core skill set for which clients would hire me.
When you think about broadening and building your own career, think about what kinds of opportunities you want to open up in your future, even if those are at your current employer. What additional skills will enable you to contribute in a new way or at a higher level? You probably don’t need another master’s degree, but it’s just good “career insurance” to be regularly adding new elements to what you know and can do with that knowledge.
The alternative is to stay right where you are…while the world, and the profession, passes you by.
Over the course of a highly eclectic career, I’ve had the ah, opportunity, to observe the management skills (or lack thereof) of many bosses. Since almost no one is trained in how to manage people effectively, I’ve generally been willing to cut them some slack based on the idea that I probably couldn’t do much better.
Despite that, I’ve ended up managing people and teams numerous times – and pretty much always felt like my primary goal (besides completing our project) was to not screw up my team members. “Winging it” was probably too generous a description of my best efforts….