Are You Mining for Career Gold But Digging in the Wrong Place?

It is not just what you have to offer, but where you offer it that can determine a successful career.

No matter how capable or experienced a miner might be, if there is no gold in the mine, any and all efforts to find it will be futile. Likewise, no matter how talented and dedicated you might be in your desire to achieve success, if you are working in the wrong environment, then any and all efforts to realize it will be futile.

Trying to find success in all the wrong places mines nothing more than the tailings of wasted effort and deepening disappointment. That’s Successthe reason why, if you have the aptitude and a willingness to pay the price for success, you should consider not only what you can do for a company, but also start prospecting about what a company can do for you.

This reflection came to mind recently when a talented, focused and highly ambitious young man contacted me requesting some vocational guidance. Despite youth and relative inexperience – he was in his early 20s – he had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve, but was facing with a career quandary. Here are the facts.

  • He holds a low-level management position with a company that is a recognized leader in his desired field of endeavor.
  • The job provides him the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and experience in his field and offers the potential of a long-term secure career.
  • But the cultural environment of the company is so infested with bureaucrats and micro-managers he has become exasperated enough to consider, not just a job change, but even a career change.

He feels privileged to be working with such a successful, highly regarded company and recognizes the opportunity to learn and gain experience. On the other hand, he is troubled by the requirement that, in exchange for this opportunity and security, he must accept a stultifying work-environment. It’s an environment that, in his humble opinion, might never truly recognize his talent or provide him with the career success he desires; and even if it does, it comes with the requirement that he sell his soul to reach it.

Give the young man credit for being perceptive and mature enough to recognize the conflict he is facing. Some employees toil in the corporate mines for years searching for success, only to discover, after it is too late, that management’s promises were nothing but fool’s gold.

That’s why this young man’s dilemma is worth writing about. He’s far from alone in this kind of career predicament. The corporate culture bait and switch is giving millions of employees the shaft. But, as I counseled this young man, it can be avoided.

For those launching or in the midst of building a career, two issues should always be front and center: (1) Does the company offer career-path potential; and (2) is the culture of the organization one that will allow them to use their talents to their full capability?

These are good questions, but unfortunately the answers will not be found in the past or even current reputation of the company, but only by constantly assessing and understanding the cultural environment of the company; understanding how it is managed and led. Even if the company has achieved success in the past, you should be thinking about the future, and if the culture seems to be going down the wrong path, then you should look for another path.

Keep Your Eyes Wide Open

The good news is that employees themselves are in the best position to assess the culture of the organization and how that might impact their future. The key is to be observant and brutally honest about what you see and experience in your workplace. If you can’t do that and be honest with yourself, then know that you have begun to sell your soul. You’re digging your own future failure.

Conversely, you can spot the rich veins of a promising future by examining the attitude and philosophy of management. What type of organizational culture is management building? Does company management even recognize or care about creating a positive organizational culture? Or is it something they just give lip service to? The answers to these questions will go a long way toward helping you determine if you are mining for success in the right mine.

Obviously, the best starting point to find those veins of promise is to determine whether management of the company is ethical. The use of the term “ethical” in this context is not about lying, cheating and stealing. And if those adjectives (verbs, if you like) describe the modus operandi of management then the answer is simple. Update your resume. But for the purposes of this discussion, ethics refers to the attitude and operating philosophy of management. Do they speak with forked-tongue? Do they talk the talk of good culture, but operate in a closed, self-serving fashion?

A good example of management lacking sound ethics is when management fails to empower others. Empowerment of employees is the most-often talked about and the least-used management strategy in the corporate world. Empowerment is simple; it is not about giving up power, but about sharing power so that employees have the power to make a difference. Nothing motivates an employee more to do more than to be given the power to make a difference. Is it ethical to give an employee the responsibility to do a job, but to withhold the authority and power to do it?

Another sure sign of an ethically-challenged leadership is when a management group incessantly talks about how important the employees are to the success of the company, but there is no real empowerment and when black clouds are sighted on the horizon, the first actions of management are to “downsize” and “outsource.”

If you work for a company with a cultural heritage that holds to the belief that costs will be reduced and profits increased when important ethicsfunctions (and the people doing them) are outsourced to those with no knowledge of the company and with no concern for the future of the company (other than its ability to pay the outsourcing fees) and the future of its people, then it is reasonable to question the cultural ethics of management. And to ponder just how much of a future this type of culture provides the opportunity for the success you seek.

Again, let’s be honest. Corporate management is not required to be transparent, consistent, open and culturally ethical. In fact, in most organizations it is the antithesis of this attitude that is accepted and typical. But that does not make it right and it certainly doesn’t bode well for your plans for success. Sure, it’s possible to climb the corporate ladder working for a company that does not build an ethical culture – many do – but to do so you have to be willing to sell your soul and future to this type of soulless leadership. That may be okay for a while – and is your decision to make – but you have to ask yourself if you really want to live your life that way.

If you find yourself in the same position as my young friend, here are a few tips and telltale signs to help you determine if your job really offers you the opportunity to mine your gold of success:

  • Communication – Is the management open and honest in their communication with all employees? Is information about the company considered the exclusive purview of management? Are employees constantly caught off guard by the actions of management?
  • Trust Do management actions build a culture of trust? Can the pronouncements of management be taken at face value or do employees feel they have to question what they really mean? Are employees comfortable trusting their future to the actions and interests of management?
  • Parallel Interest Does management make an honest effort to align their interests, the interests of the company and the interests of the employees in parallel? Do the employees feel they will share in the success of the company that their efforts help to create? Is the success of an organization the success of all or is it management that takes both the credit and spoils for any success?
  • Power SharingIs the power to make a difference concentrated in the hands of a few or shared? Are employees given the responsibility for tasks, but not the authority, support and tools to achieve them? Does management often speak of empowering employees, but take actions that often denigrate the value and importance of the employees?

The value of such honest assessments is that they allow you to take and keep control of your future. And that, in and of itself, is success.

And the Moral of the Story …

If you are serious about your future and the success you want to achieve, it is incumbent upon you to take control of your future. There is no gold at the end of the tunnel when you allow others to control your future. Taking control of your future starts by putting yourself in a place that gives you a future.

As I advised my young friend, if you find yourself working for a company infected with the malady of an unethical culture, you know you are in the wrong place. You have two choices: You can give up and give in and place your future in the hands of a management group you neither trust nor respect. Or you can take control of your own future by finding an environment that provides you the opportunity to mine for the gold of success you seek.

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