One of the things that people with highly successful careers often have in common is a good manager, or a series of good managers. A good manager will recognise people’s strengths, and help them grow. This is especially important early in your career, where some quick ‘runs on the board’ can get you noticed and considered for other opportunities.
How do you recognise the kind of manager who will boost your career? It’s often easy to recognise the kind of manager who’s no help at all. If you’re never able to make any decisions, you’re never allowed to try anything new, and your boss never has a kind word to say to you or about you, your manager may be killing your career.
More subtly, you don’t want your manager to be too nice. Do you remember that teacher you had, who kinda let everyone slack off and wrote them great school reports anyway? Everything goes fine until you get another teacher, and then you realise that actually, there’s quite a lot to know about algebra, and you never learnt any of it. Much the same happens in the workplace. Some people work ten years for a manager, being told they’re doing great work and receiving positive performance reviews every year. When that manager leaves, they find out they’re unemployable. They haven’t kept their skills current, or they have bad work habits that everyone knows about but them.
How do you spot a manager who will help you reach your career aspirations? At the end of a job interview, when a prospective manager asks if you have any questions, ask something like: “What do you do to support the development of your staff?”. Or how about your current manager? Ask yourself:
1. When did my manager last ask about my career aspirations?
2. When did my manager last discuss with me, what I need to do to achieve my career aspirations?
3. Has my manager helped me set goals and make a plan that will help me achieve them? What has my manager done to help me put my plan into action?
4. What skills does my manager have, that I would like to learn?
5. What recent feedback has my manager given me about what I am doing well and what I need to improve?
6. How much time does my manager spend coaching me (e.g. asking and answering questions about my work)?
7. What work has my manager given me over the past year, that has pushed me out of my comfort zone?
8. How has my manager helped me to build my profile (e.g. publicly credited me for work well done, or introduced me to more senior managers)?
9. How else has my manager assisted me to develop?
10. What skills have I developed over the past year?
Are you happy with the answers to these questions? If not, the responsibility doesn’t just lie with your manager. You might need to ask for more of what you want (e.g. volunteer for a difficult assignment, or ask what you would need to do to prove you have the capability to take on more challenging work). This does usually help. However, if this gets you nowhere, it’s worth considering where your current job is taking you.
Ultimately, your career is your responsibility. But finding the right manager can make things a whole lot easier.