Career growth in today’s fast moving environment requires all the skills that we normally ascribe only to entrepreneurs -- ability to adapt, change, be innovative, resilient and stay in constant learning mode. The days are gone when you were able to focus on a specific skill set in school and hone that expertise into a satisfying career for the rest of your working life.
Business career growth and success now requires thinking like an independent entrepreneur, even if you have chosen to climb the corporate ladder. Here is my list of critical skills that are second-nature to every successful entrepreneur and I believe are equally valuable to corporate professionals and executives today.
- Accept change as the only constant in business. Conforming to the way things have always been done in a company is a career killer as well as a company killer. For entrepreneurs, change is the door to opportunity, so be proactive and make it happen. Assume your role needs to change every couple of years, or you are falling behind.
- Develop and continually refine your competitive advantage. Entrepreneurs know that no competitive advantage means failure. Corporate professionals don’t realize that peers are their career competitors, so they get annoyed if another one is treated as ahead of the pack. Always be working to learn and demonstrate a clear skill lead in your domain.
- Demonstrate an ongoing sense of urgency on every task. It’s easy for professionals in a large organization to become complacent. Entrepreneurs understand that every aspect of customer satisfaction and business requires a sense of urgency to win. Change in a corporate environment can also happen quickly, so always keep a sense of urgency.
- Don’t be hesitant to take calculated risks. In the world of an entrepreneur, taking no risk is the riskiest thing you can do. Too many corporate professionals believe that taking no risk is the smartest thing to do. No risk means no gain in today’s world. Calculated risks are those with a low downside potential, but offer a large opportunity on the upside.
- Proactively seek out new career opportunities. Many professionals feel that if they do a good job, someone above them will seek them out for a better position. Entrepreneurs know that even the best new businesses don’t get found without effective marketing, testimonials and positioning work. Smart corporate professionals make their own luck.
- Build more and better relationships outside your domain. Good entrepreneurs know that who you know is often more important than what you know, especially as you look for new opportunities. Entrepreneurs continually expand their network of advisors and experts. Professionals trying to win on a solo basis are destined to be lost in the shuffle.
- Approach your career as an unfinished work in progress. Approach each day as an opportunity to learn new things, and grow into a changing role. Entrepreneurs know that their current solution is really a beta for the next one, and if that change takes too long, the business fails. Smart professionals never get comfortable with the status quo.
In every case, entrepreneurs understand that their success depends on a successful interaction with the environment around them, including economic, cultural and social issues. Corporate professionals often see themselves in a narrow tower, and become less sensitive to any outside forces. Everyone needs to think purposefully about how and where they choose to live and work.
I’m convinced that all members of the human species were originally born as entrepreneurs, and the skills and instincts that served them well to be survivors are still valuable today, whether you are managing a business or managing a career. If career growth and job satisfaction are your objectives, just pretend that you are an entrepreneur and your career is your business.
Your real challenge is to thrive -- not just survive.