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  • Writer's pictureJill Helmer

"Heads Down Leaders: Look Up"

I have the privilege of coaching a variety of senior leaders across a diverse set of industries.  While each have their own career story, I find some commonalities in their experiences. One of the common experiences of these individuals is that they get “heads down” in their current organization, in their team, and in their work.  “Heads down” means that they become singularly focused on success in their current environment and in doing so, they look for feedback and direction from those who are working alongside of them.

When these “heads down” leaders seek career advice, they often seek it from someone inside of their organization.  I would never discourage this because those that we work with every day are wonderful sources of current feedback. They are often people we trust, and they are people who want the best for us.*  The * indicates that those we currently work with want the best for us, however their judgment of what is best for us can be clouded by their view of what is best for them. You know this to be true, right?  You’ve had the experience where a trusted colleague comes to you and asks for advice on a competing offer from another company. While you look at the offer and know that it is a great opportunity for this individual, there is a part of you that can only think about what this means for you.   If this colleague leaves, will their role be backfilled? If their role isn’t backfilled, will you pick up their workload? If this colleague leaves, who will you count on to deliver for you in a pinch? If this colleague leaves, who will you grab lunch with and blow off steam when others are driving you crazy?  As hard as you try to give the best advice, I don’t think you can argue that the advice is slightly clouded by the questions above. Reminder: When seeking career advice from those you are currently working with, keep in mind that it is clouded with what your opportunity means for them.  

The other commonality with my “heads down” clients is that they are the best at keeping up with relationships in their current work environment.  This means that they are likely to spend their time out of the office with their teams, their directs, and their customers. For the organization, this is great news and exactly what the company wants and needs from their senior leaders.  But for the individual, this means that the discretionary time they have to spend on a lunch, a dinner or a drink after work is spent with the people they are with every day. This leaves little time to meet up with a former boss or peer that could provide them with perspective outside of their current environment.  And this is no big deal until they “hit a wall” in their career and they need the advice of someone objective. Per the paragraph above, it is challenging to find that objectivity in their current organization, so they now have to “dust off” that former colleague or boss, get time on their calendar and give them a call and ask for critical advice.  I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to ask for critical, career altering advice from someone I have spoken to, had lunch with or connected to in the last year. Reminder: If you are one of these “heads down” leaders, make sure you “look up” once in a while and reconnect with people you trust outside of your current organization before you need to make the call for critical advice.

It’s Monday and we are four months into the new calendar year.  How are things working for you in your current environment? Do you feel stuck or are you right where you want to be?  If you feel stuck, this would be a great time to reach out to a former colleague and compare notes and get a different perspective.  If you are right where you want to be, it would be a good day to make the same call. Consider it an investment for your future because the day will come when you need their perspective.

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