There are a number of instances where it is necessary, and sometimes wise, to take a bit of a step backwards in order to move ahead. Many years ago, I worked for a large corporation and quickly shot up the ranks. I soon found myself in a management position in my mid-twenties, which at the time seemed amazing. After a while, I realized that my growth was being stifled because I was getting less mentoring from senior leadership. Instead of focusing our weekly meetings on where I could learn and grow, I was being held accountable for the performance of others. Not that I didn’t have a LOT to learn about management, but I realized I still had a lot to learn about myself.
When an opportunity arose to take a job at a smaller company with big potential, it was not a management role. I could have viewed it as a demotion because the title and significance I felt were diminished. Instead, I welcomed the opportunity to reinforce my own foundation before I took on the responsibility of fostering someone else’s professional growth. With a few years in the trenches, I was promoted back into management and continued to move up the ladder all the way to CEO. Another time to consider the upside of a lower title is when moving to a larger company. Being a VP at a $2 million company pales in significance to being a director at a $100 million company. Be prepared—your mother and friends outside the industry might not understand that a lower sounding title can actually be a huge promotion. Some loops really only exist on paper, but actually take you to the next level. Sometimes our life stages require us to take a loop or even plateau for a while. Keeping proper balance in mind during these times is the key to warding off any anxieties about the implications of these personal decisions. If your professional expectation is that perfect diagonal line, you could most certainly have concerns about taking a loop. Accepting and embracing the reality of the looping path will allow you to feel more in control of these decisions, viewing them as the expected and logical course to plot during your long career.
The last expectation to manage is the pace of promotions. I once had a meeting with a junior team member who expressed frustration that it had been “over a year” since their last promotion. If people got an annual promotion, every company would have dozens of CEO’s under the age of 35. The jump from “Jr.” to “Sr.” in any role is a significant one, as is the rise from VP to SVP to EVP. Depending on the industry and size of the company, some people retire after 35 years of services to a discipline at the Director or VP level feeling quite accomplished. As satisfying as it is to get a promotion—new business cards and reasons for your mother to be proud—what’s more important than the duration between title changes is a clear understanding on exactly where you need to grow. This is what will allow you to do the job you desire in the future. I have often said that people are most easily promoted into the job that they are already doing. If you’re a “Jr.” and are striving for “Sr.”, get a clear understanding of what differentiates the two roles and work on developing the skills that define the more senior position.
When imagining your path to success, most people picture a steady incline with a straight line diagonally from the bottom left to the top right. In my experience, observing both my own journey and those I’ve worked alongside, it looks like a loop-de-loop line with twists and dips along the way. Whatever your journey—secure your harness, keep your arms and legs inside the roller coaster, and enjoy the ride.