Asking us to identify the next role we want limits us to the roles that we already knowFeatured

Hi there! My name is McKendree and I am the Leadership Development Manager at InVision. I’ve spent my career coaching and working with leaders to help them find and cultivate their authentic voice with a special research focus on women leaders. I wanted to share some nuggets that I’ve learned along the way about crafting careers. Working at InVision, I have become a major fan-girl of the design community and philosophy behind great design. The impact of working with design top of mind has re-focused much of how I think about approaching career development. I truly believe careers should be approached with a spirit of design and intention. Equally important to me is my desire to avoid being another voice telling women what they should or shouldn't do in their careers. So with that, instead of advice, I offer some questions for thought and some practical tibits along the way.Question 1: How do I want to design my career? Our careers are not magical unicorns frolicking in a candyland forest. Although, that’d be legit. Our careers are evolving narratives that build upon themselves. Each move, each experience, and each role is simply another line, chapter, and a story to tell. Do I want to be able to talk about the people I worked with? The numbers I hit? The work-balance I had? When we ask these questions we can start seeing the things that really matter to us and allows us to then think about how we might want to design our careers. This works for our careers as a whole, as well as our careers at a singular company. Try it! Take a few minutes and try drawing out a storyboard of your career. If you had to write the story, what would be the setting, the plot, the conflict, and the epilogue. See if you can’t extract some of your core values from your work based on the story you’re telling. Use these values to help you design your next step. Question 2: What experience do I want next? Anyone remember that classic line in The Notebook when Noah (Ryan Gosling), after years of being apart, asks Allie (Rachel McAdams), “What do you want? What. Do. You. Want?” Oh, you haven’t watched The Notebook recently on a flight and cried like a baby? Me either ;) With desperation in his eyes, Noah begs Allie to decide what she wants, even if it leaves him a sad bachelor for life (his words, not mine). No offense to Noah, but if you’re anything like me, that’s not always an easy question to answer.I spend much of my day coaching and training managers who find themselves asking their team members this same question. What do you want? Where do you see yourself in five years? Which role do you want next? To those of you who can answer these questions with dignity, grace, and clarity, kudos to you and you probably don’t need to read any further. But for those of you who cringe when you hear these questions or feel existential angst, like me, read on! The problem with being asked to identify the next role or title we want is that it often limits us to the roles and titles that we already know. We also know that in many cultures, women are encouraged to prioritize their needs last, making sure that this question is not always easy or natural to answer. It’s been my experience that asking myself and folks I work with what the experience is that they want to have next results in a very different conversation. Instead of thinking about resumes and titles, we talk about passions, dreams, and curiosity. I won’t act as if this is always easy, but thinking about the experience we want gives you an opportunity to think about the whole picture and not just the a la carte menu of roles. The more we can speak to the experiences we want to have, the less we carry the burden of having the next step planned out. Articulating these experiences also enables us to speak to others and may open different doors as a result. Be open to the fact that the next experience may not be one that you’ve even thought of. Take some time to jot down a list of all the experiences you might like to have. Try things like, “start something from scratch,” or “manage a team of managers,” or “work on a cross-functional team.” Then share it with your manager or mentor and ask what they see and notice. Ask if there’s any experience they would add that you may not have considered. Together, see if you can’t craft some next steps to get you the next experience you’d like. Question 3: Who’s in my court?Equally important as asking what you want next is thinking about the people who have your back. One my favorite frameworks for this is to think about having your own personal board of directors (B.O.D.). Your B.O.D. should be comprised of people who are in your court and willing to advocate for you while also offering a challenge and mentorship. Here are a few tips for thinking about who you might enlist for your B.O.D.First, you should know your B.O.D. These should be people that know you, see you, and believe in you. Second, diversity matters. When I think about the diversity of my B.O.D., I want to think about it in terms of background, experience, demographics, tenure, and lifestyle, to name a few. Finally, make sure you can identify which roles these folks play in your career development. A particularly important feature for women is the need to have strong sponsors. Sponsors may not be people who you’re spending hours with and they may not even be the people you go to for advice. However, they are the folks who are willing to throw your name in the hat when important people decisions are being made. Related to having a kickass B.O.D is also paying attention to who has your attention. The impact of role models cannot be overstated. Good and bad role models play a large part in the way we learn and continue to develop our belief in ourselves. It can be helpful to identify a handful of folks across your organization to whom you can look up. I recommend even folks who may not even be in your line of work. Role modeling is about learning from them, not necessarily emulating them. Try it! Take a few minutes and jot down the names of at least five people at your organization who could be on your B.O.D. Again, try to think about having diverse folks and making sure some of them are people who give you a bit of tough love and are willing to challenge you.Question 4: What do I want to be known for?This is one of my favorite questions. Again, this moves us away from narrow thinking about roles or titles and more toward the way we show up and the ways we want people to remember us. For me, I like thinking about the impact and influence I can have on others for the good of their development or the growth of the company. This includes thinking through what we’re really good at as well. When we are more aware of where we excel, we’re more capable of being able to speak about it and see the opportunities available to us. Related to thinking about what you want to be known for is thinking about whom you are sharing this with. It’s pretty difficult to have landed that opportunity if no one knew you wanted it. I’ve seen many women fall into the trap that if they just put their heads down and work harder than others, they’ll get their next big break. Unfortunately, as many of us have learned, just working harder is not necessarily what takes us to the next level. For many women, self-promotion can feel inauthentic and in some cases, not even acceptable. In working with women who are less comfortable promoting themselves, I’ve found that focusing on the things they want to be remembered by can unlock our resistance to sharing about ourselves more boldly. It also allows us to focus on how we can better highlight the work we are doing and that we want to be noticed. Try it! Take some time to think about the things you are really great at. Be honest and really allow yourself to write down a handful of things you know you are excellent at. Keep in mind that women typically under-rate their own performances. Next step, share this with a trusted colleague or mentor and ask for their feedback. Are there things you are missing? Areas that you haven’t noticed yet? Once you have your list, compare this to the experiences you want next. Look for any overlap or connections between these.Question 5: What am I learning? Last but not least, take stock of what you are learning. This is a question I like to ask myself daily, weekly, and quarterly. What are the lessons I am learning and how do I want to apply them? Reflecting on what we’re learning is one of the essential ingredients in developing ourselves and our careers. A majority of our learnings happen on the job, so taking some time to capture those lessons will help you notice gaps, build upon lessons learned, and feel a sense of progress in your work. This will also help you be able to better articulate what you’ve done and where you want to go. Try it! Build small time blocks into your calendar throughout the monthly to intentionally reflect on what you are learning. These can be technical skills you are learning or more nuanced skills like managing up or navigating conflict. All of this learning matters to our development and we can catalyze our growth by capturing these lessons more frequently. I hope these questions provide you with some good starting points as you think about designing your career. Remember along the way that often, the best parts of stories are the unexpected twists. It’s been my experience that knowing what I want and holding loosely how I expect to get there, can create some of the most fun and rewarding moments. Questions? Send me a note or message and I’d love to chat!McKendree is Leadership Development Manager at InVision. She has her PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology with a specific focus on leading under pressure and diversity in organizations. Her career has been dedicated to empowering leaders to discover their potential and become the best leaders they can be. She has spent her career researching, coaching, and training leaders in everything from fundamental skills of managing to deeper questions of what it means to lead with conviction. McKendree also specializes in diversity, equity, & inclusion in organizations and throughout her career has consulted & coached leaders to challenge their perspectives on diversity and has helped them understand what it takes to truly lead inclusively.
Hi McKendree! Thanks so so much for sharing this. "The problem with being asked to identify the next role or title we want is that it often limits us to the roles and titles that we already know." --- This is EVERYTHING. Not knowing what roles exist or what titles actually mean as far as day to day activities is a huge obstacle to career exploration. It also causes us to unintentionally limit ourselves -- "Oh I could never work in tech because I'm not a developer"...etc. I so so so believe that through stories we learn what's possible, which is why I think it's so important for people to share their career stories. We need to learn that careers are not linear anymore and that the most important piece is continuing to learn, explore, and evolve. I'm so grateful to Elpha for the opportunity it's created for women to share their full stories (not just the bios, but the deeper questions, the struggles, the 'how did you decide's?', etc.). I had a project where I interviewed people on their non-linear career paths and wrote about it -- and your post here is inspiring me to get back on the horse with it! ( Thank you so much for sharing these tangible steps to take. It reminds me a bit of a few activities from Design Your Life and Quarter Life Breakthrough. Taking stock of what we want, what we're learning, and creating a support system (and inspiration system) are all essential for growth -- both professional and otherwise. I'd love to connect and learn more about your story! Thanks for sharing. :)
Thanks Laura. And totally! Been in tech most my career and have zero technical skills lol :)
Thanks for this post - really great way to re-frame the thought process! I do an annual goal setting exercise to ground myself in priorities, across professional, personal, and health goals, and your framework is applicable across all those dimensions! It gets to the heart of "Why" do something as opposed to just the "What". I've shared that template with many of the young professionals I've mentored and it's always so exciting to see how they are able to shift their frame of reference to find goals and aspirations that are beyond the superficial.
I LOVE this! In my career and business coaching process I ask women to develop what I call a 'North Star'--it's a short pithy phrase or even an image (we process images 60,000 times faster than words) that describes who they want to be in 5 years, 7 years or 10 years. It can be anything from 'Be the founding director of {__new department__} in my company' to 'Work in philanthropy to bring {__new way of working__} to government.'And my students develop the north star through a design-thinking process: through doing 'precedent' research--looking at what kind of roles and jobs and goals are out there--but also using a design thinking process to dream beyond what you can see ahead so that we don't fall into that self-limiting pitfall that McKendree is pointing out that is so common when we get stuck in our echo chamber. I ask things like 'what would this role be if it was not in your current industry but one 2-3 industries over? What would a supersized (200% more ambitious) version of this look like?We do it because it's easier to make short and medium term plans when you have a long-term vision..... (but spoiler alert!) The North Star often changes, evolves (even gets bigger and more ambitious) as you pursue it. But if you're standing on the sidelines waiting to 'figure it all out' before you get started you'll never get there.It's not about the result but when you have a 'working theory' result it's easier to start the journey.
Love the design thinking adds here. Just had me thinking, what would doing crazy 8's look like on our careers. Could be really fun!
Thank you for sharing these tips with us! I've definitely been at companies before where I've been asked "what do you want/where do you see yourself" etc but didn't feel like I had the resources to really answer those questions.
Totally hear that! So hard when you are not actually resourced to engage that conversation effectively.
This is one of the best posts I've read on the topic of architecture of a career - thank you so much for sharing, and thanks to Elpha for spotlighting.
So glad it was helpful!!