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Connecting the Dots

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“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

This Steve Jobs’ quote is frequently used to encourage young people to take bold action, follow their instincts, and trust that the pieces of life’s puzzle will all fall together in the end. For me, it also invites reflection on the dots I’ve created over the course of my life – and the common themes that connect them.

And for me, there certainly is a significant and enduring common theme: teaching and facilitating growth. In retrospect, that interest and passion showed up early in life. My mother returned from her first parent-teacher conference when I was in kindergarten, reporting that the teacher was concerned about leaving the classroom for fear I’d take over and start teaching the next lesson!

Many years later, I remain energized by figuring out how to enable learning and connect people with new information or different behaviors in ways that drives change and results. From teaching high school to being a university professor to leading corporate training functions, that’s been a constant thread. But it was when I joined a commercial training company and began consulting, speaking, and developing workshops and resources on a far broader scale that I internalized the science and experienced the transformative power of development. In my own work today, I continue to draw upon those lessons as I help organizations and leaders develop their only sustainable competitive advantage: people.

How do your dots connect?
How does what you’re doing today rely upon what you’ve done and learned in the past?

My books, training, and speaking are all the product of more than a decade of field research around the reality that careers have changed dramatically… and it’s time for career development to finally catch up. Despite seismic shifts in the workplace (downsizing, rightsizing, everyone living and working longer, the gig economy, and shorter tenures, just to name a few), we continue to measure careers and development by the dated, artificial, and increasingly elusive yardstick of promotions, positions, and moves.

But my research finds that our relationship with work has changed. People want more from the 40 or 60 or 80 hours they toil away on each week. They want to make a difference, continuously learn, cultivate connections and a sense of community, build confidence, embrace challenges, find a sense of contentment, exercise more autonomy, and enjoy greater flexibility. And according to ongoing research upon which my latest book is based, people are even more interested in these other dimensions than they are in promotions.

What about you?
What kind of relationship are you looking for with your work?
What – beyond a paycheck – are you looking for your career to contribute to your life?

That’s why it’s time for organizations and leaders to recognize the organic and personal nature of career development. Growth isn’t limited to the rungs up the corporate ladder. With deliberate addition, it can happen every day without a move and within the context of someone’s role. It can happen through internal and lateral mobility. In fact, organizations actually benefit from broader expertise as employees branch out, experiment within different functions, become generalists rather than specialists. And contemporary career development can happen even outside of the walls and boundaries imposed by organizations in the past. People can grow their careers through gig assignments – both inside the company and outside. Volunteerism allows for challenges and learning that people can apply to their work and career aspirations. And external rotations are becoming increasingly beneficial for everyone involved.

When leaders embrace an updated and broader view of career development, they’ll find exponentially more opportunities for people to grow, become engaged, and thrive at work. And those are dots you can connect directly to the retention and results today’s organizations need.

Julie Winkle Giulioni is a champion for workplace growth and development and helps leaders optimize talent and potential within their organizations. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, she’s the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go and author of the Nautilus and Axiom business book award-winner, Promotions Are So Yesterday. Julie is a regular contributor to Fast Company and numerous other business publications.

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