By Debra Benton (President, Benton Management Resources)
You, not human resources, your boss, a sponsor, parents, or search firms control your career.

The biggest, costliest, and most avoidable mistake you can make in your life is not managing your own destiny from the start of your career – and continuing throughout.

It’s not just about doing good work and having a ready resume.

If you chose to do this (because it is your choice), you manage your career if you:

  • Learn how people get promoted in your organization and you do the same.
  • Solve problems and make issues go away; communicate it so others know what your team has accomplished and the value they add to the organization.
  • Are willing to work for a boss you don’t like and still make the boss look good and smart.
  • Help your boss get promoted; help your subordinates get promoted.
  • Consistently exceed expectations; do better than they think you will.
  • Take it upon yourself to learn how profit and loss happens in your organization; if you don’t have direct profit and loss responsibility yourself.
  • Coach your people on the next steps they should take after each of their accomplishments.
  • Get a replacement ready to take your place.
  • Look, work, walk, and talk (without a hint of arrogance) like you are already in the next job before you are so they “see” you in it.

You decide where you want to go – and go for it — rather then just drift. (There’s a lot of drifting going on.) Those who think about it and plan for it (even a little) do a lot better. Odds are stacked against you unless you do. It’s easy to be passive; that why it’s so popular.

Plan, but don’t plan on your plan working out because there is no way you can anticipate the myriad of changes, surprises, and setbacks you’ll encounter. You’ll end up in jobs, companies, industries, you haven’t even considered. You’ll change; the world will change.

The best professional development tool is a big job. You’ve got to try stuff that on paper you have no right to but that seems like a good idea anyway. Some of the new big jobs won’t work out flawlessly; but if you win all the time it means you aren’t competing at a high enough level. A CEO friend told me, “If you don’t have butterflies starting your new job, you’re not reaching.”

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
Photo credit: Ultrasaurus blog post on Tara Hunt’s slides.
About the guest blogger: Debra Benton is President at Benton Management Resources. Her focus is to “help you work differently and be different at work; to take you from promise to prominence.” Her expertise has given her front-page coverage in The Wall Street Journal and USA Today (Money) and made her a welcome guest on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN – and interviewed by Diane Sawyer for CBS. Follow her on Twitter at @debrabenton.