By: Abhay B. Joshi
Note: This is
article 4 of the series on “Happiness and Professional Growth”.
In part 1 of this series on Growth and Unhappiness, we saw
how the reckless pursuit of career growth (i.e. promotions) can cause anguish.
In part 2, we read about the example of Srikanth who refused to grow into
leadership and management positions and still had no trouble staying happy.
And, in part 3, we explored one easy method to manage our growth.
In this article, we will take a slightly different
perspective of growth, and explore whether there is another dimension in which
growth might be pursued.
Once, our executive coaching group (an informal group of
executive coaches and mentors) performed an informal survey of the backgrounds
of several founders of startups and senior executives of medium-size companies.
The survey indicated that a large number of these successful leaders had
worked, earlier in their careers, at one particular large organization. This
large organization – let’s call it LeaderBreeder –
was apparently doing an excellent job of building leaders, and was, thus, indirectly
helping the industry at large.
Upon a closer look at LeaderBreeder,
this is what we found. At a certain level in the organization, say at GM’s
(general manager’s) level, this company had a written policy to move people
around in the organization such that they got to do totally different things
every 2 years. So, a GM in Engineering would move to Finance. Or, a GM in
Marketing would move to HR. And so on. This sort of horizontal movement gave
these managers the sort of diverse view of the business that would be critical
when they grew into executive level positions.
There are certain types of Creepers (a type of plant) that grow horizontally. My favorite is one that is used to create lush colorful lawns because the plant loves to grow and spread along the ground. It doesn’t even try to chase the Sun.
When you think about growth, don’t just think vertical.
Consider lateral growth, i.e. moving into other groups or departments of your
organization. Even within your own department (such as Engineering) there could
be many other product or service groups that might be interesting to consider.
A friend of mine – let’s call him Devon – spent a number of
years in Microsoft’s operating systems group. Naturally, he came to be called a
“Systems Engineer”, and he was proud of being a “Kernel Developer”. One day, he
said to himself: “Hey, I have no clue how this kernel and drivers stuff is
actually used out there!” So, he transplanted himself into an applications group
that used the Windows platform to write software that was used by real people
on the street. When I met him during this time, he said he was getting used to
Visual Basic – a painfully “lowly” language compared with C or C++ which are
used by Systems programmers – but he had no complaints. He was meeting real
customers, solving real problems. He loved his new environment and challenges.
Devon is now self-employed: he started a services company
that develops Windows based software called middleware. He says, “We are the
best in our category because we understand both the upper layer and the lower
The morale of the story is this: professional growth is not
always vertical. Depending on your ambition for the long term, a broad range of
skills could be more valuable than just deep expertise in one area. If your
ambition is, one day, to become a CEO, just building in-depth expertise in
(say) the technology of Cloud Computing is not going to be sufficient. You will
need to understand Finance because money is the bottom-line of every business.
You will need to understand Marketing because that’s where the product ideas
come from. You will need to master Sales because that’s where you get to know
Going a step further, I would say, you don’t even need to be
possessed with the ambition to become a CEO to consider this mode of growth.
For some of us, learning a variety of roles and jobs is a lot of fun. For some
others, a change to a totally different type of work can provide a breath of
fresh air that might be badly needed to instill some excitement in our life.
As I have said earlier, there is no one way to ensure
happiness in matters related to professional growth. Your mentor or
professional coach can guide you in exploring both vertical and horizontal
avenues of growth available to you. Depending on where you are in your career,
your goals, and your makeup, an appropriate choice of direction would ensure
success and more importantly, happiness.
Last modified: 27 October 2016