Five Year Career Plan

Do not ask this question during interviews. The answers are always inane, the question is inane, it is a waste of precious interview time.

We cannot plan for the future. If we could I would be living on a space station, painting giraffes as my 4-year-old self anticipated. For those wondering, I have no space station or giraffe in my life.

There are just too many factors beyond your control that will shape job options–global economic trends, political elections, and technological changes, just to name a few. Please do yourself the favor and avoid committing the hubris of thinking that anyone can determine their professional glide path.

What we can control are the options we choose now to give ourselves more options in the future. A better question is “What do you want to learn in this job and how can we help make that happen?”

Three year retrospective

This blog is three years old and my experiences as a practitioner of quality and as a leader has been driven during this time by narrative writing. Writing gives the space and time to look back, re-live and re-experience, and ultimately reflect upon our work. Writing these blog posts is an effective way of digesting experience on the job. Through
writing this blog I have attempted to understand situations from various viewpoints and perspectives.

I get asked a lot why I do this, and how I make time for writing. Let’s be honest, there are long periods of time where I do not. But when I do make the time it is for these reasons.

Writing as a catalyst for reflective thought

In an era where lifelong professional learning is continuously promoted, professionals need to continuously learn and take the role of practitioner-researcher. The narrative writing I engage in on this blog plays an important role that aids this ongoing development. Through writing I enhance my reflective awareness.

Writing helps reduce the imbalance I feel between theory and practice. Too often we need to make immediate decisions and it is difficult to balance what-must-happen with what-should-happen. Writing this blog allows me to think critically about my past actions and how these together with theory can inform future practice.

Writing this blog is a way of thinking that helps me in understanding myself; my own actions; my thoughts; my emotions; my experiences. Apart from self-understanding, self-reflective narrative also assists professional learning because it aids professional thinking. In short, writing helps me think, reflect, and develop. I write, therefore I think.

First-order narratives: promoting self-understanding

The narratives in this blog are first-order narratives where I write about my own experiences, as opposed to second-order narratives where the author writes about the experiences of others. Everything I write starts as a challenge or an experience I am processing. This blog rarely engages in journalistic reporting, and when it does report on the news it is always part of reflection.

Through writing about my experiences as a quality professional, and reflecting on them, I strive to construct meanings, interpretations, new knowledge and understandings.

By engaging in systematic reflection I am promoting questioning, and questioning encourages me to think of new possibilities. This is where ideas come from, and this drives my professional quality practice forward.

Conversing with oneself

Conversing with someone else offers the possibility of feedback and exposure to different viewpoints. This is why I look to professional societies as one way to enhance my work. I’ll be honest though that is not as easy as I would like it to be.

Unfortunately, I often feel isolated. People are busy and it is difficult to carve out the time for reflection and discussion. It can often feel that collaboration and sharing about non-project deliverables are limited to non-existent at worst. By blogging I am conversing with myself in public. It would be great to engage in dialogue with people, but I feel this public dialogue is a way to engage with the larger body of knowledge.

I think this is one of the reasons I blogged less after starting my current job. All my time was going into collaborative narratives as I strove to determine what came next in this new role.

Looking deeper into issues

Sitting down and writing a blog post offers time for reflective thought. Sure, I talk about these issues all day, but writing journal entries, because I tend to think about it a lot more, allows me to explore additional dimensions of the issue. Narrative writing affords me the space for focused reflective thinking. This blog is my medium for reflection, questioning, critical analysis, thinking, reasoning, and the building of arguments.

Often I write in preparation for some task or project. Or to analyze how it is progressing and to solve problems.

Creating causal links

A narrative should have an evaluative function; offering valuable information about how the author interprets and connects meanings to lived situations and experiences. A narrative must add up to something; it is more than the sum
of its parts. Through writing this blog I am connecting the various parts of quality that are important to me in a wider whole. And by crafting that whole, develop new learnings to apply.

Blogging is tiring but valuable

I have experienced periods of tiredness, frustration, and a lessened motivation to blog, and this resonates with the argument that practitioners are usually so busy that they have little time for their own writing. This has especially been true during the last year of this pandemic.

However, I strongly view this blog as a core part of my learning, and that learning benefits from the longitudinal process of blogging. Writing about my experiences as a quality professional has promoted detailed observations of my work, analysis of that work, imagined solutions, implementation of such imagined solutions, and re-analysis of alterations to practice. Writing this blog has been an ideal way of showing experiential learning and my own development.

What comes next?

I set myself a goal of writing at least one post a day in March, and I found that amazingly rewarding. Not sure if I can keep that pace up but I am committed to continuing to use this blog space for reflection and development. I hope folks find some use out of that, and I look forward to the various communities this space engenders.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

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Building Situational Humility

The biggest thing I am working on is situational humility. How do I successfully balance the subject matter expertise my organization needs with the humility to truly lead? It is clear that such humility is critical to building psychological safety, and psychological safety is critical to building innovative teams.

Amy Edmondson’s powerful talk on psychological safety and teams

For most of my career I’ve been prized for my subject matter expertise, but there are huge limits, no one can know everything, so I am cultivating the following behaviors in my practices.

To build Humility do thisWhich meansAnd I do this
Know what you don’t knowResist “master of the universe” impulses. You may yourself excel in an area, but as a leader you are, by definition, a generalist. Rely on those who have relevant qualification and expertise. Know when to defer and delegate.I have a list of key topics that are both in my space and overlap and individuals who involving in the discussion is critical.

I’ve created a “swear jar” for every time I say something like “I have an answer” and at this rate I’ll be taking a lot of people out for drinks by the time this pandemic is over. It is all IOUs right now because I don’t remember the last time I used cash and I don’t think I’ve seen a dollar bill in 11 months.
Resist falling for your own publicityWe all put the best spin on our success — and then conveniently forget that the reality wasn’t as flawless. This is an interesting one for me. Having joined a new company 10 months ago it has been important to avoid the spin on my joining, and to not exacerbate it.

I’ve taken to keeping a list of problems and who is the right people who are not me that can solve them.
Never underestimate others The world is filled with other hard-working, knowledgable, and creative professionalsI purposely look for opportunities to meet with folks at all levels and ask them to collaborate.
Embrace and promote a spirit of serviceFocus on finding ways to help others to succeedI’m all about the development. Crucial for me here is stepping back and letting others lead, even if its more work for me as I spend more time coaching and mentoring than would actually take to do the job. But lets be honest, can’t and shouldn’t do anything.
Listen, even (no, especially) to the weird ideasOnly when you are not convinced that your idea is or will be better than someone else’s do you really open your ears to what they are saying. But there is ample evidence that you should: the most imaginative and valuable ideas tend to come from left field, from some associate who seems a little offbeat, and may not hold an exalted position in the organization.I love the weird, though maybe most when they are my weird ideas. Been working to strengthen idea management as a concept and practice in my organization.
Be passionately curiousConstantly welcome and seek out new knowledge, and insist on curiosity from those around you. Research has found linkages between curiosity and many positive leadership attributes (including emotional and social intelligence). Take it from Einstein. “I have no special talent,” he claimed. “I am only passionately curious.”I’m a voracious reading machine, its always been a central skill.

How I am trying to teach others to be curious and turn it to their advantage.
Elements of Situational Humility
Photo by rob walsh on Unsplash