Most people think about career success as climbing the corporate ladder. I prefer to liken the climb to scaling one of those rock walls. Sometimes the best route to the top requires a few moves sideways.
Like most new hires at what was then Norwest Financial, now Wells Fargo Financial, I joined our sales force right out of college. The typical advancement track for salespeople was branch manager to district manager to regional manager to divisional manager. That was my planned path to the top.
I was promoted to branch manager, but my husband’s career caused us to relocate for a new opportunity. I accepted a transfer as a trainer—a lateral move. That role put me on the road to more than 50 different branches. I quickly learned what made a branch and its manager succeed or struggle. The experience also opened my eyes to what I had done on both sides of that spectrum in the branches I had managed.
I then went back to a position as branch manager. Eventually, I made it to district manager. After nine years in that position and being passed over for the next step, regional manager, I charted a new course that has turned out pretty well for me.
My point is this: Things don’t always go as planned and the target can change. That’s OK. Sometimes it takes your career places you could not have fathomed. Let the leaders above you know your goals and aspirations. Raise your hand and take on the challenging assignments where you know you can stand out. Trust the mentors who are looking out for you when they come to you and say, “you can do this job,” even though you may doubt yourself.
One of the most rewarding elements of career success is the ability to give back to people in different generations or at different levels in their careers. Be sure you are mentoring at least one other person. when you do, listen to that person. Ask the probing questions that will help that person determine the next step.
Just be sure that the people you mentor know that reaching sideways can ultimately help them reach the top.