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Creating Successful Leaders

So many today feel disillusioned with their jobs, and I think much of it can be attributed to thinking about the career path all wrong.

In an article on the Harvard Business Review blog, Nathaniel Koloc, CEO of ReWork, writes that “as many as 70% of working Americans were unfilled with their jobs,” according to a Gallop Poll conducted in 2013. The reason for this is a general sense of disconnection many feel between the work they do and the values they hold. What’s more, a lot of folks don’t see their career path progressing toward anything they find meaningful, and so, they settle for mediocrity as the norm.

This type of thinking can be detrimental, as it leads to boredom, apathy and the very unpleasant feeling of being helpless and stuck. It’s a cycle, too: when you feel stuck and then settle for mediocrity, you’re less motivated and inspired to take risks and chase after what you really want.

A way to rethink this is to challenge the traditional “career ladder” model of professional life. “Sure,” writes Koloc, “many people accept that the career ladder is broken, but most still attempt to increase the ‘slope’ of their career trajectory.” The idea that our careers are linear progressions is pretty deeply embedded in our society. We still assume, despite the rapidly-changing job environment, that our work will steadily move “up” in salary, stature and social impact. Then, when it doesn’t, we become discontent.

Our professional paths are much more like stepping stones laid out horizontally, not ladders. In other words, we have opportunities all around us we often don’t consider when we have the “ladder” mentality, which tells us that in order to be a good worker, we must always being looking up.

A great point Koloc makes is that our interests and passions change as we grow older, and thinking of your career path as a series of stones all around you fits much more aptly with this natural part of human growth. Are you interested in the very same things as you were ten years ago? Probably not, and even if you are, I’ll bet you’ve added a few more interests over the years. Koloc’s point, I think, is that because we change gears all the time as people, there’s no reason to cling onto the career ladder approach to jobs, because even if you get a promotion in the field you’ve been working in for years, your true passions may have shifted away from your work while you were busy on the ladder.


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