Getting your Career Sea Legs

Getting your sea legs on any boat entails practice, patience and belief—that you will eventually be able to move with the boat and not get tossed overboard. While ‘sea legs’ refers to being on a moving vessel in the water, it transfers to getting used to any new situation.

(c) 2008 sea legs an boat feet by matty!

Sea legs are not tough to get when you’re riding on a boat down a lazy river that’s being piloted by an experienced captain. Both the river and the expertise of the pilot make the journey a calm one. And this is how careers used to be.

In the relative calm of the 20th’s century’s Industrial economy, when competitors were domestic and business growth was defined by long term goals, career paths were defined by politics, experience level and dues paid. Someone else in the organization—usually a manager in conjunction with the leaders—defined where and when you took another career step: it was a planned, defined journey that was easy to ride.

20th Century Careers

That’s how careers were.

Having a career path and getting continual learning upgrades in today’s world entails riding river rapids, rather than cruising on a river boat. Today’s Service and Information economy has little certainty and even less calm.

21st Century Careers

Businesses competitors criss-cross the globe, and the traditional ways of being competitive no longer work. The only way to win in today’s competitive market is for organizations to get all brains on deck: to have employees constantly focused on innovative ideas that delight customers and keep them coming back. The chaotic environment of constant innovation and change creates whitewater rapids in place of the customary calm sea, and riding rapids requires a whole new skill set and mindset, at least for those workers who want to come through the trip intact.

The skill set and mindset of riding rapids

People who raft rivers seem to be so much more adventurous than many of us: thrill seekers who enjoy testing their strength, endurance, reflex time and ability to think on their feet (so to speak). While rafters may in fact test all of these things, the biggest difference is that they welcome the responsibility of taking an active part in the journey. They learn and take the right equipment, skills and mindset. With these things, folks who ride rapids get their sea legs through practice and experience and the wisdom of a great guide.

They are along for much more than the ride. They are along to learn, to participate and to actively take part in the adventure: to get their sea legs and be on the team that guides the raft to its successful end. Dead weight has no place in a whitewater raft, and the same is true for today’s organizations.

The skill set and mindset of whitewater careers

Career success in today’s organizations requires the same things: learning, active partnering in the mission and direction, teamwork, and a mindset that is open to possibilities v. set on a single path.
When your path is the whitewater route, then you must have the knowledge, skills, and mindset to navigate it successfully. Without these, your career route will be disappointing, scary and wet!

1. Learning is the basis of today’s career skills. You must know yourself and your organization inside out: your missions, your strengths and your needs. You must learn how to respond to unexpected turns, to dance as the music changes, and to develop resilience to the stress of the uncertain. You must learn to look several steps ahead and to define possibilities and workable responses to them. What you don’t use today is useful for another time.

2. Active partnering makes you an indispensable member of the team and shows your commitment to the work of the organization, its customers and your team members. Razor-thin margins require that all investments get maximum return, and workers are a business investment. If you’re not partnering, you’re riding on the work of someone else’s paddle, and you’ll soon be dumped from the raft. Active partnering takes initiative, energy, commitment to the cause and skill at strengthening relationships…the currency of today’s economy.

3. Teamwork requires competency in function and content as well as for inspiring and challenging others. Some days you may be a strong paddler but on others you may need to take over as guide…your communication and process skills must be sharpened and ready to do both as the river shifts.

4. A mindset open to possibilities requires you to recognize that the control you have is only as strong as the opportunities you’re open to meet. Business reality requires that your work views are more kaleidoscopic than picture window. Staying stuck in how things have been or what’s in your job description makes you deadwood, unable to shift or solve or allow for any of the challenges and changes that stir-up chaos in today’s workplaces. An open mindset ensures that you can respond to crags, river turns and unexpected boulders and not just the gentle sway of a lazy river.

Getting your career sea legs is a challenge that you may or may not be ready for, but today’s organizations won’t see your value without them. They don’t have the time or resources to pull you out of the river. They have commitments to those workers who are willing to take responsibility for paddling their own canoes and not being a risk to other travelers.

So, how are your career sea legs?

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2 Responses

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by thoughtLEADERS, MaureenMetcalf. MaureenMetcalf said: RT @Janinemoon Getting your Career Sea Legs http://bit.ly/6XSqn8 [...]

  2. Janine, reading your insights regarding the huge changes in the work world today IN CONJUNCTION WITH reviews of Seth Godin’s new book Linchpin, I have to wonder about all the large companies that may have great difficulties in the coming years if they refuse to modernize attitudes and corporate culture to embrace the New World of Communication and Community Engagement.

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