Two Steps at a Time

One day, an ambitious young man came up to me and said, “Look, I have a pedometer (you’ll read about that soon), and I make sure I walk around enough, just like you.”

And my response: “Dude, your job is to be in the surgical suite, not walking around all day like me. Get back to work!” The language may have been a bit more colorful, but that’s what I meant.

I sat with him later, and he said his goal was to someday be in my position. The problem was that he wasn’t doing any of the things to get him to the next rank, much less the three after that to reach mine. As a matter of fact, if he didn’t promote within a year, he was going to be forced out of a job.

We’re pretty lucky in my profession. The guidelines for promotion are standardized and well known. There’s a test, and we even tell people which books to study. That’s a real over-simplification of a huge process, and the exam is just one part of it. As an example, that list of what to study can have fifty references and over a thousand pages of content, but it’s a start. This young man was looking four ranks ahead, but he wasn’t studying the references to make the next one, and all his great potential would be lost to the organization.

Ambition is good, but it still comes down to setting the right goals. I tell people to work for the next rank and be aware of the rank after that. Look two steps ahead and make sure your goals get you to the first promotion while maintaining momentum for the next one. This can only be done with a mentor who knows what it takes to make both those ranks.

Luckily, I could easily pull out a reference to help this young man reset his goals and surrender his pedometer. I’m fortunate that I have a process so concrete to rely on, but that’s here, where I understand the next two promotions for my people and can mentor them. How well defined are the advancement requirements and opportunities in your organization? Is there a roadmap that shows your people the next two steps up the ladder and the requirements for each? If you do, you have a chance for some real gain, both for the organization and the people in it. If you don’t, why not, and can you create one so it’s not a mystery?

– How well defined are your next two advancement opportunities, and who do you know who can help you set goals towards them?

– Who under you has the potential to move up, and how do you help that person look two steps ahead?

– How prepared are you to be the mentor he or she needs? I won’t say that someone needs to do it, but the organization is better off when someone does.

– Can it be you?

Have a great week out there.

– JT

Day Job Final_Web

James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.