When I was in my final year as a Chemical Engineering student at university, I remember the stress my classmates and I were under to secure a spot in a Graduate Development Program at a multinational company. It didn’t matter which one, all that mattered was acceptance. We were told that this would be a great jumpstart to our careers through job rotations and mentorship which meant an accelerated path to management after 3 years.
Sounds great but there’s one catch. The catch is that there are limited spaces on these programs as you can imagine, so not every graduate in the country gets into such a program.
So what happens to the rest of the graduates who are not accepted into an Early in Career program which promises high-profile job rotations within and across functions in an accelerated learning environment, including senior leadership contact, professional on the job development and formal trainings.
Well I’m here to tell you that I was one of those graduates who did not start off in a formal Early in Career program but I have had the most amazing career experiences because of 3 secret ingredients.
Before I tell you about the 3 ingredients I would like to share with you the reason I have pivoted my career from Engineering leader to Leadership Coach and Trainer. I have had the privilege to mentor many young minds throughout my career. I have learnt from them as much as they have learnt from me. What I learnt is that they come in with a technical qualification from university but are lacking when it comes to soft skills such as effective communication, working as a high performing team member or being able to influence without authority. Without these soft skills, your technical qualification will only take you so far in an organisation.
So how does one learn and develop these skills? Let’s explore the 3 secret ingredients to understand how.
- Mentorship and Coaching
Mentorship is not the same as coaching even though it sometimes gets used almost interchangeably. I was extremely blessed in my career to have exceptional mentors in my career who invested their valuable time sharing insights and wisdom but who also took the time to challenge me when it came to my personal growth. They did not hold me back but rather helped me look for next steps that would challenge me and push me out of my comfort zone.
I got to work cross functionally on a variety of projects which developed my communication skills across different cultures from around the world. I also got the opportunity to live and work in Sweden on a long term assignment for 3 years which accelerated my growth even further. Each opportunity that came to me was a direct result of mentors and coaches who added value to me. The key is for you to drive these relationships. Ask people that inspire you to mentor you. Most often they say yes. You will never know unless you ask.
- Emotional Intelligence
A study that compared outstanding managers with average managers found that 90% of the difference was accounted for by EQ. The biggest indication of whether or not an individual will take the lead in their team is their emotional intelligence even when their IQ and personality are taken into account. Developing your emotional intelligence early in your career will for sure accelerate your career to a leadership role. The 4 core skills of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. These skills can be learnt over time however, we are not intentionally equipping our younger generations with these skills are school and university so when they enter the corporate environment, there is a gap that needs to be filled before they can thrive in their jobs.
With the right mentoring and exposure to situations that develop these skills, one can learn. Just imagine a world where these skills are embedded in our curriculums from a young age all the way through university and into your first job that build on each stage if your life.
- Student of Leadership
I am an introvert and I have always heard people say that introverts don’t make good leaders. Never tell an engineer they can’t do something because we will find a way to prove you wrong. I decided to become a student of leadership and learn the foundational principles of servant leadership. I needed to first learn how to lead myself before I could lead anyone else. I used mentors through books, videos, podcasts and conferences. I did not expect movement in my career without me putting in the effort to upskill myself first. I also did not a want to be stereotyped as an introvert leader that I wanted to find my super powers as an introvert leader and capitalise on them rather than copying the extroverts around me.
When I pivoted my career, I designed a 12 module program called EMERGE which prepares First Line Leaders for leadership roles. I have taken all my experiences and lessons learned over the years coupled with new material for the future leader and condensed it in a program that I believe should be available to all graduates and early in career professionals. Our vision at Impel Talent has always been to make this type of program accessible for all since, I know first-hand what it’s like not to be accepted in one of those accelerated programs when I graduated.
Can we still afford to heavily invest in a select few when it comes to these Early in Career Programs or should we use creative ways of equipping every early in career professional that joins your organisation with the tools to help them bring their best to their role?
We have already started seeing a shift in many businesses that we are currently supporting with Leadership development. There is definitely hope that senior leaders are recognising the need to equip all their lower level employees with these much needed soft skills that drive engagement and productivity. No longer is coaching only reserved for senior and C-suite leaders, coaching is now available for everyone.