The following is adapted from Ignite Your Career!
If it’s your first day working in construction, do you expect to be calling the shots and overseeing the various teams involved in building a house?
Of course not! You’ll be learning from the more experienced professionals and developing your proverbial toolbox. Once you have the hang of things, you’ll start using that toolbox to build quality houses. Eventually, when you’ve mastered your craft, you’ll be the person leading the team and leveraging the knowledge you’ve accumulated.
No matter what field you work in, every successful career follows these three phases: learning, doing, and leveraging. Each phase builds on the previous one and is a necessary part of skill building and career progression.
Let’s explore each phase so you can understand where you currently stand and how to best advance your career while in that phase.
Phase #1: Learning
The learning phase usually comes in the earlier part of your career, when you’re building your foundational skills. However, if you shift to a new career at a later point, you will return at least in part to the learning phase. At this stage everything you’re doing, or at least most of it, is new and unfamiliar.
In the learning stage, you are gaining knowledge and experience. You’re building your skillset in your chosen field. Your goal is to learn as many relevant skills as possible, and to become expert at them.
How do you do this? One of the most effective ways is to work for strong companies in your industry, or the best you can attain. You should aim to work for knowledgeable experts, who can train you in the best practices for the skills you need. In this way, you’re not just learning; you’re learning the gold standard. This will allow you to keep more options open down the road and set you up to achieve your long-term goals.
Think about this analogy:
Each time you build a new skill, you create a new tool for your toolbox. Your goal is to fill your toolbox with quality tools, so that eventually you have enough that you can go build something special.
The learning phase is the investment phase of your career: you and the organization are both investing time, money, and resources to help you build your capabilities. The stronger the career foundation you create now, the higher you can build your career.
Phase #2: Doing
In the doing phase, you apply the knowledge and skills you’ve learned to deliver results in your field and to generate a strong track record of success. This often involves being promoted to a new role.
Consider the marketing world, for example. People in the learning phase might be an assistant or associate brand manager working for somebody who directs and oversees their work. In the doing phase, they’ll be promoted to fill that brand manager position themselves. They’ll work much more autonomously, both setting strategies and developing plans to achieve their goals.
To return to the toolbox analogy:
Your toolbox is now full of strong, quality tools. Now you can take the toolbox and go build a quality house.
The doing phase is all about becoming an expert in your field. You have to “do” multiple times. This might be in different types of businesses or under different scenarios, or it could be a whole variety of things in your specific industry. The key is that you need to do things over and over until you are an expert in doing them.
Phase #3: Leveraging
When you get to the point when you’re ready to have more influence, you’ve reached the third stage of your career: leveraging.
This is when you take the knowledge and experience you have gained and move your business ahead by leading a team. In other words, you show that you have the ability to get things done through others. In the leveraging phase, you are teaching people and working with them to guide them through their own learning and doing phases. You’re an expert in your field, and you also have the knowledge and passion to teach others how to succeed.
To return to the toolbox analogy:
You’re now the general contractor. You’re directing people who are building quality houses with their own toolboxes.
In the leveraging phase, you might decide to move to a smaller company where you can help build its organizational capabilities. At this point in your career this makes intrinsic sense. You know what to do and how to do it, and you are ready to teach others best practices.
Each Phase Is a Necessary Part of Professional Growth
Nobody starts out in construction building houses without any tools or experience. You have to put in the time and effort to develop them. Similarly, you can’t reach the top tier of your field without going through each of the three career phases: learning, doing, and leveraging.
In summary, the learning phase develops your tools, the doing phase uses your toolbox and builds, and the leveraging phase is where you shift leadership roles. Each phase is a necessary step along the path of professional growth, and to have a long-lasting, successful career, you can’t rush through them. There are no shortcuts.
By learning and developing your skills as much as you can during each phase, you’ll position yourself to be an expert and thought-leader no matter what field you’re in.
For more advice on building a successful career, you can find Ignite Your Career! on Amazon.