By Chris Laping
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” —Milton Berle
The thing I enjoy most about being an author and consultant is meeting thousands of IT professionals. When I was a CIO, I was social and attended plenty of networking events—but honestly, the scale and impact weren’t the same.
After releasing my book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, I hit stages all across America. While the adrenaline of giving keynotes is amazing, nothing is more satisfying than meeting new people and hearing their personal stories. I find their experiences instructive, captivating, and meaningful. But sadly, they often share disappointment and frustration with how their career is going.
Without a doubt, there is a common theme: Many IT professionals don’t feel like they’re making a difference. For various reasons, they feel undervalued and unappreciated. Those reasons range from executive absence, unrealistic expectations, inadequate budgets, shrinking headcount, to “shadow IT” efforts. I take these stories to heart because I, too, have experienced these disappointments. As such, these conversations motivate me to ask, “How do we stop the madness?”
In my career, I discovered an important truth. If opportunity doesn’t knock, you have to build a door. I wanted it to be different. I hoped that by working really long hours and exceeding the expectations of my managers, I would be promoted … that I would be given more opportunity. I hinted and nudged. Didn’t work. I poured myself into more technical training and industry knowledge. That didn’t work either.
For this to change, I established that I needed to build a door. I needed to behave differently. And most importantly, I needed to accept that my own limiting beliefs were the only thing holding me back. This mindshift resulted in four CIO-plus positions (responsibilities beyond IT).
Two key behaviors helped change my reality: 1) Know thyself. 2) Offer thyself.
It might sound silly, but we aren’t always tuned in to our own feelings. In IT, we are so focused on stakeholders, we don’t prioritize ourselves. We think by going to technical training, we’re giving ourselves plenty of attention. Not so. We have to invest daily in our growth and development, and specifically, in our emotional intelligence.
Having strong emotional intelligence will significantly improve your relationship with coworkers. Step one in emotional intelligence is self-awareness. What makes you feel strong? What depletes you of your energy? What pushes your buttons? What are you gifted at and what are your watch-outs? Are you able to recognize your emotions in the moment?
One exercise you can try right now: write 1-2 sentences that describe your unique and unduplicated role at work. Reflect. How does that make you feel? Strong? Weak? Fulfilling or not?
There are lots of great tools and courses that are worth exploring. So, make a commitment. Promise yourself that you will invest 1% of your day to grow and develop—that’s only 15 minutes! If this results in you getting 1% better every day, then at the end of one year you will be 37 times better! Building a door requires you to be intentional.
Finally, consider this: it’s unlikely that technical skills and industry knowledge are blocking what you want in your career. Rather, it’s highly likely that people-related tools such as improving emotional intelligence, building cohesive teams, and leading change are the blockers.
To unlock career growth, there is one essential question we have to frequently ask ourselves: Outside of my unique and unduplicated role, do people naturally ask me to get involved? The answer to this question is a significant marker. Therefore, be honest with yourself or anyone who is coaching you.
If people don’t ask you to get involved, there’s one of two reasons. Reason #1 is that they didn’t know you could help. Reason #2 is that they knew you could help, but don’t like working with you. And the kind truth is … you control both.
In Know Thyself, we covered steps you could take to address Reason #2. But what can you do if people legitimately don’t know you can help outside of your unique and unduplicated role? Volunteer.
It’s not realistic that you will convince your boss or your boss’ boss to put you in a leadership role over something they’ve never seen you do. However, you can knock on the door of your peers and stakeholders and just volunteer to help.
By the nature of the work you do in IT, you likely have some skills that are really needed across the organization in other functions. Critical thinking, problem solving, project management, and design are just a few areas that many CEOs would love to have across the business. Just let people know you want to help and that you can help.
When you get out of bed and put your two feet on the ground, no one thinks about your career as much as you. As much as we’d like them to, our bosses won’t always recognize us for our effort and offer us promotions and raises. Therefore, we have to build a door. So, what are you waiting for? You can do this. Start building!