James Citrin – The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers

According to the authors, every individual’s professional career is marked by three stages: the promise phase (individual is trying to find her roots and understand her value and strengths), the momentum phase (the individual is now building perceived and experiential values), the harvest phase (the individual has proven herself many times over and now takes on the role of an expert/consultant).

Regardless, some careers languish in mediocrity, while others become extraordinarily successful? What differentiates one from the other? The authors identify key patterns seen in people who have achieved mega successful careers. Briefly,

1) Know your value: Determine your strengths and weaknesses and use that information to identify a role, that plays to your strengths. Break down the desired role into set of core components required to excel at it and seek experiences in those areas. Become a sponge and learn from your experiences. Take every opportunity to master your strengths. Seek a mentor early on and learn from his or her experiences.

2) Being a benevolent leader: There is a common misperception that the only way to get to the top is the claw yourself up. The faster, simpler and more sustainable way to get to the top is to be carried there. This is accomplished by first surrounding yourself with a great team and then helping them succeed. Have excellent integrity and character, vision/strategy and communication plan. Delegate non-critical and critical tasks and coach your team to be accountable, responsible and results-oriented. Revel in their successes. They will carry you to the next level.

“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” – William Jennings Bryan

3) Solve the permission paradox: Asking for direct permission to take on additional responsibilities and showcase your talents is always the best way to go. But it can be hard to get. If so, the implied permission strategies are available and each can be effective, when used in appropriate situations. They include – demonstrate competence in building blocks (e.g. specific skill), get the credentials (e.g degree or certification), clean the slate (e.g. switch to new job or division), barter (trade something of value for permission to expand your role) and masquerade as the leader (provide leadership where there is no obvious authority)

4) The 20/80 performance factor: Focus on the 20% of the tasks that generates the highest 80% of successes. 80% of the your job description usually offers little opportunity for differentiation as you are seeking to meet the predefined objectives. It’s the last 20% that truly allows you to differentiate yourself from the rest of your peers. Go the extra mile and provide more value than asked of you and it will propel you to dizzying heights.

5) Play to your strengths: Align yourself into a job that plays to your strengths, a great boss, a great team, a great industry and one that has potential for future growth. When you align your strengths and passion, compensation will follow.

This book is one of my favorite reads and a must for anyone interested in managing their professional career effectively. There are no quick fixes. The key is to chart a macro career plan spanning years and then work towards it methodically. You can get more information about the book here.