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Career Roadmap: The 6 Stages of Career Growth

In this article, we'll discuss Gary Burnison's 6 stages of career growth and share some of our own insights. Although Gary Burnison's approach may not work for everyone, it can serve as a useful tool for figuring out where you are in your career and where you want to be.

6 Stages of Career Growth by Gary Burnison

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Gary Burnison, the CEO of Korn Ferry and a best-selling author of books about career and leadership, offers a structured approach to understanding and advancing one's professional journey. Let’s explore his view on the stages of career growth.

The Follower Stage: Your First Step into the Workforce

This stage marks the beginning of your career. It might be your first job or an internship. It's a time when you absorb knowledge, develop basic skills, and begin to understand how your industry or profession operates. It's tough to argue with Gary Burnison's idea that knowing how to follow is essential for becoming a good leader. The ability to follow instructions and work effectively within a team is a fundamental skill. It not only helps you contribute to your organization but also sets the groundwork for future leadership roles. Recognizing that everyone starts somewhere and that even leaders were once followers can help you maintain a growth mindset.

The Collaborator Stage: Building Skills Through Teamwork

As you progress in your career, you'll transition into the Collaborator stage. In this stage, you'll find yourself working closely with colleagues and team members. Let's explore the insights we can gather from this concept;

  1. Problem-Solving: Team projects often involve tackling complex challenges. This stage encourages you to contribute to problem-solving efforts collectively, leveraging the diverse expertise of your peers.
  2. Leadership Potential: Your ability to collaborate sets the stage for future leadership roles. Figuring out how to keep your team motivated, give them direction, and lend a hand when needed is a big step on your path to being a leader in your company.
  3. Networking: Forming strong connections with your colleagues during this phase can establish valuable professional relationships. These connections can prove highly beneficial for your career in the long term.

The Instructor Stage: Guiding Your Team

As you step into your role as a team leader for the first time, you'll be using your interpersonal skills to provide instructions and guidance. This applies whether your team consists of multiple individuals or just one person. The Instructor stage marks your transition into a leadership position where you guide others rather than solely performing tasks yourself.

Gary Burnison points out that at this level, you bear the responsibility for tasks and projects but may not have full authority. This can involve tasks such as project planning, system implementation, problem-solving, external negotiations, and collaborative group work. Moving through this stage entails learning new skills, adopting different perspectives, handling more extensive tasks, and embracing unfamiliar aspects of your work.

The Manager Stage: Leading Bigger Teams with Clear Goals

As you progress into the Manager stage, your responsibilities expand. Here, it's essential not only to inspire your team but also to efficiently guide them by setting clear goals and giving them the tools they require. Here are some examples of responsibilities that a manager may have;

  1. Performance Management: Managers review employee performance, offer feedback, and create plans to help employees improve. They may use additional software such as performance management apps or time tracking tools like Traqq to monitor employee progress and identify areas for enhancement.
  2. Resource Allocation: Managers allocate resources, including budgets, personnel, and equipment, to support their team's projects and initiatives.
  3. Decision-Making: They make decisions related to their team's operations and projects, considering the best interests of the organization.
  4. Training and Development: Managers identify training needs and support the professional development of team members to enhance their skills and competencies.
  5. Reporting: They often provide regular reports to higher-level management, summarizing their team's achievements, challenges, and future plans.
  6. Budget Management: They manage and control budgets, ensuring that resources are used efficiently and effectively.
  7. Strategy Implementation: Managers play a role in implementing the organization's strategic plans and initiatives at the team level.

The Influencer Stage: Shaping Outcomes through Persuasion

As you progress into the Influencer stage, your role shifts away from direct team management towards the power of influence. This stage emphasizes the importance of leadership skills. It focuses on working effectively with individuals throughout the organization, including those beyond your direct team.

Here are some key insights;

  1. Cross-Functional Collaboration: Effective influence is vital for collaborating with colleagues in different departments, often at your level or higher. It's about achieving common objectives without hierarchical authority.
  2. Soft Skills: This stage underscores the significance of soft skills, such as communication, persuasion, and relationship-building. These skills become essential tools for achieving organizational goals.
  3. Strategic Thinking: Influencers often engage in strategic thinking and planning, as they need to align their efforts with broader organizational objectives.

The Leader Stage: Inspiring Others to Excel

In the Leader stage, your role transforms into empowering and inspiring others. Rather than dictating tasks, you guide their thinking and vision. Your primary focus is motivating individuals to achieve more than they imagined.

Here are the insights we can gain from this concept;

  1. Empowerment: Empowering team members becomes a central theme. Leaders trust their teams to make decisions and innovate, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility.
  2. Coaching and Mentorship: Leaders often take on coaching and mentorship roles, helping team members grow both professionally and personally.
  3. Succession Planning: They actively identify and groom successors within their teams, ensuring continuity and sustainability.
  4. Change Catalysts: Leaders often spearhead major organizational changes, navigating complexities and inspiring others to embrace new directions.
  5. Legacy Building: At this point, leaders focus on creating a lasting legacy, leaving a positive impact on their teams, organizations, and industries.
  6. The path through the six stages of career growth, from Follower to Leader, is a dynamic and transformative process. This journey is a continuous one, and each stage builds upon the lessons of the previous. It enables us to achieve success, make meaningful contributions, and leave a lasting legacy in our careers and organizations.

Key Takeaways

As final thoughts, it seems important to acknowledge that the 6 stages of career growth may not be suitable for everyone. People have diverse aspirations and goals, and not everyone desires to thrive in leadership positions. Here are some insights to consider;

  1. Diverse Career Paths: The traditional career roadmap often emphasizes leadership progression as the ultimate goal. However, not all individuals are inclined to lead teams or organizations. Many people find fulfillment and success in specialized or individual contributor roles, such as experts in technical fields, artists, or researchers.
  2. Value in Specialization: Specialized roles often require deep expertise and skills in a specific area. These roles are vital in organizations, and people who excel in them contribute significantly to their fields. For instance, a talented software engineer or a skilled graphic designer may find their niche and purpose in these roles without aspiring to leadership positions.
  3. Work-Life Balance: Some people prioritize work-life balance. They prefer roles where they can excel in their careers while still having time for themselves and their well-being. Leadership roles can be demanding, and not everyone wants to sacrifice their health, relationships, or personal time.
  4. Different Forms of Leadership: Leadership isn't limited to typical managerial positions. Leadership skills can be applied in various ways, such as leading projects, influencing peers, or being a mentor or coach. People can exercise leadership without holding formal titles.
  5. Diversity in Organizational Success: Effective organizations are not solely composed of leaders; they thrive on diversity, including various roles and talents. To make the organization successful, leaders, experts, and team members must work together.
  6. Ongoing Self-Reflection: It's important to take time for self-reflection to figure out your career goals. This means understanding what you're good at, what you enjoy, and what you want for the future, whether or not it involves being a leader.

While the 6 stages of career growth provide a structured framework for advancement, they may not be the ideal path for everyone. It's perfectly acceptable to find your place and purpose in different aspects of your career journey. Remember, success and fulfillment can take many forms in the ever-changing landscape of the modern workplace.

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