Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

For career growth, take challenging assignments

There are many ways to enhance your personal suite of skills, challenging assignments being one

Published: Sep 5, 2014 06:45:43 AM IST
Updated: Aug 26, 2014 09:16:11 PM IST

On July 10th, Thunderbird alumnus Jon Kailey ’76, retired Director of International Business Development at Owens Corning Building Materials, visited campus and gave a talk entitled “Corruption: Corporate and Citizen Costs.” Mr. Kailey served in that capacity from 1979 – 2012 and lived outside the United States for 18 years in Saudi Arabia, Chile and Mexico. At the time of his retirement, his passport had 192 pages, visits to all seven continents, and he spent time in over 70 countries. Kailey is a classic T-bird.

Although his interactive talk allowed those in attendance to relive and ask themselves “What would I have done?” in many of the cross-cultural situations he encountered, I remember one thing he said quite clearly. When asked by a student how to best leverage a Thunderbird degree and a desire to work in a variety of places globally, Kailey responded by saying, “Take assignments no one wants. In short order, you’ll become indispensable.” Sage advice, I’d say.

There are many ways to enhance your personal suite of skills, challenging assignments being one. Kailey just happened to mention the one that fosters meaningful learning the fastest: immersion in cross-cultural experiences that challenge you and place you outside your comfort zone. Here are five methods that will prepare you to achieve your next career goal:

1. Learn from other people – Create a personal board of directors (of 3 – 5 individuals) whose values, character, communication profile, technical competencies, and network are unique from one another and vastly different from yours. Their differences will help to provide alternative view points from which you can make better decisions in less time with little information. Take time to learn from your mentors’ successes… and mistakes.

2. Endure hardships – It is important to remember the only thing you can control is how you react to what is out of your control. When something doesn’t turn out the way you intended, reframe the situation and become a student of adversity. Determine how to fold the event into a narrative that can become the foundation of your new brand, building “identity capital” and drawing strength from the hardship. Events shouldn’t be looked at as good or bad emotionally, they’re simply milestones. Don’t shelter yourself from adversity; use it as a springboard to achieve your personal mission faster.

3. Seek structured training – Whether you choose to take a Thunderbird Online course, become certified by an internationally-recognized professional association, or you regularly attend Toastmasters’ meetings, you are consciously growing your emotional and technical skills. Complementary trainings will serve as the foundation to build skills and better manage the gap between where you are now and where you’d like to be.

4. Find off-the-job experiences – Probably the most often overlooked self-development opportunities are experiences such as serving on a board of directors, volunteering time with a nonprofit, leading one of the 160+ local Thunderbird alumni chapters, or mentoring a rising star in your community. The competencies you learn correlate directly to and create more robust transferrable skills that you’ll apply in your full-time job.

5. Take on challenging assignments – Although uncomfortable, Kailey mentioned that taking assignments no one wants teach the subtleties of communication and leadership, force you to look within and reflect more frequently, and teach you about your mental, emotional, and physical limits. They help you identify when you are about to break, help to define when you can do things alone and when you need to delegate, and push your values, character, skills, and potential into the limelight. No one said becoming indispensable would be easy.

Of the five, challenging assignments will be the skill builder that will steepen your learning curve and best prepare you for the next step in your career. After you’ve proven yourself through boundary-stretching assignments, you can be sure that your stakeholders have noticed. Not only does the extra work you’ve done raise your value to the organization, but it shows a willingness to go above and beyond that can be relied upon in the future. I encourage you to find opportunities to: volunteer for organization-wide project teams, become a mentor to new employees, become a mentee to a star leader, volunteer for stretch assignments, lobby for capital funds that will allow you to implement a large project, or accept the responsibility to manage additional departments. Through focused effort in tasks like these, you will be placing yourself into roles that will challenge you and grow your career.

I’m guessing that Jon Kailey would approve of this as a way for you to travel the world, become indispensable, and see if you can fill more than 192 pages in your passport.

So, what are you waiting for?

[This article has been reproduced with permission from Knowledge Network, the online thought leadership platform for Thunderbird School of Global Management]

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