10 Principles From Football for Your Career Management Playbook

Several years ago my oldest stepson played football for a local high school. His team, along with many others, from around the state would converge on the campus of NC State in the Fall, to participate in something called the Pigskin Preview. It was designed to showcase upcoming talent and it consisted of a round-robin  series of scrimmages, which ran all day long. As we (his father, younger brother and I) stood there in the blazing sun, watching him cheering on his teammates, and patiently waiting for his moment on the field, I was amazed by their focus on the game. They were there for one purpose – to play well on that field.  On that day, I observed 10 principles that could be applied to a career management strategy:

  1. Always keep your head in the game: Stay focused on your tasks – know what they are and get them done with a spirit of excellence (not perfectionism, which can spiral into procrastination)!
  2. Don’t quit when the ref throws a flag on the play: Sometimes things happen on the way to your next detail, promotion or career transition – delays don’t always mean denial. Be patient and use that “pause” to re-evaluate your performance in other areas. Once the flag is removed you will be ready and prepared to move forward.
  3. Wear protective gear: On the field protective gear is worn from head to toe (helmets, shoulder pads, butt pads, a visor, a mouth guard, etc.). In the office you protect yourself by being attentive, asking clarifying questions, preparing yourself in advance of meetings and maintain good records.
  4. Everyone in the stands is not cheering for your success: Rather than seek external validation, learn how to cheer for yourself and encourage yourself. Even if you have lots of folks around you, they may not all be interested in seeing you progress and prosper.
  5. You don’t have to be the quarterback to be the star: High visibility projects are sexy and usually garner lots of buzz for the persons involved. However, there is honor is mastering the routine and mundane – don’t assume your role is unimportant because you are not in the limelight. Also remember that you don’t have to be a manager/supervisor to be a leader. Leaders are change agents who inspire others to follow them!
  6. Always be a good sport: So you didn’t get the job/assignment/detail/award/acknowledgment/recognition. Yes, it’s disappointing, but you still have to manage your feelings in a way that is positive, polished and professional.  Why? Because the way you behavior determines the way others perceive you – it becomes your brand. So?  Promotions don’t happen in a vacuum and no organization wants to inherit a headache. When you apply for the next opportunity, be sure the reputation that precedes you is a positive one. If you think you were treated unfairly, by all means pursue a remedy through the available channels and resources. Just remember that you are still obligated to do your job and be professional.
  7. Know the rules of the game: If you are going to get on the field, you need to know how the game is played. Entering a new organization or career field requires the same thing. You need to know what is required to attain success/longevity/growth/promotion in your chosen occupation.
  8. Study your playbook: A playbook is a notebook or document which outlines a success strategy for a sport or organization. As an individual, you need a written strategy designed to help you navigate your career and/or organization. For some this may be the IDP, for others it could be a mind map or a list. The method of documenting your career management strategy is less important than you the fact that you actually have one and are using it.
  9. There can only be one MVP (at a time): So you played by the rules, studied your play book and put your best foot forward – but you still didn’t get the recognition/promotion/position you wanted. Well, that does not mean it was all for nothing! Consistency in your performance will allow you to set a standard of excellence, which others will notice – it just might not be noticed by the folks you are with right now! You never know who is watching you and you never know where your next opportunity is coming from – continue to stay  focused on your career strategy and stay on point – its for your benefit!
  10. If you are not interested in playing the game – get off the field: When my step-son decided he was no longer interested in football, he simply shifted his attention to something else. He did not strip off his uniform in the middle of the field and declare to everyone within earshot that he was no longer a part of the game. If the career path or position you’ve chosen is no longer a fit for you, create a strategic exit strategy. Leave in the same manner you entered it, with dignity, polish and class!

Remember that you always have a choice. You may not have control over what comes your way, but you always have control over your response it. Your response should be authentic, truthful, strategic and tactful – remember to keep your head in the game!

Wanda Pemberton is a coach, author, and doctoral candidate at Walden University. Views expressed in the article do not represent her agency.  

Wanda Pemberton is also part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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