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How One Question Changed My Career Trajectory

About four years ago, my manager at the time asked me a simple yet profound question.

During one of our weekly check-ins, she asked me if I had ever considered managing other people and if that was a career path I was interested in.

Who me? A manager? I’m sure those questions ran through my mind, but not because I didn’t think I was capable or qualified. But because that was a defining moment for me. My manager asked me a critical question about my future and was ready to take action based on my response.

I remember telling her “yes” — and really meaning it. My “yes” wasn’t based on the obvious reason why some people feel compelled to say “yes.” In many cases, the only way to climb the career ladder is to manage people. I’ve seen so much damage come as a result of organizations giving management roles to employees who might be good at their craft but unfit to lead people.

But back to the conversation with my boss. I told her that one of the promises I made to myself a while back was this: If I ever had the opportunity to be a manager, I would do right by my team. I would support them, advocate for them and do what I could to make their work experience a pleasant one. I’ve had a mixed bag of managers, and I was clear on the type of manager that I did and did not want to be.

I think back to that question my former boss asked me, and I can see how it set into motion a series of events that have led me to where I am now.

My path forward on the management track began with learning the basics of recruiting, hiring, coaching, mentoring, assigning projects and following up, and how to balance my workload while also ensuring others were successful. I learned empathy, the importance of critical conversations and how to tap into people’s strengths.

My lessons came through on-the-job training as part of my company’s fellowship program.

I was responsible for hiring, onboarding and managing a fellow for our spring, summer and fall fellowship programs. One fellow became two fellows. From there, I managed one full-time employee, and that grew to two full-time employees and a fellow. And the rest truly is history.

I’ve learned so many lessons over the past four years, and my manager was there by my side every step of the way. She provided me with a blueprint but left plenty of space for me to grow into my own management style and find what worked for me and the team.

I’m where I am because my manager(s) and countless others invested in me and saw my potential. Now more than ever, nurturing managers who bring out the best in people are critical.

Good managers beget good managers, and they make people want to stay at an organization and grow.

Here’s my challenge to you: If it’s within your power to open a door for someone else, do it. Ask questions, find out their interests and make an investment that will change someone’s career trajectory.

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Profile Photo Joe Raasch

Nicole this is excellent! So many people wait until they are 100% sure they can do the next job before they move. Being somewhere that has created the conditions for success, the culture, allows us to feel safe in making these transitions!

Profile Photo Nicole Blake Johnson

Thank you for reading, Joe! It’s great to hear from you. You’re absolutely right. Imposter syndrome and so many other factors can prevent us from taking on that next role. Feeling safe (as safe as we can) in making the transition is so key.