Where is your career taking you?


Pay-off: A chance to steer your career somewhere better

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This question matters a lot. It pays to consider the impact of your answers.

(I recommend you pause to bring some answers to mind before proceeding. Where is your career actually taking you?)

Now, there’s only one specific answer that I believe is healthy, and will work out well for you.

I’ll explain…

Did you ever read the popular business book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins?

If not, perhaps you heard the frequently mentioned idea within that book that employers must get the right people on the bus, and get them into the right seats?

My heart sank when I first read that (for everyone who accepted it without question). And it sinks every time someone confidently shares the metaphor (and I do hear people in leadership mention it too often).


Because I don’t know which leaders in their right mind want ‘passengers’ to hold things together and drive their vision forwards.

The minute you think you’re running an organisation of passengers, and that it’s your job to get them in the right ‘seats’, you’re creating the wrong culture immediately.

And the minute anyone considers themselves as a ‘passenger on the bus’ they give up everything exciting that matters and that’s available to them in their career.

This metaphor, I think, sends us into dangerous territory. Bus passengers are at the mercy of the bus driver (and any orders they take from their seniors back at the depot!) They go where the bus goes, until they either get off, or get pushed off. Or until it careers off the road with them in it. (The Oxford dictionary definition of the word ‘career’ includes: “Move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way“. Exactly.)

And increasingly I see employers and leadership getting frustrated with employees who just act like passengers on the bus. Those who just take the ride on offer, not being particularly proactive about anything, not challenging much, not bringing much to the table, trying not to get ‘found out’, and doing only their ‘job’ and no more by arguing, “that’s not my job”.

The bus mentality, I think, is dangerous for both employers and employees. We shouldn’t be thinking like that.

Taking charge of your career and your next few years ahead

An alternative mindset I’d offer is that employers should employ people who see themselves as riding motorbikes, and who are willing to ride in formation. The formation creates a win:win for as long as required where the employer gets value from the employee, and the employee gets value in return as they ride a leg of their career journey in the way that they want.

The motorbike riders aren’t there to get lifted and carried by their employer. They do the lifting.

I am lucky to work with many different people from different organisations, and I enjoy bridging the gap between leadership who tend to be business and career focused, and their teams who tend to be less business and more career focused. And regardless of their role, I soon get a sense of who has the bus mentality and who has the motorbike mentality.

The bus passengers

And I’d suggest that even if you’re ‘in the right seat’ on the bus, the fact that the metaphor even hints that you’re a passenger is dangerous. Those being carried are generally less engaged, motivated, and less inclined to find more efficient and effective ways to deliver value to the organisation. They’re often less full of life at work, more reactive, tend to drop everything they invested in when the wind changes, and tend to be more cynical and negative.

The motorbike riders

The motorbike riders work amongst them, and they tend to habitually steer things more purposefully towards what they want. They know where they’re going and why. They tend to proactively self-direct their learning and development more and keep an eye on their career and market value. They need less managing from their line managers, and tend to produce results more effectively. And even when the wind changes, they keep taking intentional action towards where they want to be. And intentional action is the mark of a professional.

The only healthy answer…

If you’re interested in the only answer that I think is healthy to the question, “where is your career taking you?” it’s this:

“It’s not taking me anywhere. I’m taking it places. I’m defining and steering it myself.”

Unless you answer that, then your career is taking you somewhere.

The next questions are;

  1. Are you clear on where that is and what that looks like?
  2. Do you want to go there?
  3. And what will you do when it all changes and decides to take you somewhere else?

There’s a list of things you can do that are totally within your control to fix this. You can decide (right now in fact) to get off the bus and get on your motorbike and point it towards a destination and route that you’re compelled to travel down. And when the wind changes, or when the buses change route, you’ll be well positioned to swiftly move between the traffic, give them a wave, stay on target and keep going where you want, whether in your current formation or another of your choosing.

Any thoughts or questions on this, I now have comments open on my blog, so let me know your thoughts. Or if you think there’s a better answer to the question than the one I’ve proposed, I’d love to hear!

And if you want to become a better motorbike rider (metaphorically still..) my posts around ‘The Big 4 Skills’ should help you. Sign up for free here.)

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