Preston James II | Crain's Austin

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Preston James II

Background:  

Austin-based DivInc is a pre-accelerator focused on championing diversity in the tech startup ecosystem.

Mistake:

Not proactively and purposefully managing my career early on.

When I was beginning my career, I had this naive impression that if you did really well in your job that you would essentially get promoted into leadership roles. But I learned that certainly was not the case. I learned that talent wasn’t always enough to get you to that next promotion.

Because of this naiveté, I do believe I missed out on a few leadership opportunities as well as opportunities to get more experience than I actually did get. There were times I was maybe one or two positions away from getting a major springboard in my career and not necessarily being proactive managing it can make all the difference.

I should have been more assertive in seeking opportunities and experiences as opposed to specific roles. You may aspire to certain roles, which is fine but really what you’re looking for is a broad set of experiences that prepare you for such a role or any other type of role that you may not even be thinking of.

What triggered the realization that I was not doing something right is when it hit me that I was not getting calls for interviews for managerial positions but some of my peers were. It wasn’t that they were outperforming me or were necessarily better. So I started to ask myself, “What’s going on here? Why am I being passed over?” One day I walked past someone’s desk and saw his resume. It really articulated his objectives and the vision he wanted for himself, and what he wanted next. It kind of surprised me.  I thought to myself, “Wow, the way he positioned it was significantly bigger and broader than what he was doing.”

It was something simple but really illustrated what he aspired to. I had the same, or even greater, qualifications but I was not even in the running for the same role because I did not position myself or properly articulate the vision of who I wanted to be or what I wanted in my career.

I told myself, “You need to change the narrative of this.”

People aren’t able to help you if they don’t understand what you want.

Lesson:

Once I realized this, I started seeing results. As soon as I changed the narrative and the dialog that I was having with people verbally, in my resume and through my cover letter, things absolutely changed. People were saying they didn’t know I was interested in a leadership role. I was like, “Are you kidding? You thought I was going to be an individual contributor forever?”

I had to be able to take myself out of my comfort zone. The experiences I was now asking for would push me to grow, gain new skills and expose me to new functions. I was then able to grow and gain the ability to trust in myself and have the confidence that I could a lot of different things very well.

Once I got into a leadership role, it was a matter of trying to become a leader of leaders. Now as a leader, I try to be actively engaged in helping others get to the point of actively managing their career, taking the time to create a vision for themselves and articulating that vision. I spend a lot of my time mentoring others and helping them with their careers as well.  

Allowing your passions and interest drive what it is you want to do is key, not so much letting a company do it for you. A company doesn’t have your career laid out for you.  Unless you’re coming out of college as some superstar student... the vast majority of the people in the workforce, you have to have your career laid out.

I learned you have to take the time tor really think about, prepare and establish a vision for what you want out of your career. You also need to be able to articulate it to the people that matter – or to anybody really, that might be able to help you along the way. People can’t help you if they don’t know what it is that you want.

When you start talking about experiences, people – mentors in particular – are in a much better position to help you gain those experiences and what it is what you want. It’s critical to build a network, and then nurture it. It’s important to have closer relationships with key people who can support your efforts as you work through your career. Nurturing is a lot of effort, but it is absolutely needed. You need advocates and sponsors within your company environment. Without them, you’re at a big disadvantage versus those you may be competing with in terms of moving up in your career.

Follow DivInc on Twitter at @DivIncatx.

Pictured: Preston James II | Photo courtesy of DivInc

 

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