In today’s world, the linear career path virtually no longer exists. Finding the path that harnesses your skills and passions, combined with a workplace that leverages those assets, rarely results from deliberate decisions taken at the outset of one’s working life. It’s a process of trying…and trying again, until you find the right fit.
I’ve found this to be true in my own career. In the 20-plus years I’ve spent in the manufacturing automation industry, I’ve worked in companies large and small, and in both technical and non-technical roles. The breadth of these experiences allowed me to see the industry from various perspectives and discover the passion for sales that I may never have otherwise discovered. The diversity of experiences also helped me to build a bank of skills and a supporting network that I’ve been able to draw upon time and time again.
Joining Rockwell Automation in 2016 as Country Sales Director for the Gulf region provided an opportunity for me to put these varied learnings into practice in a company where diversity of experience underpins how we serve our customers: we balance local knowledge and relationships with global talent and frameworks to help our customers arrive at their desired outcome.
Now managing a team of 11 personnel, some of whom have their own direct reports, I find myself continually drawing on my career lessons to help me achieve my own objectives, while also managing and leading others. In this article I will outline five key lessons and principles that I use to help me to be all that I can be as a manager and a sales leader.
My 5 key career secrets
1. Learn by doing.
I often see education and training institutions offering courses in business administration and people management aimed at students starting out in the industry. Of course it seems logical to gain the theoretical basis of these topics before applying the lessons to practical situations. I’m not convinced, however, that these areas can really be mastered without real-life experience of how businesses really work.
I found that by gaining a practical foundation first, I was then able to learn the theoretical frameworks once I had experience under my belt, which I could then relate to real-life experiences and confirm the effectiveness of what I’d learned organically.
Theory is valuable, but there’s no substitute for lived experience.
2. Learn how people and organisations work.
Understanding individual motivations and drivers is undoubtedly an important skill to have in business. What I learned early in my sales career is that you need to go further than simply understanding people – you need to understand the environment they operate in and how they make decisions collectively within their organisation.
Working within different types of businesses helped me to understand the sorts of decision-making frameworks and internal pressures my customers typically face. In turn, by gaining a proper grasp of these dynamics I’ve been able to move beyond simply ‘selling products’ and drill down to the business problems they’re trying to solve.
3. Evolve from student to teacher.
A good career is full of learning experiences. While it’s important that you absorb these lessons and continually build up your own knowledge, there comes a point in your career where you want to share those lessons with others.
Leading a team provides a platform for you to make that step from practitioner to teacher. Be generous in this regard and devote yourself to helping those around you to learn what you have gathered from your experience. It not only reinforces your own knowledge, but helps you to build a stronger bond with your team.
4. Understand what tools you have in your tool-kit…and when to use them.
Over the years, by virtue of the different environments you work in and challenges you encounter, you will likely enhance your craft and expand your skill set over time. Having the tools is one important aspect; the other is knowing when to use them.
What I’ve often observed is that people are unsure of the exact skills they have developed. Take the time to write down what unique skills you have – having this list at hand will help you to identify which you should draw upon for any task or project. Being able to connect the dots will help you to make better use of your time and efforts, and also help you to avoid doing the tasks that aren’t related to your skills.
5. Be the bridge that brings people closer to their goals.
It’s my belief that the most important value in business is trust. I’ve learned throughout my career the importance of building trust with both team members and with customers. By being authentic and consistent in how you approach your everyday work, you can become the person that colleagues look to in order to help achieve their goals, and who customers know they can depend upon to get the results they need. Be acutely aware that trust takes time and effort to build, but can be lost quickly if taken for granted.
Supporting the next wave of talent
I draw upon these lessons repeatedly to help me navigate everyday situations and decisions in order to get the results my colleagues and customers need from me. I’ve been fortunate that my career path has led me to a company that values my experience and pushes me to continually improve. It heartens me to see my team thriving in this environment. Through our experience-led, entrepreneurial culture, our people are empowered to learn and make decisions that drive better outcomes for themselves, their customers and their teams.