03/03/2014 12:00 am ET Updated Aug 25, 2014

Like Life, Work Is About The Journey, Not The Destination

Ask anyone in the working world and they will tell (or more likely text) you that work is not what it used to be. Teams are becoming more virtual and more diverse with cross-functional working groups now the norm.

Organizational structures are also evolving. As Cathy Benko and Molly Anderson first identified in their book "The Corporate Lattice," we have shifted from the traditional corporate ladder to a more flexible "lattice" approach that opens up new opportunities for growth and increased flexibility. While these are positive changes, they require that employees and their employers show up differently when it comes to managing career progression by seizing new opportunities and charting new paths.

I speak from experience. In my 14 years at Edelman, I have continued take on new challenges that have added value both to the firm and to me personally. In my current role as U.S. COO, I have been given opportunities to embrace new responsibilities and learn new skills in areas that my previous roles did not offer.

Whatever career stage you are in, it's important to find ways to weave through your organization's lattice and continue to grow in ways that make sense for you. Straight lines are not necessarily the most direct path for growth so here are a few important considerations when determining how to successfully meet your growth goals.

  1. LEAP. Look for opportunities to LEAP throughout your career. Not just to take baby steps, but big, sometimes scary leaps. Leaps are an opportunity to Learn, Experience, Apply and Progress. They come up at different phases of your career and in sometimes unexpected places -- but the key is to seize them when they do and take a chance because it will pay off. These can include leading a new company-wide initiative, taking on a role on an interim basis or moving full-stop into a different part of the organization. Whether someone taps you on the shoulder for a new assignment or you see a need that you can uniquely fulfill, be ready to leap when the time comes.
  2. Measure Moments of Progress. On your morning commute, think about the goals you want to accomplish that day. Maybe it's to land a decision at a key meeting, get a client to greenlight a new idea or help a colleague with a business challenge. The key is to find a way to continually drive against those goals and find moments of progress every day. When you do not have these moments of progress or don't feel this type of challenge anymore, look to set yourself up for your next challenge.
  3. Say No to the Status Quo. C.S. Lewis wrote that, " is [a] mortal's greatest enemy." In one respect, it is very comforting to wake up and know every detail of your day. On the other hand, where's the excitement in that? Find ways to do things differently. Figure out what will make your client/function/team/division better, sharper, more efficient, more competitive. The smallest change can sometimes have the biggest impact. Keep evaluating and improving what you do in order to keep growing professionally.
  4. Take a Broad and a Long View. To help identify the opportunities where you should LEAP, it's important to understand the broader organization -- its business focus, position, operations, structure and challenges. This includes researching or asking for information on parts of the business you may not know as well, finding opportunities to work cross-functionally and understanding the industry landscape so you can predict critical areas where you can add value.

    Equally important is taking a "long view" that focuses on today but with an eye peeking toward the future. Consider where you want to be on your career journey in a few years' time (3 to 5 is a good rule) and then figure out what goals you need to accomplish today, what skills you need to learn this year and the experiences you will need longer-term that will help make that a reality.

While this is admittedly focused on the employee, it's also smart for the business. Research shows that highly satisfied employees lead to increased productivity and performance. By finding ways to challenge employees and encourage them to take a LEAP from their comfort zone, employers will have a more satisfied and engaged workforce.

Regardless of the organization, title or level, everyone must now consider ways to meet their own goals and create a unique path to get there. Sometimes that means moving up; other times it may mean weaving your way all around the organization to get to where you aspire to be. As Ralph Waldo Emerson so brilliantly said, "Life is a Journey, Not a Destination." I believe the same can be said for our work life so make it the best journey it can be.