One moment you are lauded as the ‘next best thing’, the ‘promising young star’ or the ‘rising star’ and the next, you are in the metaphorical wilderness. We’ve always known that the career of a footballer is very fickle but in this article, I will argue that so is that of a young, talented corporate superstar.
South African football fans will remember this. It was in August 2003 when Mbulelo “OldJohn” Mabizela joined Tottenham Hotspur and then went on to score that spectacular goal against Leicester City in October of the same year. He was indeed the ‘next best thing’; promising young defender from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa who was about to take over the world. After just a year, his contract was cancelled and his career went on a steady downward spiral from there on. He tried to resurrect it but it was clear that the promising young talent that OJ was, had unfortunately just remained that, promising.
As a professional speaker who has worked in talent development all my life, I’ve seen this picture many times in corporate South Africa. I’ve seen promising, emerging talent who suddenly faded into obscurity. I was already thinking about this topic when I had an honour of chairing the knowledge resources talent management conference on 16 May 2018. We had about 100 senior talent managers in the room so I thought I would ask them to name one or two potential pitfalls that could move young talent from ‘promising to obscurity’. Some confirmed my own experience but I was also surprised by some responses. Here are the top six potential pitfalls that could derail your promising career as young talent:
1. Lack of self-control. Self-control is a key component to a successful corporate career. How does this manifest in the workplace? Be productive even the manager is not around. Have control over your emotions. You don’t have to party every weekend and come back to work tired every Monday. You don’t have to be available for every argument you are invited to.
2. Inability to seize opportunities when they present themselves. As Sifiso Mbhele, talent practitioner from one of the top telecommunications companies in South Africa said at the conference, “failing to recognize opportunities to take oneself to the next level within the chaos of everyday activity is a challenge for promising young talent”. You have to an eye for opportunities.
3. Not assuming personal responsibility & accountability for your own career. As a professional speaker, I say this all the time; no one is coming to discover you. Everyday you have to raise your hand by continuously adding value.
4. Inability to promote your work. Young talent often thinks “I will let my work speak for itself” and that is good but you learn very fast in corporate that you must work but you must also be seen to be working. You have to find platforms to promote your work.
5. Lack of social intelligence and not appreciating the role of organisational politics. Young talent is often politically naïve and tends to think that politics should be left to politicians. It is true that dysfunctional politics can sink you but so is being politically naïve. Don’t play politics but also don’t be naïve to the power dynamics and informal networks in the workplace.
6. Inauthenticity. A conference delegate who introduced herself as The Real Faith, said, “When we are not true to whom we are. When we seek validation and look for acceptance, we run the risk of fading into obscurity.”
Is your star rising? Be on the lookout for these potential pitfalls. It is not enough to have a great start; you must finish strong.
Siphiwe Moyo is a professional motivational speaker. His specialty is organisational behaviour & talent/career development. He is co-founder and Chief People Officer at Twice Blue, a human capital agency that specializes in human performance improvement.