The danger of the shoulder tap

From the time we enter the workforce, we’re programmed to believe that being headhunted is a good thing. We work hard for our talent to be recognised by the powers that be, in the hope that they simply can’t help but throw opportunities our way!  

 The problem with this is it’s a really passive way to build a career.  

Waiting to be tapped on the shoulder can work well in your earlier years.  It certainly did for me.  For about 15 years I worked in a large corporate business where I found an abundance of opportunities.   

 Or should I say the opportunities found me.   

 Every couple of years there would be a major business restructure, landing me in a new role, a new department or a completely different part of the business.  I didn’t need to look too far for the next promotion or challenge to come knocking on my door.   

 All I needed was to put myself in the right place to be seen and wait to be tapped on the shoulder.  And just like a cat with 9 lives – when the dust settled, I always found myself in a better position than before.   

 I’ve spoken to many women who tell me that their career has been one of default rather than design – with new opportunities being offered to them even when they aren’t really looking.  

 But something seems to happen in mid-career.  The opportunities tend to dry up and many good women are left feeling overlooked and thinking they are on the fast track to… well… nowhere, really.   

 They are still doing really great work – but they have fallen into the trap of believing that working hard and striving for excellence is enough to take them to the next level of leadership.  But it’s not.  At this level of leadership, doing great work is expected.  It’s a given.    

 What it takes to be seen as the obvious candidate for your dream executive role is not your hard work… but rather your leadership!  

 Being helpful, useful and reliable was what got you into your current role – but being valuable will get you to the next.   

 So, if that’s what you want, it might be time to get out of the passenger seat (or even the boot) and back into the driver’s seat of your career.  You need to be in control, managing your reputation, building strategic relationships and positioning yourself for what you want.  

 Leaving your career at the mercy of people noticing you is hugely problematic.  In the words of Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” 

 There are THREE major problems I see when women set their career on autopilot. 

  1. Reliance on others

 Leaving your career progression in the hands of others is fraught with danger.  No one should care more about your career than you.   

 I have seen far too many smart women who are waiting for the shoulder tap, being overlooked.  They have allowed other people to make decisions and value judgements about their capacities that are based on generalisations or inaccuracies.  

 No-one in my Leading Ladies group is surprised when someone discloses they’ve been overlooked for their dream role because ‘someone’ decided they wouldn’t be interested because of their family status or because they are already super busy or because they never shared their aspirations for a more senior role.  Ugh. 

2. Opportunity blindness  

 Waiting for or relying on the shoulder tap can make women blind to opportunities. They’re simply not in the habit of actively seeking them out. When you know what it is that you want, you’ll start seeing opportunities all around you.  But it starts with getting really clear on what you want and taking action steps towards that goal.  

 Without this, you can be put up for roles that you’re highly suited to, well within your capabilities, but is there room for growth? Is it a role you’re actually attracted to?   

  3.  Land in the wrong place

 Across the corporate world, people are identified as ‘high potential’ talent and offered space in leadership programs without being asked if they actually want to lead other humans, or offered roles that they can do but aren’t exactly passionate about.   

 If you’ve found yourself down a career path that doesn’t fill you with excitement – then perhaps it’s because it’s not actually aligned to your greatest strengths and your deeper vision values.  You may have moved into the role to fill a need the business had rather than stepping into a role that was a great fit for who you are and what you truly want to be doing.  

 Of course, being tapped on the shoulder feels amazing and is a valid career growth strategy.  

 It means you have people ready to open doors for you and advocate for you to executives you may not have access to in the same timeframe or with the same level of ease. But it’s important to notice when it’s your only strategy. Waiting to be tapped on the shoulder takes you out of the driving seat of your own career.  

 It’s a much more beneficial and rewarding process to decide what you want and go after it! 

 Don’t wait to be tapped on the shoulder my work with mid-career women is all about making informed choices. I help women achieve success as defined by them, on their terms, without burning out or selling their souls. Shall we chat about how I could help you design your career? Let’s do it! 


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