The etiquette of career development - SmartBrief

All Articles Leadership Inspiration The etiquette of career development

The etiquette of career development

4 min read


“Nothing is less important than which fork you use. Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor.” ~ Emily Post, American expert on etiquette

Is there a proper “etiquette” for leaders to follow when developing their teams? I’ve often heard it said that etiquette is simply helping others to feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. Taken in this context, there is a connection to career development and etiquette because leaders are well-positioned to help their followers navigate the uncertainty that often comes with a career transition.

So where does honor fit into the equation? As the mother of modern manners points out, rules aren’t the governing factor in the science of living — honor is. When leaders come from a place of honorable intention with career development, they are stewards of their followers’ careers in the best possible way. They aren’t squeezing somebody into a predefined mold because the company policy said that how it must be. There is no one-size-fits-all rule in helping people grow professionally.

Developing people with honor requires that leaders:

  • Find the good in people
  • See possibilities, not barriers
  • Loan their belief to people suffering a crisis of confidence

Leaders at their most honorable help people prepare for and pursue their next big thing. However, the path to what’s next for employees might not be clear, and that’s where leaders can help followers navigate those unfamiliar surroundings when a career-building opportunity presents itself. Just as a gracious host handles unforeseen circumstances with élan, so too does the leader who practices developing employees in a mannerly way.

Are you a leader with impeccable career development manners? Here are three guidelines to steer you in the right direction:

  1. Orient people to their “X.” The first step in charting a new path is determining your location. Employees can be so mired in the present that they can’t even see where to begin. Etiquette in this situation calls for you as the leader to help employees see the large “X” on the map that says “You are here.” Help them discover talents they have that make them already prepared to take on a new assignment, even if the official job description doesn’t quite match. Once people understand their current location, they’re more able to take the next step.
  2. Imagine the future. Next, leaders need to help their team members visualize moving from here (their “X”) to there. Employees sometimes struggle thinking about future career possibilities. Leaders help people imagine the “next iteration” of their career; they are better positioned to suss out the personal transformation their team members need to take it to the next level career-wise. It’s helpful to state the growth in terms of from/to framework. For example: “from hesitant public speaker to confident presentation pro.”
  3. Create a supportive plan. Making a big career change can feel scary to even the most self-assured professional. Like a trapeze artist who’s in that brief moment of hang time in between the trapeze bars, making a career transition from “here” to “there” is fraught with uncertainty. Leaders who help lay out a plan that supports incremental growth with measurable milestones are those who maximize the probability of successful career transitions for their team.

Your leadership reputation is tied to the way you develop your followers. Your success will be measured less by strictly following the rules and more by the wisdom of your heart. In career planning, skip the formulaic “When X, then Y” and go instead for an honor-based approach, which is a personalized, professional growth plan for your team.

Jennifer V. Miller, managing director of SkillSource, helps midcareer professionals strategize their next big “leap.” She is the co-author of “The Character-Based Leader,” blogs at The People Equation and tweets via @JenniferVMiller.