Professional Agility: Debunking the Security Myth

This single sentence at itzBig Blog really got me up and running this Saturday morning:

“There was a time when people had the opportunity to spend the majority of their lives working in one industry or even working with one company.”

Do you really want your father’s job? Or your grandfather’s? I can’t say that I do, despite the guise of “security” that surrounded it. (Don’t get huffy about gender bias – consider this my explicit acknowledgement that mom and grandma worked much too hard, and their financial “security” isn’t where I’m going in this. Stick with me here.)
The idea of professional security – financial security – seems to have evolved into a Gen-Xers’ view of the 1950s (thinking something like Pleasantville or Edward Scissorhands), where people lived and worked along side the same persons they went through high school with. “Security” meant keeping your nose to the grindstone, doing what you were told, and not making waves. Working Saturdays was normal, and moving up meant the business expanded, you relocated with the company, or someone died/retired.

No thanks. I would rather pursue professional fulfillment (emotional security – happiness -at work) rather than simply financial security.
The discussions around “job security” should have gone away with the defined benefits retirment plans. Being in the seat the longest doesn’t make you expert, and it doesn’t make the people in your office an expert, either. Even if you are in a company that loves clock punchers and you just want to hang on, showing up each morning is no guarantee either in this day and age.

If you seek to only execute grandpa’s corporate strategy – show up on time, keep your head down, don’t make waves – you’ll find yourself at best marginalized by people seeking challenges, and at worst punted to the street in a layoff without any noteworthy accomplishments or powerful references to get you back up and running.

If you haven’t heard it already, consider this your notice – tenure is no longer an available option. You will not retire from your job if you have more than 10 years to retirement (that is, unless you have such a critical and crap job that no one else would ever do it and it can’t be automated).

Two Words for you – Professional Agility.


Financial security is now defined by expertise and adaptability. By “Professional Agility”, I’m talking about the ability to take what you know, and continue to add to it. To be able to take an idea or an experience, and combine that with new learning that makes you more valuable than you were yesterday. “Professional Agility” means take or keeping a job because you want to, not because you lack options. Agility means being able (whether you choose or not) flex and adapt to new opportunities, and bring fresh new views and ideas to the table. Stirring the pot of complacency, but with the intent to transform. Professional Agility means the right to act autonomously, to take risks, and enjoy the trust and confidence of your executives. Interested?

“Sounds great. Where does one sign up for the one-to-three-day course in becoming an exceptionally valued contributor with a stack of job offers sitting on their desk next to their superstar trophies?”

Ok, maybe not that easy, but how much fun would that be, anyway? If you want to develop your Professional Agility, start with the following:

  • Clear your Task List. This seems too obvious, but the rest of it doesn’t do much for you if you don’t start here. Begin today by delivering on those commitments you’ve already made. Show that you can follow through, and have the capacity to do more. Automate or streamline repetitive tasks, and help people upstream and downstream of you do the same. Viola – instant, demonstrable value.
  • Listen. This one’s cheap, can start right now, and will pay enormous dividends – listen. Begin to appreciate the challenges of those around you, where their work marries up to yours, and the challenges that they face. If you understand the larger picture in which your work is performed, you can ensure that your contribution improves the whole. If you want to be valued for more than just a narrow piece of work, understand and deliver within the larger picture.
  • Increase Your Personal Resources – Expand your Mind. All the observation in your immediate surroundings won’t tell you what innovators are doing elsewhere that you could begin applying today. This means that someone else out there may be on track to swoop in and apply their insights in that role you have been salivating over for these many long hours. “Sharpen your Saw” (Covey’s Habit 7)– pick up a trade book or professional journal, read the paper, take a class – put new information into your gray matter that helps you draw new connections and arrive at new insights. If you aren’t growing, you risk atrophy. Expand your understandings, even if the connection to your present job isn’t straight forward. Leaders love solutions, and solutions seem to pop from non-linear thinking too.
  • See a Problem, Own the Problem. When “security” is your primary motivation, you can’t let problems fester in the cube next to you – you’re in this ship together. Helping others (a balancing act, to be sure) helps you develop as a collaborator. Being able to identify problems outside your area – and help address them – is a very mature professional skill that requires diplomacy, energy, and the willingness to take a risk of extending beyond your expertise. Note that all these skills are found in leaders and those on the fast track: do you just want more of the same (security in your present role), or an opportunity to have an impact and help change the world around you?
  • Stop and Reflect. If you are hitting the bullets above, you have earned a little break – stop and reflect on your progress. (If this hurts, it’s likely because you pulled something- maybe a muscle you haven’t exercised in a while. Congratulations on your pain.) You can’t simply run full out all the time, and magically have all your new information, experiences, and insights fall into a logical context. Find a buddy, find a beer, and mull it over. Talking about your new observations and insights does more than just pondering it in the quiet of your own head, it forces you to name what occurred, and this can be a powerful experience – even if your buddy has already passed out.
This entry was posted in Agility, Autonomy, Habit 7, Security. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Professional Agility: Debunking the Security Myth

  1. Pingback: Elvis without the Colonel, Success without a Manager? | More than a living

  2. Pingback: Hello, Crazy | More than a living

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