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Friday, September 20, 2013

Climbing the Ladder: Making the Choice to Further Your Career

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, September 2013
Written by Fonda M. Dixon, retired from Pa. State Police. She served more than 33 years in public safety communications, including her time as a Police Communications Operator (PCO), PCO Instructor and supervisor of Employee Training Section.

Are you looking for just a job, or do you want a career?  Does what you are looking for reflect your talent, interests, capacities and skills?  Are you committed to the goals of your employer?  These are potential questions to consider in deciding whether "the climb" is on your agenda.

When you accept a job, it's important to know what the organizational goals (vision and mission) of the employer are.  Why?  Because when everyone is focused on those goals, the agency has the greatest chance to succeed, and employees will, in turn, be successful too.  Sometimes, the longer we work for one employer, the more likely we are to forget the organizational goals and why we have them.  When this happens, we tend to put ourselves first and forget whom we work for: the public.

When we embark on a new career, we begin as followers.  How well our values and beliefs mirror those of the organization plays a part in our commitment to that organization.  In his book, The Courageous Follower, Ira Chaleff offers a new model for the follower role.  This role provides dynamic support for leaders, but does not hesitate to constructively speak truth to power.  "Courageou followership" recognizes that to be effective at almost any level of an agency, individuals need to play both the leader and follower role adeptly.

Chaleff writes about the five dimensions of courageous followership.  The first dimension addresses the courage to assume responsibility for yourself and the organization.  Employees initiate value-based actions and their authority comes from their understanding and ownership of the common purpose.  The second dimension relates to the courage to work hard to serve the organization.  The follower assumes additional responsibilities to unburden the leader.  They stand up for the leader and the tough decisions they must make.  The third dimension is the courage to challenge your leader when your sense of right is being challenged.  The fourth dimension is the courage to participate in transformation and stay with the group and the leader.  The fifth and final dimension is the courage to leave, either by questioning the order of the leader or tendering  your resignation.  This may involve personal risk, but service to the common purpose justifies and sometimes demands such action.  Are you prepared to be a courageous follower?  Are you ready to take on this responsibility?  As Winston Churchill famously stated, "The price of greatness is responsibility."

On the law enforcement side of our profession, graduating and working to be the best officer possible is success enough for some; others will strive to become corporals, sergeants, detectives and so on.  In the communications center, passing various certificates and becoming a calltaker is the height of success for some; others may choose to become dispatchers, supervisors or managers.

How do you measure success?  Many factors make up a person's succss: happiness at work, quality of life, interests outside of work and relationships with family and friends.  Do you measure success by the type of car you drive?  The clothes you wear?  The house you live in?  By the number of possessions you have?  Success means different things to each of us.

We spend a lot of our time at work, therefore we usually measure success by the position we hold or how much money we make.  But the title you hold does not define who you are - it's what you do.

Once we have identified what success means to us, we can create a strategy and develop a plan to get there.  What's your vision?  What's your mission?

Making the decision to step out of your comfort zone and go for a promotion is not always an easy choice.  It takes a lot of hard work and determination.  Once you  make that decision, find someone credible to support you and mentor you through the process.  Attending additional training requires extra effort, but you should be willing to give more than what is asked for, and be ready to take on new challenges.

By now you are probably asking yourself, "Why do I have to do all of that when I am starting in a new position?"  The promotion path begins very early in our career.  We are responsible for making ourselves promotable.

Once a promotion is available, those making the decision to fill that position will review your past performance.  Recognize that taking too much time off can lesson your chances for promotion.  Would you want to work for someone what was constatnly absent?  Think about sick time and paid time off as money in a checking account.  Those days are yours, but you should make sure you have some days leftover in your account.

It is a personal decision whether we want to put forth the effort to accomplish great things in our career.  It is certainly not a path for everyone.  Personally, I have found it is a journey worth taking.

According to Mike Sisco, founder of IT Business Manager Certification (ITBMC), finding a mentor is the best place to start once you've made up your mind to pursue a promotion.  "Find a mentor or someone with experience you trust to help you think about your situation - to openly and honestly discuss a realistic plan to achieve more success."

Sisco writes that having a plan that's within your control comes down to:
  • Knowing what to do to be successful
  • Understanding how to go about it
  • Having the tools and examples to help you succeed.
Remember: Success is a choice.  We can choose to stay on the bottom rung of the ladder, or see if we can make it to the top.  The point is, success is in the mind of the individual and it's a bit different for each of us.

Your attitude determines your altitude (cliche statement, yet remarkably true).  Have you done an attitude check lately?  How are your actions (or inactions) perceived by others?

We often hear people in our communications centers say, "If I were the supervisor, I would do things differently."  Why not make that statement a reality and strive to reach that possibility?  What are you doing, in the position that you hold, to make positive changes?

If you make the choice to climb the ladder, you need to decide what you want to achieve and create a plan that will get you there.  Your vision and mission will play a part in helping you climb those rungs.  Let them guide you purposefully as you approach your destination.

When you make the decision to further your career, start by asking yourself "Where do I want to be in two years?  In five years?"  Then set some goals to get you where you want to be in the time you have allotted.  Would you travel the world without an itinerary or directions to your destination?  No; thus in life, we should have a career plan.  What level do you want to reach in your career?  What do you want to achieve?

I had the good fortune to work for someone who required his employees to write down their vision and mission statements.  He encouraged us to display them where we, and others, could read them.  The idea was that if others read it, we would be held accountable for what we wrote.  Goal setting is a powerful process of thinking about your ideal future, and motivating yourself to turn this vision of your future into reality.  Are you deciding to climb the ladder or stay on the first run?

As you climb the ladder to greater professional responsibility, keep in mind that money will not make you as happy as making a difference will.  In a 2006 article for Public Safety Communications, Angela Bowen, communications training coordinator for Georgia Public Safety Training Center, said, "Happiness in your job is more important than a lot of us realize.  It affects every other aspect of our lives, including the morale of
our families, our health and our performance.  Do yourself a favor and embrace your calling.  You do make a difference.  Allow yourself to be happy in our career and everything else will follow."

As someone who has chosen to work in our profession, we should constantly strive to be a valued contributor - to be all we can be!  When it comes to professional development, APCO International is the largest education provider in the public safety communications industry.  Professional development opportunities are available either online or in the classroom starting with Telecommunicator 1.  This certification starts you on your career path in the public safety arena.

Here are some additional runs on the APCO ladder:
  • Public Safety Telecommunicator Instructor
  • Communications Training Officer/Instructor
  • Communications Center Supervisor
  • Leadership Certificate Program
In his book Courageous Follower, Chaleff discusses courageous leadership.  He states that a "courageous leader creates the conditions in which it is easier for followers to speak the truth as they see it and for leaders to give appropriate consideration to what they are being told.  It offers a developmental path to true partnership between leaders and followers in the service of the organization's mission."  Studies have shown that employees leave an organization because of perceived poor leadership.  Keep in mind, once we achieve our goal and become a leader, we should continually be cognizant of what our followers need to be successful.

If you are reading this article, and you have already climbed the ladder of success, what are you doing to help other employees who have also made that choice?  Are you developing your employees to take over when you transfer, promote or retire?  As a leader, this is your responsibility.  Are you affording your employees the opportunities to attend training for future development?  The same gratification of climbing the ladder of success can be obtained when you watch those who work for you climbing too.

When we make the decision to work in the public safety profession, we never know where that journey will take us.  One thing we do know is that we can strive to be a calltaker, dispatcher, trainer, supervisor, manager or director.  No matter the position you choose, you can make a difference in peoples' lives internally and externally.  In whatever position you decide to own, taking pride in your work, being professional and serving your "customers"should be first priority.

Regardless of the ladder's height, we all start at the bottom rung.  We can climb as high as we want.

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