“Know thyself,” the ancient Greeks counseled. That statement of principle has many applications, but for today I want to talk about how it applies to our careers.
I think this is particularly relevant with so many people looking for work as a result of the pandemic. The ability to navigate through career transitions is an essential skill in today’s professional world, virus or not. Having gone through this process recently personally, I wanted to share my thoughts on why it’s so important to “know thyself.”
I’ve found that happiness and satisfaction in a job often depends on the successful alignment of the fundamental purposes of the role and the individual. Ok, great, that’s a nice bit of business speak but what does it mean?
In my view, and I’m writing this as a marketer for marketers but it applies to other fields, when broken down to their essential core all roles can be segmented into one of two categories: builders and stewards.
Builders are those who prefer creating something that didn’t exist prior. They welcome the chaos and the unknown. The sense there is a mountain to be climbed fuels their energy and is the essence of the vision they impart on those who work with them. They prefer to create new systems, structures and processes, or radically change existing ones, as opposed to work within what exists.
Start ups and younger companies, ones that are in pursuit of a dominant market leader, are the most common sources of these type of roles. However one can be a builder at a large company or one that’s been around for years. M&A activity, the launch of new products or a need to reinvigorate a troubled business all create builder opportunities at Fortune 500 companies.
Stewards are those who thrive being part of well-established teams where roles are clearly defined, systems are in place and the vision and business model are proven. The best stewards are exceptional collaborators, strong managers and well versed in the data and trends that influence their customers. Think of any market leader or dominant brand and you’ll find it staffed with highly accomplished stewards.
That’s not to say one is better or harder than the other. It’s challenging enough for a brand to become #1, but once it achieves market leadership it is no small feat to maintain (or steward) that position over a long period of time. Builders aspire to create the revenue generating, repeatable processes that the stewards at market leading brands have mastered.
What it really comes down to is culture and the temperament of the individual. Build and stewardship cultures are fundamentally different. If you are more comfortable in a build mode and take a role within a stewardship culture you will find yourself frustrated and out of step eventually. Obviously the same is true in the reverse situation.
It’s important to caveat here that roles don’t always fit neatly into one of those categories. Also it’s quite possible for a builder or steward to thrive in the opposite culture if they are willing to adjust their mindset and style. Many skills are applicable and transferable to both types of roles. For marketers at the beginning of their careers this advice is less relevant as initially the goal is to develop skills, identify strengths and passions, and network.
Regardless it is important for all marketers to eventually understand what environment suits them best. Title, money, roles & responsibilities, company reputation and reporting relationships are the primary considerations for most of us when thinking about a job. But don’t stop there. For those of you looking for a new role, through research and most importantly in discussions with people during the interview process, it’s critical that you understand if the company mindset is one of a builder or a steward. Sometimes it’s obvious, but not always.
Just remember ultimately career happiness and satisfaction are an inside job – know thyself before making any moves.
You can watch a video version of this blog I posted last year here.