If this is the year you plan to get that promotion or level up your career, what is your pathway to growth?
It can’t be to do more, spend more time on the job, and work harder.
You have to be more intentional and strategic to create whatever is next for you and your career.
But what are the right moves?
I’m joined by performance and leadership coach Ross Romano. Ross and I talk about how you can create those pathways to growth while remembering to place your career in the context of your entire life.
We discuss how to identify a great work opportunity, how to remove the fear of helping people grow beyond you, and how to best identify the "Hell Yeahs" and the "No Ways."
Connect with Ross Romano
LinkedIn | The Authority Podcast | Sideline Sessions Podcast | Website
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If this is the year you plan to get that promotion and level up your career, what is your pathway to growth? It can't be to do more, spend more time on the job and work harder. You have to be more intentional and strategic to create whatever is next for you and your career. But what are the right moves? Today, I'm joined by performance and leadership coach Ross Romano. Ross and I talk about how you can create those pathways to growth, while remembering to place your career in the context of your entire life. Let's get started. Hello, my friends, this is the Mid-Career GPS Podcast. I'm your host, John Neral. I help mid-career professionals find a job they love, or love the job they have, using my proven four-step formula. We know that leadership is difficult, but you're a leader because leading people in projects are important to you. So, as a human-centric, empathic leader, it's important to you to take care of your team, your organization and your career. But that can be a difficult balance and it's why I invited Ross to this conversation. Ross Romano is a coach, strategic advisor, podcaster and entrepreneur working at the intersection of equity, access and innovation in the present and future of education. His company, September Strategies, was recently named the top educational consulting firm in Virginia by Acquisitions International. Ross works with founders, leaders and seekers of all roles to solve their persistent challenges, manifest and pursue their biggest goals and achieve growth, impact and fulfillment. He is also the co-founder of the Bee Podcast Network, with over 35 shows and counting, dedicated to education in all environments and at all levels, from K-12 and higher ed to corporate learning and development, parenting and more. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Ross Romano. Ross Romano, welcome to the Mid-Career GPS Podcast. How are you?Ross Romano:
John, I'm doing great and I'm really happy to be here. Thanks for having me.John Neral:
I'm happy for you to be here too. We've connected and I appreciate being a guest on your show, which we'll talk about a little bit more later. And everything but Ross, to get us started. You've had an interesting career path and journey. Please share with us what your mid-career moment was that got you to where you are right now.Ross Romano:
Sure, hopefully I have even a little more than a mid-career left, but we're definitely in that point right where I think so many of us of multiple generations hit that point of you know what? I'm a certain. I'm pretty far into my career and I want to try something new, and so for me it was like the combination of a few realizations that I had over my experience. One was that I just realized, you know what. I can't count on somebody else to get me where I want to be. I kind of need to figure this out and dictate the path right, not in a bitter way, but in a way of you know, there's not that one mentor or leader or somebody who is going to sherpa me along. I'm going to need to kind of create a new vision for myself. So I figured that out. I figured out that in my previous organization I was at a part where for a while I thought we were headed in one direction, realized my vision was different from the direction the organization was headed. Okay, put those things together. And I also had this knowledge that the gray area, those in between things, were operated best with clients right. It wasn't a deliverable work, it was the one on one, the strategic problem solving, decision making and putting all those things together and gave me clarity on you know what. How do I lean into that? How do I create a new path forward for myself where we make the thing that's been, the other thing the thing and really help people with those ambiguous, challenging, big questions that I was dealing with and I learned very soon were certainly not unique to me.John Neral:
When you had that moment where you realized that your vision wasn't the same vision of the organization, and I like how you said you know, not in a bitter way, it was just kind of a realization. What was the hardest thing for you to do to move through that?Ross Romano:
The hardest thing, I think, is just to accept that and to just say you know what I feel like. In so many ways I've put in the work, I've put in the sweat equity based on my contributions to the leadership of this organization, I feel as though my vision for the direction should carry more weight. And yet there's just certain realities of business where that's not the case, and you just have to accept that. There's certain times when you're out voted, you're out ranked, you're out, you know, you're out equitied, so to speak, and you just, you just have to understand that I just don't have, I just can't control this and I need to be okay with that. And I think that's the hardest part that a lot of people relate to when you've, you know, worked really hard on something, you want to be able to see it through right, and but sometimes it just comes to a point where you need to do something else when you have that realization and accept that it's time to move on.John Neral:
that's a I'm curious your take on this, because how different is that in your opinion when an organization essentially you, kind of mutually come to a gray not in a layoff or termination kind of a way but like, look, this may not be the best fit for you anymore?Ross Romano:
How does that?John Neral:
differ, especially in your perspective, in your work, with a strategy that an organization would have for just retaining great talent within their organization.Ross Romano:
Sure, yeah, I mean, I think, organizationally right, you present it. What's a great opportunity for organizations who are not to set in their ways, who recognize that it is the people, it is the talent right within your building or your virtual building. That is what kind of drives you forward, keeps you vibrant, adaptive, innovative and, of course, organizations of different sizes find that easier or lesser to do or harder to do, but it's sort of. I think part of it is recognizing that sometimes finding out that you're just no longer a fit in a place is the flip side from something that I use on the other side. For me, when I was always the way that I described it, when I'm determining roles that appeal to me, or projects, jobs, companies, businesses is the way I say it is. It has to matter that it's me. That's how I get motivated and fulfilled. Another way of describing it that I've heard somebody say it is that it taps into your unique genius. Another way is saying it's just the thing that offers me a way to attack something creatively in a way that only I would do it, and if somebody else was in the role, they would do it differently If somebody else was in a role, not that any one person is better than the other, but that it's the type of thing that it's not just a mechanical anybody would do this exactly the same way type of thing. So if those are the kind of things that appeal to you, you also have to, of course, be okay that, on the flip side, sometimes you're gonna run up against a fact that that's not what the organization is prioritizing, or they no longer want you to do it your way. But from the company organization perspective, prioritizing that and saying, look, if we have top talent here and we have people who know how to make things happen, people who have clearly demonstrated they have the capacity for growth and the opportunity and the motivation that if we continue to give them better and better opportunities, they probably will continue to grow with us and grow us. That's a real competitive advantage because, of course, many companies don't do that.John Neral:
You're telling those stories and I'm like internally chuckling to myself, because I remember in one place where I worked and I was talking to a coworker, a colleague of mine, and she just looked at me and she goes you need bigger genes. And I went are you telling me I'm fat? She's like no, you've outgrown the place, you need a bigger pair of genes. That's okay. And I never forgot that because it was, it was to your point earlier. It was that acceptance of saying, yep, this isn't the right fit for me anymore. You just mentioned about a retaining strategy or a talent strategy for organizations where they look at their talent and they can grow with us, and I think you said with us and for us. Was that correct?Ross Romano:
They'll grow with you and they will grow you right. If you let people grow with your organization, they will contribute to your organization's growth.John Neral:
So it brings me to this question From your lens and your work, what are the things that an organization should absolutely provide their employees, and particularly their leaders, to keep and retain them, so they're not looking elsewhere and they're gonna be able, to your point, continue to grow with us and for us?Ross Romano:
Yeah, totally so let's talk about one thing to remove and then the things to provide. Okay, the thing to remove is fear. Right, it's the fear that you're going to help people grow beyond you. Right, because you can't operate in that place. You can't maintain your position by holding people down. You can't maintain the talent in your building by preventing them from improving their skill set to the point where they can leave you. What you can do is create an infrastructure where you can grow together. So you have to remove the fear piece and look at it as look, we wanna have our talent become as capable and then expand their capacity as much as possible and hopefully they'll continue to wanna contribute to this organization. If it means they go elsewhere, that's okay. So that's number one. Number two what do we provide them? Coaching is a wonderful thing, right? Coaching on whatever they want, I would say, is the first thing right. There may be certain things, organizationally or as somebody supervisor, that you may identify as areas of growth for them and provide resources around that, but as much as possible, you wanna try to provide professional learning opportunities, one-on-one coaching, et cetera, that they're able to choose the direction they wanna go. They're able to choose the problems they wanna solve particularly for them about leadership, executive level right, I would say most leaders even though they're not necessarily going to display it on the outside, they're well aware of the challenges that they're going through. Right, the areas that they feel are their shortcomings or they're lacking confidence in, and for them to have an open and honest place where they can seek guidance on that and help and to have that as a resource that is just available and provided to them, I think is wonderful. Number two is, like all other kinds of professional learning opportunities I think have to have, let's say, three components. Number one again is choice and personalization, where employees at all levels can choose the path they wanna go in and understand that. You know. I think, again, as an organization, if we wanna grow with our talent and get the most of our talent, that we shouldn't only see it as we're only providing them a pathway to progress linearly according to the role that they're in now. Right, because we may have people who come to that mid-career point and decide I'm really interested in doing a different type of role and I have a lot of the skills for that and I need to develop more and I'd love to do that here. Right, I'd love to contribute to this place where I am, but if they're not gonna provide me a chance to do that, I have no choice but to leave. So there's that there is. Going along with that is that it's a diverse array of learning opportunities to learn outside of their current functional role, and you wanna provide, you know, a way for those to be I don't wanna say like credentialed or certified as an overly formal thing, but for there to be a way for them to demonstrate that learning so that they can have it reflect on their resume right, so that when they are attempting to get into a new position that's a little bit different from what they've done in the past, that they're not facing that skepticism of well, you've always been in communications position, so how do I know you're gonna be able to do a account manager role or whatever? These are just totally. But well, okay, well, I've done these things and you can see here. Here are the component skills that I've exercised in my roles and I've also completed professional learning coursework on this, this and this. So when you combine those together and again all of those things, yes, I mean, couldn't employee use those things to strengthen their resume and go find another job, sure, but could they use it to become an even better, more satisfied and bought in contributor to your organization? Absolutely.John Neral:
Yeah, it's such a great point because when people, especially mid-career professionals, think about that next opportunity, a lot of them truly are very organizationally loyal. They like the people they work with, they know the organizational politics, they know how to everything kind of works within that organization. But, to your point, they're looking to develop themselves perhaps in a different way where they can still add value to the organization and we want the organization to see that. But more importantly it's that is there a way to keep them here, that they can get that kind of career pivot or that career change and still do it internally without having them walk out the door and take all their organizational, institutional knowledge with them?Ross Romano:
Right, yeah, there's. I don't know of any studies that have been done on this, but I have a strong feeling that institutional knowledge is undervalued nowadays, that it shouldn't be valued above and beyond all other factors, but that when you have constant turn and you don't have people with tenure, that there's a lot of gaps in what you can really improve on as a company. When you don't really have much awareness of what has happened in the past and I've seen that firsthand and you know it causes just these cycles of year after year of okay, we're just kind of doing the same thing and going through the same problems that we had before, because we just either didn't attempt to tap into the existing institutional knowledge or we just lost it.John Neral:
Yeah, the other thing you said there, ross, was, you know, being able to have diverse learning opportunities where somebody gets to build a skill or a knowledge base that they can actually put on their resume, right. And when you said that, I couldn't help but go back to what you said earlier, which was about removing the fear of helping people grow beyond you. And of course, that fear then is oh my gosh, if I develop them so much, they're gonna go somewhere else right In your work. What would you say is the biggest thing you've got to help somebody understand that developing talent doesn't mean they're going to walk out the door.Ross Romano:
It's almost. You can almost look at it from the other angle If you. One of the number one reasons why people do leave is if they feel like there's no opportunity for that to develop, right, uh-huh, and it's pretty quick. And that's as you talked about with your story. You've outgrown it here. Right, that may happen from time to time, but if that's consistently happening in your organization, where people are outgrowing you, you need to look at, okay, why is that happening? Like, why, why are we not growing? Or why are we not expanding in order to, to be able to take advantage of the growth of our employees? Right, and one of the big things is, yeah, in in certain, you know, most businesses are going to be small businesses. We always look at everything from the corporate angle. Sure, most businesses aren't corporations. Most businesses are, you know, a couple hundred people and less, and, of course, most are a lot less. But even if we're operating in that space, um, yes, sometimes there is only the only available roles within a certain functional area. Are this linear progression? And until the person who's in that role leaves, there's not a promotion available for you. But could there be an opportunity available on this other part of the organization. And if we know we should know better than anybody who are our superstar contributors in the building, right? We, we can see them every day, we see what they do, so wouldn't we benefit from having those key contributors in a different role? Um, so, you know, as far as it doesn't mean they're going to leave because you develop them, it shows them that you're invested in them. Right? They want to work in a place where the investment is mutual. They're investing a lot of time, effort and energy into succeeding in their role and helping the company succeed. Once they determine that the company is not likewise invested in their own growth and progress, then there's no reason for them to want to be there any longer. On the flip side, that's and it's not something where it's done to manipulate them into staying, but it's a way to say, hmm, they really seem to be helping me grow. Um, okay, I want to see this through, because the longer I stay here, maybe the more I can continue to grow or I can apply these skills in new ways. Um, also one. One final point on the point of most businesses being smaller organization. So somebody leaving is not like the end of the value that you may get out of that person? Right, it's a. Most industries are a small world, right. Most times you're, you're looking at partnerships and collaborations and opportunities to work with other organizations in your space, whether that's on a day to day basis, whether that's in the future, right, when you're working on bigger projects. So maintaining positive relationships with, with top talent who may either leave and come back later or who may become a key collaborator when they go to a different organization. There's a lot of opportunity in that too. So it's just a reason why you know we just you just if you're afraid that everybody's going to leave you, um, they will leave you because you're going to, because you're going to create the conditions where they, where they, you know they're incentivized to leave, right.John Neral:
Yeah, exactly. Um, there was a point in time in my career where I was a state assessment specialist, and so we're talking 51, because I worked. I was a state assessment specialist in DC, and so we treat DC like a state in the educational assessment arena. You get to know the psychometricians, the data specialists that are really good at analyzing all the validity and reliability and there's only a handful of those as well, boy, I'll tell you in a limited field like that, like you said, you get to know the top performers and the superstars there and you jump to another organization or company and you take that reputation with you and all of a sudden it's like oh, hey, you're known and that's a that's a benefit for anybody that's out there that is thinking about what's your pivot going to be? Are you thinking about moving somewhere internally or going elsewhere to always remember what's the value you get to bring to that position, regardless of where you land? You know how do you make that, that organization, that team better because of the value you're bringing? Hey, there, we'll get back to the episode in a moment, but I've got a quick question for you. Are you currently getting ready for your annual performance appraisal? These can sadly feel like a check the box kind of meeting, when in reality they are important and necessary conversations to discuss what you've done well, develop some new goals and talk about where your career is headed. But here's the thing you have to show up for these meetings prepared to talk about all of it, and you can't rely on your supervisor to know everything After all, they're busy too. But you can help them by showing up to these meetings with more evidence and greater clarity about what you want and why you believe you are ready for your next advancement opportunity. So to help you, I've got a free guide it is called 12 Questions to Help you Prepare for your annual performance review. You can download it for free on my website at https://johnneral. com or check under the resources tab, and I'll have a link for it in the show notes as well. Let me help you build your mid-career GPS and be more prepared for your upcoming performance review. Now back to the episode. So Ross, when you are working with these organizations and you're working with leaders to create what you often describe as pathways to growth, how they can develop the people on their team, what's some advice that you can give us for that particular leader who, let's say, has a small team that they're working with in an organization that may not have a budget or a large budget for these kind of professional development opportunities. What are some things you can offer them to provide these pathways for growth that show investment but also a commitment to their growth as well?Ross Romano:
Yeah, it's like in so many other areas. You have to determine what resources you have available and if you don't have a lot of money available, the other resource is time. So how can you provide your time to your employees to ensure that you're investing in their growth? So number one is communication. You have to regularly and proactively have a channel of communication with your individual employees to learn what are the things they're challenged with, what are their goals and ambitions, what are they trying to work for. Again, create an environment where there is an openness to those conversations, where it's not just capped at well, how do you wanna meet your metrics on this project? Or how do you think you're going to get to the next promotion or earn a raise here? Those are important things too, right, and you need to have transparency and clarity and agreements around what that means. But you also want to learn what are you working toward? What are your goals? What kind of opportunities would be meaningful to you? Because that would mean I can provide you one with time. Do I you know for my employees that maybe I can't pay for them to attend a bunch of conferences or take a bunch of courses? Can I give them an hour of my time every week for just one-on-one mentorship, just to talk through whatever's on their mind, whatever are the things they're looking to pick my brain for. Or can I set them up with another mentor within the organization who's maybe a better fit or impartial, right, somebody who's not involved in their day-to-day work but who has experience, who they can have as somebody they can really talk to? Another way of doing it is are there cross-functional projects available where I can talk to maybe other managers within the organization and say, hey, do you have opportunities for these people from my team to be a part of a project team that you're working on so they can just get some access to some different types of projects and skills and expand their skillset? Right, are we giving them? Because that's real-world experience, that's hands-on, that can be just as valuable as a course or anything else and it's available to us on a day-to-day. But what it takes is communication getting out. They're talking to people, finding out what's going on and seeking those opportunities. But again, most employees would really covet that and really look forward to that. Most would not know how to make that happen on their own or how to even really surface that right. Or if they have to bring it to you and it's not the type of thing that you're usually encouraging it might seem like a threat, right? Well, I'd love to go work with them on this project over here, and it's a learning opportunity. It's not because I want to quit my job over here, but it's because I want to pick up new skills and we strengthen our organization as a whole. So that's a few ideas that require no money at all, just some time and commitment.John Neral:
I love how you broke all those examples down for us, and especially just highlighting that they don't cost anything. Right? There's no outward expense towards a course or a conference or travel budgets or anything like that. It's just how do you, as the leader, get to show up and support your team and develop them so that, for however long they are under your care, they feel valued and supported and acknowledged and they have, to your point earlier, those opportunities to grow and just continue to be of more value? Yeah Well, this has been a wonderful conversation and I thank you for it, but we're going to start wrapping up here. So, thinking about that leader and they might be a new leader or they're a seasoned professional but for that leader specifically, ross, what advice would you give for them to help them build their mid-career GPS to whatever is next?Ross Romano:
And I think you know this applies really to anybody who wants to be in charge of what their career is. So, whether you're in a position where you're currently a leader or you're not, the one that I highly recommend for everybody is to be able to place your career into the context of your entire life, so you can prioritize your career goals alongside your other goals. Because how many times and this is particularly going to be the case as we move up in organizations, right, or in positions of seniority or high compensation where you feel like you have to compromise one area for the other or make a sacrifice? Oh well, I don't have as much time to spend on, you know, this family thing that I would have liked to, because I'm really busy at work and there are ways to have all of those things be priorities, right, but you have to contextualize it first, because otherwise you can only react to what's in front of you at a given time. So you know that's an exercise. There's an exercise that I take people through. It's called a gap conversation. I adapted it from a great coach called Carolyn Freyer-Jones, and you know we identify the gaps between your current reality and your ideal reality, and everybody comes to that with a certain pain point in mind, right? For some people it's I feel like I should be doing something else professionally, but I don't know what it is yet. For other people it may be friction in a personal relationship or any variety of things. There's a passion project I'm not pursuing, but once you go through it you see okay, well, there's answers here. But you need to look at it and you need to face it head on, because if you let your career kind of you know your career, set the GPS, then you can follow the map and you know a couple others that I would say along there is identify an anchor, your quote unquote hell yes, and your your no ways, and navigate between them, right? So when you're looking at, let's say, you're somebody who's, even if you're totally happy where you are in your current position, you still want to think ahead to what you may be open to in the future and maybe interested in, right, because one we can't control everything. Sometimes there's layoffs and things like that. We may find ourselves in a position where we have to pursue something new or an opportunity may just present itself and you need to know should I be open to this? So when I say like hell. Yes, it's like. What are factors that would make something almost an automatic? Yes, you know, if it's giving me this much money, or it's allowing me to work on these types of projects, or allowing me to be 100% remote for eternity, or you know whatever those factors are where I would almost say yes on the spot. And then what are my no ways that it's like, no, it's an automatic no. Then I can narrow it down and not be spending a bunch of my mental bandwidth on looking at things that are a waste of time, but also not miss out on an opportunity that could potentially take me into a level I never thought I could go to right Just because I wasn't open to it. And then you know, making sure I think that you reach agreements in the workplace is critical on both ends. It's critical with your employees because it's your mutual benefit that you all have. There's no ambiguity around what success looks like for them, what growth looks like for them, what's going to earn them that next raise or promotion or what's going to constitute success on a project they're working for right. It takes a little more work and dialogue to have that be mutually agreed upon than just giving out orders, but it's so worth it because it's going to lead to a higher instance of success and also a much, you know, better trust between your team and but also have agreements for yourself with whoever's above you, right? What does it mean for you to grow? What does it mean for you to be able to renegotiate your salary or pay your opportunities? You need to pursue that so that you're not working in ambiguity either. So those are a few of the things that easier said than done. There's a lot more to it than just that, but for leaders to really lean into that, you still have untold potential for where you might be able to go.John Neral:
Nice. Well, I thank you for summing all that up for us and everything. So, Ross, if people want to connect with you, learn more about you and follow you I want to turn the mic over to you right now so please share with us all the wonderfully great places people can connect with you.Ross Romano:
Sure. So I would totally say, because I am working on some new website work and things, I would say for anybody like, best place to find me connect with me please do Don't be shy Is LinkedIn. I'm just Ross Romano on there. We can put the link in the show notes, I think, but just reach out, send a note. Hey, I heard you on the podcast. We'd love to chat. You could also find me on Twitter, slash X, ross B Romano. I do have a website for my consulting firms at temperstratcom if you want to go there. But, yeah, working on a new one getting updated around the coaching practice. Another thing that I totally forgot about yesterday when I filled this out podcasts. Right, if you're interested, I do have. I host two podcasts one that's called the Authority, which John has been a guest on, and I interview authors from all different genres of leadership and education and personal development, and another one called sideline sessions, which I interview sports coaches. Especially if you coach in high school or scholastic sports or you have kids who are involved in those sports, that can be really useful for you. Those are available. Anywhere that you find your podcast, you can search for those. So if that's for you, check it out.John Neral:
I will make sure all of that is in the show notes. Ross Romano, thank you for being a wonderful guest on the mid-career GPS podcast.Ross Romano:
John, thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.John Neral:
Same, absolutely. Hey, friends, if there's one takeaway from today's episode I want to leave you with, it's this as part of your organization or business, how are you focusing on retaining top talent? One of the things that Ross gave us today was to really dig in and explore the different learning opportunities that you can create, whether it be with a cross-functional opportunity or simply just providing time for mentorship. It's one big takeaway. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money. You can get really creative with how you are growing and developing your talent. As Ross mentioned, it's about creating those pathways to growth for you and your team. As you leave this episode, I want you to take that knowledge with you and thinking about what are the pathways you're going to create for growth for yourself, your team and your organization. This week, until next time, my friends remember this You'll build your mid-career GPS one mile or one step at a time, and how you show up matters. Make it a great rest of your day. Thank you for listening to the Mid-Career GPS podcast. Make sure to follow on your favorite listening platform. If you have a moment, I'd love to hear your comments on Apple Podcast. Visit JohnNarrowcom for more information about how I can help you build your mid-career GPS, or how I can help you and your organization with your next workshop or public speaking event. Don't forget to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on social at JohnNarrowCoaching. I look forward to being back with you next week. Until then, take care and remember how we show up matters.