What Anchors Your Career? 8 Ways We Connect to our Work

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

Often the things that are important to us in our work are not echoed by the organizations we work in. We each have unique values when it comes to our careers. Identifying your career anchors will give you a language to articulate why you might be happy or unhappy in your workplace.

Edgar Schein, MIT organizational learning thought leader, designed these career anchors. Your career anchors are aligned with your personality preferences, values and needs, but they are specific to what drives you in your work. Identifying career anchors can benefit everyone in their given role, from entrepreneurs to people managers.

How to use this blog….


Read this blog and identify your top three to five career anchors. Consider how well your current position meets this need, and if not, consider how you might ask for your needs or consider whether you might have this need met elsewhere, such as in a side project, business or volunteer work. Contact us for a one-hour coaching session, where we will deep dive into your career anchors and how you might cultivate more of what matters to you in your work.

Team Leaders/Managers:

Share this blog with those who you are working with or guiding. Contact us for a facilitated session, where we will deep dive into what anchors both individual team members and the team as a whole. We will consider ways we might better meet the needs of individuals, as well as those of the team and organization.

Schein’s Career Anchors

  1. Technical/functional competence

  2. General managerial competence

  3. Autonomy/independence

  4. Security/stability

  5. Entrepreneurial creativity

  6. Service/dedication to a cause

  7. Pure challenge

  8. Lifestyle

1. Technical/Functional Competence

Someone who values technical or functional competence wants to be an expert in what they do. This person wants to be sought after for their unique experiences and expertise. They may not be satisfied in a job that does not challenge them to utilize their intelligence and abilities, or if they do not feel valued for their unique contributions. Being more task or project-focused, they may also struggle to meet the personal or emotional expectations of others.

Areas for Growth

They may need coaching to work well with others and require training when their desires exceed their knowledge or abilities.

Recommended Read: What Did You Say? The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback by Weinberg & Weinberg

Use the recommendations from this read to learn how to ask for feedback from others that will help you gain personal as well as technical competencies.

You may also like this blog: "Mastering the Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback"

2. General Managerial Competence

Someone who values managerial competence enjoys being in charge, providing direction, managing through complexity, and leading a team of diverse contributors. This person thrives on responsibility. They are organized and enjoy checking boxes. It’s not just about the tasks; it’s also about the people. This person wants to grow their responsibility. They may not be satisfied in a job that does not allow for growth and succession.

Areas for Growth

They may need leadership training and executive coaching in order to thrive, not only as a task-manager but also as a manager of people. Additional training may be required to help this person learn to avoid bottlenecking the work with their need to micromanage.

Recommended Read: The New One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

Use the recommendations from this read to learn skills that empower others to be and do their best.

3. Autonomy/Independence

Someone who values autonomy and independence enjoys playing by their own rules. This person wants to be handed a task but not told how to do it. They thrive on having a challenge and working through it on their own, asking for help only when they feel they need it. This person may not be satisfied being managed by others and may resist the rigid structure of traditional hierarchical organizations.

Areas for Growth

They may need coaching on how to integrate their abilities with an interdependent team. They thrive when left to their own devices, but they may need to learn how to ask for help when their task exceeds their skill sets.

Recommended Read: Helping by Edgar Schein

Use the guidance from this read to understand the nature and importance of asking for help from others and how to provide help in a way that others will accept.

4. Security/Stability

Someone who values security and stability is happiest in a job that they can thrive in long term and that meets their financial needs. This person may be a “lifer” in their organization. They may thrive on maintaining the status quo and may rely on tried and true methods to accomplish their tasks. Their organizational knowledge may make them indispensable to their teams or organizations. Their aversion to risk may make them less tolerant of new ways of doing things or very fearful when they perceive that their job or financial stability is at risk.

Areas for Growth

They may need coaching on dealing with ambiguity or adapting to change.

Recommended Read: A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech

Use the principles from this read to integrate “creative whacks” into your routine and to appreciate setbacks as an opportunity to learn and try something new.

5. Entrepreneurial Creativity

Someone who values entrepreneurial creativity has an innovative spirit and is always coming up with ideas and new ways of doing things. They may prefer self-employment or autonomy, but unlike those who value independence, these creatives don’t necessarily have trouble teaming with others. This person thrives on owning their projects and may view wealth as a sign of their success. This person may struggle in traditional hierarchical work structures or in an environment where risk-taking is discouraged.

Areas for Growth

They may need coaching to help create structures and routines that will help actualize their ideas, as well as to consider all the facts before making snap decisions and judgments. They will benefit from partnering with others who can ground their ideas and help them execute effectively.

Recommended Read: The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll

Use the recommendations from this read to create personalized organizing techniques and set up reasonable action plans that help you reach your goals.

Check out our blog on bullet journaling for how to get started and our recommended starter kit.

6. Service/Dedication to a Cause

Someone who values service or dedication to cause may measure their personal success by how impactful they have been to the mission or to those who they serve. They thrive in non-profits, associations and service-orientated organizations and may seek careers in human resources. If this person’s job is not service-oriented, they may benefit from volunteer work that checks the box on their desire to make a difference. They may struggle in environments that do not take their feelings or personal needs into account. When their work demands it, they may sacrifice their personal well-being, which may lead to burnout.

Areas for Growth

They may need coaching around self-care and work-life balance.

Recommended Read: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

Use the recommendations from this read to help tune in, grow yourself and take a break from being in service of others.

7. Pure Challenge

Someone who values a challenge thrives on working hard to achieve the next big goal or venture. For this person, it’s about working through a challenge, being the best, and beating the competition. They may seek an adrenaline rush and don’t mind working extra hours on a project that requires a little more elbow grease. This person may thrive in chaotic situations and may seek a career as a first responder or similar job, where responding to a crisis is the norm. This person may struggle in environments that value routine and keeping the status quo.

Areas for Growth

From time to time, this person may need coaching to help them set realistic expectations and appreciate the quieter moments.

Recommended Read: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Use the recommendations from this read to become more mindful and aware of what is most important to you and focus on those challenges with true meaning and purpose.

8. Lifestyle

Someone who values lifestyle does not live to work; they work to live. They value careers that allow them to balance their work with the life they want themselves. They may not see work and life as separate but as an integrated whole. They may enjoy taking long periods off of work to focus on other areas of their lives. They will struggle in environments that ask or require them to sacrifice what they personally want or need. They may resist working over-time, which can sometimes make them appear inflexible.

Areas for Growth

This person may need coaching to help them create space for the needs of others or for the task at hand.

Recommended Read: Drive by Daniel Pink

Use the recommendations from this book to identify your work motivators and consider how you might reframe your mindset when the work or your leadership needs it most.

Want to discuss this blog?

Contact us for a one-hour coaching session, where we will deep dive into your career anchors and how you might cultivate more of what matters to you in your work.

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