Brian Melancon has a career trajectory that many Millennials will recognize. In a modern workforce where straight-line paths are becoming increasingly rare, he is proof that flexibility, creativity, and a dogged work ethic will take you to surprising places. Early-career professionals in all fields might be able to relate to a path where you start off pursuing a job in health and sciences… only to have your first break be in shipping and receiving. But Brian’s leadership journey illustrates that where you start does not have to be where you end up.
Brian credits relationship building, intentional self-development, and strengthening communication skills with the career success he’s enjoyed thus far – and he has played a pivotal role in fostering networking space for other Baton Rouge young professionals in his capacity as Program Chair for Forum 225’s Barton Leadership Program. In his day job, he serves as the Assistant Director for the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, working to operationalize their programs providing biomedical research infrastructure to Louisiana, the Gulf Coast, and nationwide.
Brand New Professionals: “It’s not a straight line, it’s a lightning bolt.”
Brian’s college experience saw him working at an auto repair shop while studying industrial engineering at LSU, hoping to develop a career in the health and sciences sector. This diverse mixture of experience, interest and education is fairly typical for a college student, but it often leads to the conundrum of how to jump-start a career with multiple potential entry points. An interview at Pennington promised a break, but Brian was unsure of how to present his experience in the interview – and ended up with a job offer in Shipping & Receiving. “It ended up being a really cool opportunity. I was able to meet and build relationships with a large variety of people, and those relationships helped me move into a role with the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center very early in its inception.”
His early career, despite being a “crooked path,” offered ample opportunity to develop “career sense” – which is as simple as understanding what you have to offer, and where the needs are. And especially when you are first starting out, assume that everyone is approachable for questions, advice, and friendly guidance. “Just because someone is CEO doesn’t mean that you can’t ask them a question. People want to help and interact because it helps the organization and everyone else be better.”
“For so many of my friends and colleagues, their paths are crooked. It’s not a straight line, it’s a lightning bolt.” For those looking to corral lightning, Brian recommends being “creative in your professional development… and well-rounded in your organization.” Don’t stop with understanding your own job, understand what other people need to do their jobs. You can then present your work in a way that makes theirs easier… and hopefully opens more doors on your career trajectory. “In these volatile times, people who are valuable to the company will stay around. Once things get back to normal this will still be true.”
Emerging Leaders: “You can’t benefit the team if you aren’t asking the team to benefit you.”
If you are a few steps into your career, the time is now to think about where you want to be in a few years, open up to others about your aspirations, and close the gaps in your skill set. Search out mentors and senior colleagues for guidance, but also initiate dialogue with your peers. “Developing your communication skills is extremely important for young professionals. Being able to soak up as much information as possible and learn from those around you is a learned skill.” Barton Leadership Program, which Brian participated in last year and now helps to promote, is one forum for young professionals to learn from like-minded peers and have an in-depth mentorship experience. Programs like this give early-career emerging leaders opportunities to get out there, self-reflect, and get involved – all things he recommends as essential for young career-builders.
At any stage of your career, communication is the key to learning and growth. “From a building perspective, being able to communicate your needs and questions is key. For example, asking for good feedback. If you just say ‘how am I doing?’ that’s too broad. Ask about how you’re doing on your presentation skills, or ‘are my emails clear?’ Get real feedback.”
“Early on in my career I had the experience of being given a task and not knowing how to complete it. I sat in my office for two days not being able to figure it out, before finally going to my boss. It turns out, she had forgotten to give me the template! So I wasted two days not asking for help. A huge leadership skill is being able to say I don’t know how to do that, I need help. It’s supposed to be a collaborative experience. You can’t benefit the team if you aren’t asking the team to benefit you.”
Emerging leaders have a wealth of resources to draw on in Baton Rouge. Brian points out that the city “is not small, but also not big. If you introduce yourself to someone you’ll probably run into them again.” This provides young professionals opportunities to leverage their skills across a range of opportunities… while not trudging through an over-saturated market. “Baton Rouge is set up for the young professional to come in and cut their teeth on anything. And we need more young leaders who want to give back and make the city a better place.”
Brian’s leadership journey is far from over. He emphasizes that he continually reflects on where he needs to improve in order to achieve his goals, and works to position himself in activities that will shrink or eliminate his gaps. This is excellent advice for other young or early-career professionals looking to prepare themselves for the next role, and the role after that. And if you happen to be located in Baton Rouge, you’re in luck. Through institutions like Forum 225 (Baton Rouge’s largest young professional leadership program) and the Barton Leadership Program, this city is a great place to grow and seize opportunities alongside a cohort of driven, encouraging and community-oriented emerging leaders.
Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to grow leaders, build teams and drive results through great people strategy. Contact us to get proactive about expanding your company’s potential.