Congratulations, you have made it to the C-Suite. You landed your dream job that acknowledges your past professional accomplishments and provides lucrative financial rewards. After celebrating your new milestone, the furthest thing from your mind is to plan the next phase of your career strategy. However, in a dynamic job market, it’s critical that you are continually planning the next move so that in 3 to 5 years you can continue to grow.
By being proactive, and not reactive, in your career strategy will put you and your family in a position of strength and stability, whereas being reactive will mean that you’re acting from a position of weakness which puts you and your family at risk. Being proactive entails looking for opportunities to strengthen your skills, visibility, and relationships and that’s what this blog is about.
I recently caught up with Lead5 advisory board member Bob Collins who has 3 decades of executive leadership in human resources, including leading staffing at top international brands. He shared with me 6 ways to ensure that you are always operating from a position of strength as you continually navigate your executive career.
1. Understand that the 6-month mark is important. As an executive, your first 6 months in your job will require pouring a 100% plus of your energy into your role and ensuring that your first year in the position is a success. Past the 6-month mark, it’s time to widen your lens and invest at least 5% of your energy into your career. At each anniversary date, you should increase this time investment and broaden your focus. Initially, this could mean additional training or education. It could also mean taking on speaking engagements and networking to exchange knowledge with other executives in your field. Importantly, these activities not only will help you deliver results for your current firm, but they will also keep your skills relevant and sharp in the marketplace. It will also allow you to build and strengthen your network of colleagues and expand your visibility to those who could play a vital role in your organizational advancement.
2. Always have a long-term career strategy. You should be continually defining, refining, and working your long-term career strategy. What is the vision of your ideal role? Are you an industry-specific executive or is there a new industry you’d like to pursue? This career plan will help guide the choices you make in your career development and prevent you from becoming complacent or stagnant. Just as successful leaders believe that every business plan must have a viable talent plan that describes how the plan is to be implemented, a thoughtful career strategy needs to have a business plan on how to achieve the stated objectives with the required skills to execute it. The time to determine your skill gaps is now before the next phase of career strategy unfolds.
3. Be marketable even if you’re not in the marketplace. This starts with taking on challenges that align with your career plan. For example, if you’re a CFO with a Fortune 500 firm and you aspire to become a Fortune 100 CFO, a good place to start is networking with Fortune 100 CFOs and doing a gap analysis between your skills and theirs. Obviously, it will take time to close any gaps and that’s why this career plan is a long-term – not short-term – strategy. Being marketable also entails continually optimizing your CV, sharing expertise with those who need it, and sharing thought leadership either by speaking engagements or written publications. Strive to become the person people in your field want to know because of the success you are creating for your company. Also, cultivate your desire to learn and stay on the cutting edge of your field so that you are consistently advancing the profession in the most critical areas.
4. Develop a continual networking strategy. With your current career demands, it’s not feasible to network with every contact that you have. But you can take a look at your most important contacts and segment them. Who are the contacts you should be reaching out to once a month for lunch or simply exchanging emails? Who are the contacts you should reach out to once a quarter? What you don’t want to do is wait until you need them and then start reaching out to contacts you haven’t communicated with for years. Lead5 is a service that provides executives with key executive contacts. Lead5 also informs its members when important hires like CEOs are made. That’s a good time for you to do some outreach, sending a short note to a newly appointed CEO, congratulating him/her and mentioning that one day you’d love to share how you can help.
5. Don’t be complacent. The average tenure for a C-suite executive is 3-5 years at the same company. While things could be going extremely well for you now, recognize that all companies have downturns, leadership shifts, and ownership changes. While it’s your duty to pour your energy into making your firm a success, don’t neglect yourself in the process. The most successful executive always carves out time to invest in themselves. As I mentioned above, this benefits your current firm and it keeps you relevant in the marketplace.
6. Don’t neglect development opportunities within your current firm. Executives too often believe that to get ahead that they must switch firms. While that is sometimes the case, remember that your current firm appointed you for a reason. While you’re helping your current firm achieve its mission, make a point to find allies who champion your long-term career vision (assuming that this vision is aligned with the company vision, of course). This will open up doors at your current firm that help you proactively achieve your career plan.
As an executive, if you’re not continually proactive in your career approach, then you’re in a reactive state which puts you in a position of weakness.
How do you shift into this proactive state and position of strength? As detailed above, look for opportunities that improve your skills, visibility, and relationships. These three things will keep you highly marketable as you continue to evolve on your leadership path.
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