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Mind the Gap

Your Senior Career – Where are you going?

Posted by Victoria Buckenham

Are you a Head of Department or another Senior Leader looking to take your next career move? Are you aiming for the C-Suite? If so, are you having trouble working out if it’s breadth, depth or actually something totally different that you want or need next? If so, read on to find out how you can strategically take stock of your career to date to make an informed decision and plan for your next move.

Your career to date

An important starting point when considering your next career step is to work out what’s gone well for you so far. Typically, people rising through the ranks to seniority manage this by doing a number of things to build their reputation and visibility. If you’re a Senior Leader reading this, it’s likely that you have already:
  • Understood what your strengths are and also what you love doing – and can talk about them
  • Built your network to expand your knowledge and visibility
  • Tried new stuff out – and demonstrated a rapid learning curve – perhaps via a secondment or project opportunity
  • Been mentored and/or coached by a senior person
  • Put your hand up to solve a particularly sticky problem for senior management, or become known as the ‘go to person’ for particular types of work
But what do you need to do differently when it comes to stepping up into the most senior roles? Actually, the only difference is that you need to take some time to take a step back and think about the type of role you want, alongside any external factors such as work/life balance or family. Practically however, you will want to continue to do the things that you’ve already been successful at.

What do you want to be famous for? Types of senior roles

When it comes to the most senior roles in business, there are various ‘types’ to explore.

People Leader – Will your career grow by taking on responsibility for more people and leading through layers, with strategic vision and leadership skills paramount?

Technical Expert – Are you primarily motivated to bring world class expertise into the organisation, create award-winning solutions in your technical field, and develop the expertise of others?

Entrepreneurial – Is your passion creating and launching new products and services using the resources of a large organisation? Or do you want to use your commercial acumen, skills and knowledge to turn around a poor performing area?

Project Leadership– Do you enjoy driving through a piece of work with a clear beginning and end, with specific deliverables? Are you happier using your organisational and negotiating skills to coordinate a project team, rather than using visioning and soft skills to motivate a workforce?

‘Tailored Suit’ Roles – You know what you’re good at, and what you love doing – and what you really want to do at this stage in your career is to spend all of your time working in the areas where you really excel. Is there an opportunity for you to create or negotiate your ideal role in a new space? Could you create a niche role that is still a very influential or even Board position – based on the unique value you add?

Increased Breadth – Do you want the opportunity to expand your experience and thinking and learn other perspectives? Perhaps you can take sideways moves to build a strong General Manager profile in order to progress to the next level?

How does this fit with your life plans?

Typically, by this stage of your career you will have other things going on outside work. It could be family responsibilities, perhaps you take part in a competitive sport, or maybe you do work in the community that you’re passionate about.

So now that you’ve considered the type of future role you’re interested in, just check and make sure it matches with your personal situation.
  • Is right now the time to go full steam ahead for your ideal role?
  • Or do you want to take a watching brief for the time being; you keep your eyes open for small opportunities that will move you in the right direction, while being careful not to overload yourself.
Take action – interview others to find out more The word ‘interviewing’ conjures up visions of formal interrogations, whereas in reality we mean ‘harvest information’ here. The best way of finding out if a type of leadership role is really for you is to find out first-hand from others who’ve done the role.

Therefore, consider who you know and what you know about them. Who has an interesting role or has made an interesting move into a senior role in recent years – can you spend 30 minutes with them over coffee finding out more?

We recommend you find out the answers to these questions:
  • What are the best bits about this role? What do you really enjoy doing?
  • What are the difficult and challenging bits about the role – and how do you cope with them?
  • How did you get into this role? What did you do that was helpful in positioning you to get the job?
  • What are your 3 best tips on action to take to drive your career at a senior level?
Hint: Aim to finish 5 minutes early – and be prepared to answer the question “What are your thoughts about your own career?” This is often an opportunity to get people thinking about you as a prospective candidate for the kind of role you’ve been discussing. You might also get an opportunity to shadow the person if you show interest, or introductions to other people.

Senior career action is simple, if you can talk easily about what you love doing and the value you add. At senior levels, don’t just try to fit yourself to existing jobs in the organisation. Instead, take the initiative to negotiate personal roles. You can have a bigger impact and also more fun!