Cast your mind back to school, and you will probably vaguely recall careers advice which may have reinforced long held ambitions, put to bed some unrealistic goals, or opened your eyes to completely new and previously unexplored prospects. But there is one job title that every one of us should have been told was our destiny. In fact, the business cards and job description should have been printed and handed out there and then. Job Title: CEO, My Career. Job Purpose: Proactive Career Management.
Career Management – What Careers Advisers Don’t Tell You
This, of course, does not happen in real life. Instead, Careers Advisers and teenagers the length and breadth of the land sit opposite one another in school libraries, their conversation dominated by the ‘what’ (what do you want to be / do?) and the ‘how’ (subjects and grades required, further education or work experience needed), but with limited or no focus on the ‘why’ (does it align with your overall sense of purpose, your wider life goals, and will it make you happy?). With the ‘sensible careers advice’ box duly ticked, so begins the typical career journey. Fast forward to your mid 20’s and everything looked just right, with your career firmly under way – in fact, going rather swimmingly, thanks very much. But for how long? Because, unfortunately, nobody told the 18 year-old you about the ‘CEO, My Career’ job description with your name on it.
The thing about careers (most careers, at least) is that without regular intervention they slow down to a gradual halt. At the start, on the lower rungs of the ladder, every new experience presents an opportunity to learn, and, being at the wider end of the career ‘funnel’, there is plentiful scope for promotion into junior and middle management roles. It’s a relatively low maintenance equation, too. You work hard, demonstrate enthusiasm, deliver results and a few quick wins to get you noticed, then reap the rewards.
But here’s the bit your school or college Careers Adviser didn’t tell you. Your primary job is not the one on your actual business cards or on your job description. It’s being CEO of your own career, keeping a steady, but visionary hand at the helm, forward planning, re-evaluating, and ensuring that the early momentum of your career doesn’t trail off to a gradual halt. As you move further through your career journey, promotions are harder to come by as the funnel narrows towards fewer, but more senior roles. Learning opportunities have to be more proactively sought out. And, of course, life may have taken you on unexpected detours (having children sooner than you planned, relocating for a relationship, or perhaps even encountering an unsupportive boss). All that’s OK, provided that, like any good CEO, you have a clear purpose, vision and strategy, and the courage to drive forward with it, and adapt your game plan accordingly.
What Makes A Good CEO?
Like most management roles, the skills of a CEO are transferable. Whether you are directing a multi-million pound consumer brand, leading a small but growing business, or, as in this case, sitting at the helm of your own personal brand and career, the core qualities required are just the same. We’ve cherry picked a few that resonate when it comes to managing your career.
Vision and purpose
The strongest brands, led by eminently successful CEOs, are those whose purpose underpins everything they do. Visionaries don’t start out with planning what they are going to do or deliver. They start with working out what they want to achieve and why it is important. As CEO of your career – in fact, of your life as a whole – working out your why (what is important to you) is essential and should govern every decision you make towards creating a fulfilling and successful future for yourself.
Ability to learn from the past
Every experience (good or bad) is a learning opportunity. Maybe you’ve worked for a dreadful boss, but you’ll have learnt key strategies to cope, built resilience and identified, at the very least, what kind of organisation / management style to steer clear of in the future. Perhaps you’ve led a project that was a resounding success – what went well, and how, specifically, did your approach and input contribute to the outcome? As CEO of your career, make sure you reap the benefit from every task, project and experience along the way, so that you don’t repeat mistakes, fall into the same old traps, or miss vital opportunities to shine in the future.
Strong communication skills
A great CEO is inspirational, articulate and authentic. Your ability to emulate these qualities will impact how your peers, superiors and industry influencers view you. As CEO of your career you not only need a good dose of self–awareness but also the confidence and communication skills to be your own best ambassador.
Successful CEOs develop strong networks around them and continually build a following. You should do the same in the context of your career and your personal brand. It’s hard work, and not always fun, but attending industry events, reaching out to new contacts, utilising social media tools, and maintaining contact with business acquaintances will serve your career well. Be the individual who senior management or future employers are keeping an interested eye on and keep your name top of mind for the right reasons. That way, you will find more doors opening for you when the time is right.
Keep yourself grounded firmly in reality but set yourself some clear and optimistic goals. Don’t be afraid to challenge and stretch yourself, and if your mindset is currently based around thinking about what you ‘should’ do, start shifting towards a more decisive mentality around what you ‘will’ do.
Calculated risk taking
A strong CEO knows when to play it safe, and when to take a risk. It’s never wise to plunge into the unknown without weighing up all the facts and the possibilities, and without some sort of back up plan or exit strategy in case it goes wrong. Be prepared to weigh up the pros and the cons and embrace a bit of risk in your career. Choose bold and well researched decisions over knee-jerk reactions.
Look ahead and adapt proactively
Every CEO knows that the best laid plans can come adrift at any point. Likewise, your career may take twists and turns that you didn’t plan for (for good or bad). You can’t anticipate and plan for everything, but you can ensure you maintain a good awareness of the economic environment, the competitor market, and current & forthcoming opportunities, and, where necessary, re-align your short to medium term goals accordingly.
Know the importance of getting the job done and doing it well. A CEO who is all vision, but no action or output doesn’t generally lead their brand to success.
Never stop striving for improvement. As your own CEO, knowing what you don’t know is as important as knowing what you do know. If you’re aware of a skills gap in your cv, seek out the opportunity to plug it (attend a course, request involvement in a project, consider a sideways transfer to diversify your skills). If you know that you need to hone certain soft skills to get ahead, seek guidance (ask for feedback, request a mentor).
FindMyWhy: Take Charge Of Your Future
The organisational chart of your career is pretty short and sweet. There’s one box and you’re in it. That means two things, at the same time. It means you’re the operator, and it means you’re the strategist. Don’t get so absorbed in the former that you forget the importance of the latter. Nobody else will take charge of your future with as much vested interest as you. Be the CEO of your career, and make it work for you.
For further support, turn to FindMyWhy, a complementary resource dedicated to helping you to find your purpose in life and craft a career – and a life – that you love. Created by our expert team of psychologists, FindMyWhy starts with a free online test which drills down to the core ‘you’ and produces bespoke reports to help you to channel your focus and purpose accordingly. FindMyWhy will provide you with meaningful insight into who you are, producing informed and relevant guidance that is tailored to you in a way that’s informative and accessible, and won’t cost a penny. It will give you the confidence to figure out your next career step and make it happen.
Be the boss of you. Take control of your future and take charge of your career with FindMyWhy. You won’t look back.