Did career growth seem more straightforward when you were starting out? Entry level roles are often firm in their scope and direction, with a clear path that stems from them. However, as you rise into managerial and executive positions, there is less rigidity. While it’s exciting to open up new potential in a higher-level position, it might also leave you feeling rudderless in your career. Whether you’re in oil & gas, utilities, HR, manufacturing, or another industry, there are tried and true ways to create a plan that transforms and progresses your career.
Goal creation is second-nature for managers and executives when it comes to their departments or companies, but is often overlooked in relation to their careers. What do you want out of your job that you don’t have today? Do you have an ideal next promotion? Where do you want to be in three years?
There is no wrong answer when it comes to your career goals as they can be anything you desire. Perhaps you love to travel and want to be flying for work more often, or maybe it’s the opposite and you want your presence to be a mainstay in a corner office. Whatever you want out of your career and position, make your goals as specific as possible. Viewing them in three distinct categories can help:
Earlier in your career, patience was important as you slowly grew into roles with progressively larger responsibilities. Now, deeper in your career and on the cusp of the opportunities you dreamed about, patience is still essential. Growth may feel like it’s happening faster, but it cannot be rushed. Reaching your career goals requires stopping and thinking about what’s important rather than just taking the next opportunity that comes your way.
Steve Jobs once famously said that “focusing is about saying no.” While he was talking about the direction of his company, this is great advice for your career. It isn’t easy to say no to an unexpected job offer that would increase your salary by 15%, but you have to consider if the role is the right career move for you. That requires saying no to anything that doesn’t fit into your desired career trajectory. According to Business Insider, saying “no” in your career is difficult if you’re not clear about what you want up front. That’s why forming clear career goals is so important.
While life is unexpected and great executive career opportunities might knock on your door from out of the blue, achieving career growth requires a long-term plan. As you work out your overall career goals, it helps to look at three-year increments and consider how they will impact the next decade of your professional life. Even if you aren’t changing jobs often, and at the executive level with long-term incentives you likely won’t be, you still want to grow consistently.
All the while, remember to review your plan at least once per year and adjust accordingly. Popular times for doing so are around a work anniversary or during the start/end of the year. It’s OK if goals no longer seem feasible, but that’s why reassessing them is so important. It keeps you striving for what you want while staying realistic. To that end, below is a template you can utilize in your career pathing:
If managerial career goals and executive career plans are your GPS, then skills growth is the vehicle that will take you down those roads. Supplement your three-part goals with a list of skills you want to sharpen and define how you plan to work on them over the next three years.
For a starting point, consider LinkedIn’s study of 2,000 business leaders, which uncovered four areas of skill gaps:
When 93% of employers say soft skills are essential in hiring decisions, it’s clear that proper communication is becoming a lost art. To refine your soft skills, make an effort to interact with people more often. For example, to improve your conflict management skills, talk to subordinates when issues arise rather than immediately asking HR to intervene. Outside of work, volunteer as the secretary of a local charity to improve writing and email skills. Furthermore, Toastmasters groups are popular for professionals of every level who strive for stronger public speaking skills.
As managers and executives rise, they fall in danger of losing a connection to the majority of employees in their department or company. That’s why when undertaking large business initiatives, it’s necessary to make a distinct effort to remain a physical presence. Take the time to leave the corner office and check in with those on the front lines working hard on your project. Similarly, join a committee that you’re passionate about for additional exposure to multiple areas of the organization. For assistance in becoming that person everyone can look up to for guidance, a leadership coach can work wonders.
Nearly every job in every industry is reliant on teamwork to some extent. Since few projects go from inception to production to completion with just one individual, great leaders refine both their teamwork skills and their team-building skills. It’s one thing to work well in different roles on a team, and another to be able to put together a high-performing team based on personality types, skill levels, and project requirements. Taking on projects that require work across multiple business units or disciplines is a good way to improve collaboration skills.
As a manager or executive, your plate is always overflowing. Those who are unable to manage their time will have the most trouble reaching their career goals. As your responsibilities grow, so too must your delegation skills so that you don’t try to take on more than a single person can handle. This is made easier by putting together a trustworthy team of people to work with and for you so you’re never left cleaning up another’s mess. Not only will proper time management alleviate the stress of a busy schedule, but it will allow you to stay on the right track and maintain momentum in your career.
General best practices for networking set a great foundation for career progression: go to conferences, join industry groups, participate in community events, and update your LinkedIn profile. However, don’t fall into the trap mentioned by Forbes – too many executives are passive consumers of social media rather than contributors. Don’t just update your LinkedIn profile; create and publish articles based on your expertise to be seen as a thought leader.
When it comes to conferences, apply to be a speaker or lead a breakout session. With industry groups or community events, see if you can sponsor them through your company or host them in your conference room after the workday. Strive to join the board of directors for an association or group to raise your profile and make exciting connections. Approach networking with the idea that every single person you meet might be an important career connection and you’ll take your networking to the next level.
Modern executive and management roles require strategic planning and dedication, and it’s time to apply the same mentality toward your career. Take charge by identifying what’s important to you and creating a plan to reach it. Say no to opportunities or activities that don’t provide growth in the right direction, and three years from now, you’ll be driving transformation in your industry and in your career.