Annmarie Neal, the former Chief Talent Officer of Cisco Systems and author of the forthcoming Leading from the Edge (ASTD Press, 2013), has guided a lot of careers. In a rapidly changing corporate environment, with traditional career paths and entire industries dissolving overnight, it can be a challenge for younger leaders to figure out the right path forward. Here are her top three insights for under-30 executives who want to put themselves on an upward trajectory.
Don't Let Your Goals Limit You. Set clear goals and then execute - everyone knows that's the path to excellence. Right? Neal begs to differ. "I've done lots of coaching over the years and watched career patterns over time," she says. "One of the themes that's emerged is when somebody sets a goal early in their life and then achieves it - let's say to be head of marketing for a big company - the day they get that and feel they've arrived, within five years, they'll fall off." Something about that feeling of accomplishment triggers a sense of complacency, she says. The antidote? "Don't give yourself goals you arrive at." It's fine to create smaller, incremental goals to keep yourself motivated; being the VP of marketing at a big company might help you accomplish a larger goal of, for instance, changing the way healthcare is delivered. But you always want to have a larger purpose you're striving toward.
Build a Board of Advisors. Neal suggests tapping four to five people you respect to serve as advisors: "people who will hold up a mirror and be provocative and insightful about who you are, what you want, and how you're going to get it," she says. Advisors don't have to sign up for an intensive commitment; Neal views it as different than mentoring, "which tends to be much longer-term relationships, more intimate, with coaching and guiding, whereas an advisor might be somebody you call upon at certain points to guide your thinking." She suggests building a diverse group to get the broadest perspective possible; hers includes an older colleague (the famed leadership expert Warren Bennis), a former boss, a longtime friend and a younger colleague with a fresh perspective on the industry. "I can call her and ask her about Twitter," Neal jokes. At the start of your career, she says, the advice may be more "how to," and later on, it's "where to" apply your talents.
Move Around in Your Career. "In the past," says Neal, "if you moved around a lot, it wouldn't look good on your resume. But when I'm looking at a resume now, I want people to move around about every five years." It doesn't have to be a drastic change; moving to different positions or divisions within your company is fine. But, says Neal, it's imperative to "demonstrate you can work in different cultures, with different business models, and solving different business problems." With an increasingly diverse workforce and an atmosphere of constant change, she's found that "the people who are most effective in senior level leadership roles are those who have had multiple life experiences, transitions, failures and successes. There's a confidence that comes from leaving your hometown, going to a different school, having different kinds of jobs, bosses, experiences, working for a fast-paced company and then working for a dinosaur. It's very eye-opening when you do that. I think it rounds out your career, and that's actually a break from the past."
What tips do you have for leaders under 30 to succeed? What skills do you believe will be necessary in the future?
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, and you can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook.