How to develop your career

Chief executives may well have reached the top of their profession or company hierarchy but despite being wise in experience, knowledge and sometimes age, there is deceivingly still a lot to be learnt. CEO Middle East takes you on a comprehensive tour of the management skills and tools you need to make a difference to your everyday business lives

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By  Karen Oliver Published  June 6, 2006

|~||~||~|Career development within the executive section of Middle Eastern companies is an unknown and often overlooked area. Recent research commissioned by DBM Arabian Gulf into human resources trends in the region gathered the responses of over 100 executives from a wide range of industries and found some surprising results. Asked whose responsibility career management was, the majority of respondents (73%) suggested it was a shared duty of both the employees and the organization, while 16% said it was the organisation’s task and 10% said that it was the employees sole responsibility. In more detail a number of directors and CEOs with senior responsibility for the Gulf region were asked about their career management at executive level in their businesses. One chief executive shockingly revealed that in his organisation it was “non-existent beyond middle management level”. This was not the case in all the organisations surveyed but it does reflect the increasing challenge of career management at a senior level where time and resources become key factors. One CEO could only recall a single meeting in the last six years that focused on “my career development”, something he believed was fairly typical of the construction industry. In the majority of cases what was crystal clear was that the ownership for career development was firmly in the hands of the individual. “Career management is down to me, I am acutely aware of the scope for learning in this role,” said one senior business owner. In some situations, however, the pace of change and operational demands had taken over leaving little time to consider the role career management has to play in the busy and hectic schedule and career of a senior chief executive. When talking about his own career one human resources director said that “career management is not something you can pick up for a few months and then put down – its with you all the time”. This was the exception rather than the rule but getting into the routine of reviewing your progress, reflecting on career goals is the ideal good starting point. Below are ten recommendations for any executive to follow. 1 A clear plan with measurable goals One executive was crystal clear that his current performance would determine his future within the organisation. “How well I do now will determine my next role. As the organisation changes and competition intensifies there is no longer a job for life.” In this situation career management was the underlying strategy in moving forward in the right direction. Don’t fail for technical reasons – plan and understand what the company is looking for and act before they ask. 2 Manage your own fate One executive saw career management and constantly picking up new skills as the key to “managing his own fate” as well as engineering his approach to moving closer to the areas he wanted to work in. It is your progress and your career, therefore if you have a strong independent sense of your own career management, then it is far too important to be left to anyone else. 3 Power pointer “Know where you’re going and aim for where the power is”, was the advice of one CEO. Power will mean different things to different people, but the need to have ‘clear goals’ was an overriding theme. A plan to build on a chief executive’s strengths and add to his or her portfolio was central for another CEO who had volunteered for additional responsibility for a start up in the region in order to add value to his portfolio, and to expand his already impressive resumé. 4 Beware of organisational influence The director of an international organisation offered a word of caution when offered career development. In his experience “roles are offered to meet organisational requirements rather than the individual’s needs”. CEOs beware. This can often lead to a poor match and mismanagement of career development’. 5 Expand your network One director reflected “as tenures are getting shorter, I could lose my job tomorrow so I spend time each month building and maintaining my network”. This is a sensible move and one that is easily done in the Middle East. Networking is a necessity is everyday business life in the region and could increase your chances of moving upwards or onwards. DBM’s global research found that up to 70% of future executive positions come from networking, so spending time talking to your peers and getting to know them outside of the office and on the golf course, can be a sound investment. Networking is a systematic approach to building and maintaining professional relations. Enjoy expanding your network. If you talk to the same people every month, the advice you receive can be limited. Executives who spend time networking vastly expand their resources and knowledge base. 6 Increase self-awareness Self-awareness is an important part of the career management lifecycle. It is perhaps one of the most difficult leadership skills to learn but it is also the one that often has the most impact. As leaders rise through the ranks of an organisation their profile becomes more visible to employees and their increased power can have subtle and direct ramifications. One international director said that recent changes in his business meant that attitude and behaviour were now “as important to achieving business goals as anything else”. 7 Strengths versus weaknesses “Being aware of your core strengths is key,” according to a CEO who has learnt to avoid the areas he knows he is weakest in. Benefit by learning from mistakes, from others and self-reflection. The key here is to constantly remember and repeat to yourself that learning is a continuous process. According to Bill Lucas, author of ‘Discover your hidden talent’, “learning is the most important of all human activities and learning to learn more effectively – is the key skill of the century”. 8 Reflective feedback Let’s face it, CEOs are at the top of the tree and don’t often have a chance to get constructive feedback on a regular basis. On a number of occasions at DBM we have heard: “I must be doing okay, no news is good news”, however, being in the driving seat you should ask for feedback. Make sure you have someone in your business life who you can ask for reflective feedback. The only valuable feedback is honest feedback. Creating an environment where your peers, team, shareholders and customers are comfortable in giving you honest criticism is a step in the right direction. If you don’t listen to what’s going wrong you will continue to go backwards. 9 Be alert to external opportunities Be aware of the opportunities in and outside of your organisation. As the war for talent heats up, one senior CEO used an approach by an executive search firm to discuss career management with his managing director. He did not want to leave the company, but a series of unfulfilled promises and his concern for long-term development made the offer very attractive. Within hours of the discussion an overseas leadership offer and a substantial increase in his total job package was on the table. Clare Freeman, the first female executive board director of Marks & Spencer in the UK, said: “never turn down an opportunity” and she is right. Be proactive and look for opportunities to stretch yourself. A stretch assignment will place you outside your comfort zone and can be a great learning opportunity. Look for ways to enrich and broaden your skills. 10 Get a mentor or consider a coach By now you will know just how lonely it can be at the top. There is a growing interest in coaching and mentoring for the development of executives. The difference between the two is that coaching is more directive, focusing on development areas you want to work on. If you choose your own mentor, choose someone you admire, trust and know to be a good teacher. One business began to use ‘non executive’ board members to fulfill mentoring and coaching roles. Teaching from within can produce a solid sense of business culture. Remember the CEO who only spent one hour in the last six years focusing on his own personal career development? During that conversation we touched on mentoring and he decided to approach the international board to form a mentoring group. Everyone is capable of positive change whatever their seniority.||**||

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