As an executive recruiter in Silicon Valley, I worry about the next generation of leaders. One CEO during the dot.com rush asked me to talk with his Director of Marketing about talent needed in marketing. The Director of Marketing had joined this start-up company straight out of business school. She was smart; however, I realized that what the company really needed was a VP Marketing with leadership experience. This need for leadership development is not uncommon in entrepreneurial companies.
Around Silicon Valley, employees at large companies may receive management training (if training has not been cut due to the recession,) but those at small and entrepreneurial companies may not receive any development unless they work for strong executives who recognize the importance of training the next generation of leaders.
It is becoming the individual’s responsibility for career development. Okay, but what now? That’s what Getting to the Top provides: how to develop a career strategy, understand potential career paths, recognize skills needed, and put this into a career action plan for success.
In taking responsibility for your career development, you need to start with your career strategy. What’s your long term career objective?
As an executive recruiter, I sometimes ask, “Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?” to evaluate motivation, interest, and long term fit for a company. In having a stated objective, you can plan for it and will more likely achieve career success. Just think about friends and colleagues who have said, “I want to be CEO” or even “I am going to run a marathon” or me saying “I am going to write a book.”
Career Path Categories
With a career strategy in mind, you can now look at career paths other executives used in reaching the same objective. These career paths illustrate different directions that might get you there, how you might have to position yourself for the role, and skills to develop in readiness for the role.
In the Getting to the Top career programs at Stanford GSB and UCLA Anderson, I interviewed executives on their career paths, then categorized their backgrounds, and tested these categories by analyzing thousands of resumes in my proprietary database. I learned that executives originate from categories of craft, cross-functional, another function, strategic/analytic, and domain expertise. Let me describe these with an example of career path categories to VP Marketing.
VP Marketing Career Path Categories
- Marketing Craft 34%
- Domain Expert 24%
- Strategic/Analytics 15%
- Cross-Functional 14%
- Sales Background 13%
We can obviously expect marketing executives whose careers emanate from the marketing discipline; I call this craft.
For was executives who had domain expertise, deep knowledge of an industry, product or solution, geography, or other niche, I could clearly see a story. Domain experts ranged broadly from financial services, high tech, and CPG to digital media, services marketing, and Six Sigma Black Belt.
Strategic/analytical includes backgrounds of consulting or investment banking. Marketing is an increasingly analytical function and these executives were able to distinguish themselves by understanding the business financials.
Sales and cross-functional backgrounds, across functions such as IT or operations, allowed executives to learn to think like customers and expand their networks.
As you plan for your career, think about the value you bring to the role and understand any experience gaps that you might need to fill to position yourself relative to potential competition. Perhaps you need to develop skills or hire talent around you to fill in for a weakness.
Career Pyramid of Leadership Skills at the Top
In Getting to the Top, I summarize skills vital to career advancement including:
- Strategic Vision
- Customer Perspective
- Team Leadership
- Distinguishing Skills
CEOs as well as functional executives have a role in setting a consistent vision for a company, team, or product. Then, executives must align the team with the vision through consistent, constant communications.
Not as obvious, understanding customers – external and internal – and bringing this input into your organization drives success. Understand who your customers are, increase customer input, and focus on your customer.
Communication skills are exponentially more important as you advance in an organization. Communication skills needed include listening, communicating up/down/across, influence, persuasion, and more.
Team leadership starts with hiring the best team, then developing, delegating, empowering, and motivating the team, and finally firing quickly if you do not have the right team in place. An old recruiting adage is, “A players hire A and B hire C.” Make sure you have an A team in place or you may marginalize your team.
Lastly, as careers advance from doing to leading, there are some skills that require mastering, rather than delegating the details. For example, business development requires mastery of negotiation. A VP may be negotiating a billion dollar deal which can cause costly mistakes if you are not strong. Determine the distinguishing skills in your functional area at which you must excel.
Think through the leadership skills important for your advancement, including strategic vision, customer perspective, communications, team leadership, and distinguishing skills. Identify one or two that you can work on developing to improve your career.
Career Action Plan
After understanding your long term goal, potential career paths toward your objective, and leadership skills required, you can put together a development plan to get there.
Career development thinking emphasizes three Es: Experience, Exposure, and Education – with experience being the most important by far.
- Experience – develop skills by taking on challenging assignments.
- Exposure – expand your network, including mentors and role models.
- Education – take classes to learn skills.
By implementing a Career Action Plan, you take hold of your own career development – and career success. The book takes this content and adds tons of executive stories and career paths to illustrate how to apply these lessons to take your career to the top.
BUY Getting to the Top at Amazon today!
Kathryn Ullrich Associates, Inc. completed a COO search for a consumer Internet company in Silicon Valley and is finalizing an M&A Specialist search for a venture incubator.
We are currently working on a Chief Marketing Officer search for the venture incubator, Product Management Director for an e-commerce company, VP Sales for a SAAS niche leader, and General Counsel for an e-commerce company.
For more information, visit www.ullrichassociates.com. Kathryn Ullrich Associates, Inc. focuses on VP and Director level hires across the functions of Product Management, Marketing, Sales and Consulting for technology and services companies.
Kathryn Ullrich and Getting to the Top have been quoted in the news!
- Manage Your Profession - InvestorsBusinessDaily.com by Gloria Lau, July 2010
- The Right Way to Say 'I Quit!' -Yahoo! HotJobs by Margaret Steen, July 2010
Kathy has also given keynote presentations on Getting to the Top for SDForum at Google, NAWBO, ASTD, NCDA, MBACSC, Pepperdine, and UCLA Anderson. Watch the website for other programs this fall, or contact Kathy to speak at your organization.
Tune into to the following upcoming radio programs:
- The J.O.B. Show on KKGN-AM, Aug. 8 at 5 pm
- Good Morning on WICH-AM, Aug. 5 at 5:40 am
- Job Talk Radio on WJJG-AM, Aug. 5 at 2:10 pm
- Tron Talk on KCMN-AM on Aug. 11
- Business of Life on KKZZ-AM on Aug. 26 at 4:30 pm
Twitter at http://twitter.com/GettingtotheTop
LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ullrich, and
Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/gettingtothetop.