You’ll know when it’s time to make a leap. Your learning curve will flatten. You’ll crave new challenges. You’ll be bored and anxious to make a greater impact. At the same time, you’ll be doing your job in less time yet getting great feedback. The key here is hunger for a new challenge, while excelling in what you’re already doing. Trying to jump the wire without succeeding in your current job first is nothing more than blind ambition.
If you’re on a high-potential leader (“hipo”) list or have the kind of boss who stretches you, the next opportunity may come to you. More often, you will have to find ways to extend your runway by advocating for jobs or tasks that will challenge you. Seek them out and demonstrate your readiness in meetings where your bosses, peers, and subordinates will see how you think and lead. If you conduct yourself well, other people may put in a good word to support you or talk about you in positive ways. In those situations, humility matters. Demonstrate your best qualities and let people infer what else you can do.
You don’t necessarily have to take on an entirely new job or a job at a much higher level. Positions at similar levels but in a different part of the business can be huge learning opportunities. Employers who know that you fully understand the product and the industry may be more inclined to move you from finance to marketing, for example, or from Latin America to Asia.
If a lot of your work is project-based, then your best growth may be on an ad hoc team that arises around a new initiative or to resolve a key challenge. These opportunities often involve cross-business issues that don’t fall in anyone’s current domain. Fight for them because they will give you a chance to exercise your skills in integrating diverse perspectives.
A New Perspective
Don’t play it safe by choosing projects where you can expect sure success. Instead, seek the ones that involve complexity or ambiguity. Your potential grows by taking on the problems that stretch your thinking, demand ingenuity, and literally force you to shift your perspective.
Even without a task force or team, you can take it upon yourself to solve the organization’s biggest challenges. Your fresh view on the situation might actually lead to a breakthrough. As CEO of GE, Jack Welch put Jeff Immelt in charge of air compressors precisely because he knew nothing about them; the theory was that because Immelt carried no baggage, he would objectively sort through the seemingly intractable problems in that business. Welch was right. Immelt figured it out and later became Welch’s successor.
You can get ideas about what these intractable problems are by reading the CEO’s messages, other corporate communications, or by asking around. In this age of transparency, there’s little to stop you from seeking information and solutions or finding people who will be receptive to your ideas. Be sure to focus on the substance of the issues and your sincere desire to learn and accomplish something.
As you search for new opportunities, look for a good boss or mentor. Your immediate boss can be your best ally or biggest roadblock in making a leap. Even kind and supportive bosses can hold you back if they become too reliant on your current skills and don’t want to let you go. Life is too short to work for someone who restricts your potential. Instead, find the talent magnets, the bosses with a reputation for advancing their direct reports. You may already know these people. If not, network to find out who they are because trust me, they’re out there.
A Chance at Growth
In his article “Secrets of the Superbosses,” published in Harvard Business Review in January–February 2016, Sydney Finkelstein explains a pattern he had observed, saying, “If you look at the top people in a given industry, you’ll often find that as many as half of them once worked for the same well-known leader.” Finkelstein believes that the “superbosses” give their protégés chances to dramatically compress their learning and growth.
You may be able to make a leap by taking on volunteer work. A board position in a local nonprofit, for example, could expand your strategic leadership skills. Global Leadership: The Next Generation by Marshall Goldsmith and colleagues lists ways to expand your skill sets in the areas most needed by current and future global leaders and may lay the foundation for a leap.
Take heart in knowing that top leaders are seeking talent and that data bases are being constructed that will whittle down the bureaucracy and opacity around job promotions and leadership development. You’ll have more opportunities to be noticed, and individual bosses will have less control over your fate. Politicking and loyalty will give way to the substance of leadership.
Above is an excerpt from Ram Charan’s The High-Potential Leader: How to Grow Fast, Take on New Responsibilities, and Make an Impact, © Wiley, 2017 The book is available now.
About the Author
Ram Charan is an advisor to many of the world’s top CEOs and corporate boards. He is author or coauthor of twenty books, including The New York Times bestseller Execution. He has taught at Harvard Business School and GE’s John F Welch Learning Center, and is a member of six corporate boards.
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