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Be the CEO of your career

By Jon Lokhorst, CPA, ACC

March 18, 2020

Who is the person most responsible for your career success? It’s you!
It’s imperative to take ownership of your career trajectory. Don’t leave it to chance. No one cares as much about your career advancement as you do. Think of your career as a business and guess who’s the CEO? It’s you!
Here are four steps to act as the CEO of your career.

Start with vision

The late hall of fame baseball player Yogi Berra was known for his unique handling of the English language. My favorite “Yogi-ism” packs a powerful message as you think about your career: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Like a CEO does for his or her organization, establish a clear and compelling vision for your career.
Vision answers the question, “Where are you going?” Your vision describes the destination you want to reach at a point in time in the future. You probably already have the vision within you. If you haven’t already done so, take time for exploration and discovery. Here’s another way to discover your career vision. Look five, 10 or even more years into the future. Where do you see yourself working, and what do you envision doing then?
Formulate a brief statement that captures your vision, including a timeframe for when you want to arrive at that point. Here are a few examples: My vision is to become a partner in my firm within seven years. By 2025, I will become CFO of a nationwide nonprofit organization. I will launch my own business in the next 10 years.

Identify essential competencies

Once your vision is clear, identify the competencies needed to reach that career destination. If you’re in public accounting, your firm may have a competency model that describes what is expected at each level of leadership. If you serve in business, industry or the nonprofit sector, your organization may have established leadership competencies. For example, one of my healthcare clients created a list of 12 such competencies, divided into three categories: people leadership, business leadership and self-leadership.
If your employer doesn’t provide a competency model, develop your own. With your career vision in mind, research what makes people successful in those roles. Explore how they are changing and what it will take to be successful in the future. Interview people who are doing what you aspire to do in the future.
Approach individuals within your organization as well as outside of it to gain a broad perspective. Ask what skills are essential to their present work, as well as those they anticipate will be important in the future. Then build a list of the top five to 10 competencies you need to develop.

Create a professional development plan

Based on your list of competencies, determine how you can gain mastery in those areas. Create a plan that combines formal and informal approaches to build your knowledge and skills over time. Education, training, coaching and mentoring are a great start. Add personal study and research by listening to podcasts, reading books or taking online courses.
The best learning comes by doing, so seek opportunities to develop new skills on the job. For example, leading meetings is a crucial skill that becomes grows in importance as you advance to new levels of leadership. If you don’t have experience leading meetings, ask if you can lead a portion of an upcoming team meeting. Also, volunteer for stretch assignments to gain exposure to different areas and to learn new skills.
Be sure to balance your interests with the business needs of your employer. Don’t let your job performance suffer as you develop skills that will help you further down the road. Do your current job with excellence to build support for future advancement.

Find advocates to support you

Make your career ambitions known. Get your boss on your side. Demonstrate your increased value to the team as you learn and grow. Identify other influential leaders within your organization who can support your development. One of my coaching clients did this by scheduling regular lunch and coffee meetings with leaders outside of his department. These meetings gave him a broader understanding of the business and expanded his internal network.
Build your external network as well. Use LinkedIn to identify people a few steps ahead on your desired career path. Make online and in-person connections to learn from their experience and seek their advice.

Exercise patience, persistence

Here’s a final suggestion as you implement these steps: Be patient and persistent. Anything worth building takes time and effort.
Jon Lokhorst, CPA, ACC, is an executive leadership coach and consultant. He works with organizations to develop leaders everyone wants to follow and build teams no one wants to leave. Before launching Lokhorst Consulting LLC, Jon enjoyed a 30-plus year career as a CPA, CFO and organizational leader. He has a master’s in organizational leadership and serves as adjunct faculty in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and regularly speaks for conferences and organizations.