An Executive’s Guide to Career Advancement

You’ve set a high bar for your career goals, and now it’s time to jump. The question is — how? Career development doesn’t end once you have a seat at the boardroom table. Whether you’ve found your home in lower to middle management or have your eye on the C-suite, there are always more steps to take that will cultivate your skills and advance your career.

As your role changes within your organization, so should your skills, focus, and some of your priorities. While the end goal always has been, and always will be, to contribute to your company’s success, how you do so evolves as you progress through your executive career advancement.

In this article, the fourth in our employee development series, we evaluate how career professionals can develop their executive leadership abilities to enhance their careers.

1. Map Your Career 

Career mapping benefits every level of executive. If you’re mid-journey towards your goal, career mapping clarifies your path. If you’ve reached the pinnacle, it ensures you continue to savor the view by enriching your leadership ability and, in doing so, increasing your worth to your organization. 

Career mapping is the straightforward process of assessing both your starting point and your destination, then determining actionable steps to get from one to the other. This might mean coursework to bolster your knowledge and skills or finding a mentor to offer advice and guidance. 

Once you’ve identified actionable steps to take, address them with “smart” goals, which are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Smart goals provide clear action and completion parameters. For example, rather than simply planning to grow your network, plan to increase it by a designated percentage, by doing certain activities, for a particular purpose, and by a scheduled deadline.

2. Try Executive Coaching

Even outstanding leaders sometimes need advice, a fact that has given rise to the executive coaching industry. Dover Solutions founder Sanquinetta Marie Dover considers coaching and mentorship to be a staple of executive development. “The wisdom to know when to ask for help can set you apart from those who wish for success but don’t achieve it, she says. “Never be afraid to admit you have more to learn and remember that there’s no better teacher than someone who’s been ahead of you on the same road that you’re traveling.”

Leadership ability seldom rises from a vacuum. Much like parenting, leadership is a set of behaviors learned from your predecessors. If you’ve learned everything you can from your current role models, an executive coach can take you to the next level. 

Coaches bring to the table their own portfolio of experience, so it’s important to determine where you need help when choosing a mentor. The executive leadership of a well-matched coach can help in areas such as navigating a job change, improving productivity, goal setting, decision making, strength/weakness assessment, and personal empowerment.

3. Broaden Your Skillset 

As an executive, you’re no longer a front-line specialist. Instead, these are the team members you support, and their ability to succeed depends on leadership with a broader skillset that connects with multiple organizational departments. 

At the executive level, a strong grasp of business fundamentals is more relevant than siloed skills in specialized roles. Shift your focus away from front-line task expertise to the big-picture pillars that support a successful enterprise. 

Time in a classroom can help with this transition. Drive your executive career advancement with continued education, such as an MBA, and join the 40% of Fortune 100 CEOs who have this degree. Quality education is a tangible asset that not only enlightens you with knowledge but also inspires you with new perspectives.

4. Hone Your Soft Skills

Soft skills separate the people who simply plan goals from those who achieve them. These non-technical skills have taken the career development spotlight, and with good reason. Emotional intelligence, executive function, and communication savvy are examples of soft skills. 

Soft skills enable you to plan, self-advocate, identify challenges and regulate stress throughout the process of career development. It’s your soft skills that allow you to make the best use of hard skills (learned proficiencies), education, and experience. 

Start your soft skills upgrade by taking a personal inventory to identify your strengths versus qualities still under development. Choose one skill you’d like to work on and address it with a smart goal. When you think you’ve made progress, move on to another skill.

5. Cultivate Your Personal Brand

Your personal brand is more than just your email signature font or business card design. It encompasses your professional identity, values, and priorities. Whether you’re creative and eclectic or traditional and wise, your personal brand should represent your strengths and the value you bring to your organization. 

Successful personal branding can increase the likelihood that you’ll find yourself in roles where you excel. If colleagues see you as meticulous and rule-driven, they’ll recruit you for projects requiring fastidious precision. Alternatively, if team members think of you as an innovative idea architect they’ll enlist your perspective for brainstorming sessions. Opportunities find brands, so ensure that yours aligns with your strengths and passions. 

Final Thoughts

Executive coaches, career maps, skill-building, and brand cultivation are just a few of the steps business leaders can take to shape their careers. The options for professional development are many and varied, and it’s up to you to decide where to start. Consider the success you’ve had and the progress you’ve made so far and ask yourself what’s next. For ideas and inspiration, contact Dover Training Institute.