Hi all, just a very general question - I've been listening to one of my favourite casts on Creating A Developement Plan For Yourself, and I was pondering... all the advice is excellent, but it all hinges on knowing (or having some idea of) what your actual end goal is. How do you arrive at knowing where you want to be in x years?

For me, I'm 27 and my goal at the moment is probably CEO of a mid-sized company - that's based purely on the fact that I love people, I love management (I run a department of around 40 people) and I'm not bad at it, and I assume that CEO is essentially the highest post in general management. I've also pondered one day moving into Management Consulting.

These are 20+ year goals (although I'm in that wonderful "I know everything" stage of my life, I know I can't be a CEO just yet :)) and I know that might change in the future, but I'm sure I haven't considered every available option, I don't know every career path. So what's worked for you?

Is it just by observing the world around you to see what interests you? Talking to people? Scouring job ads until something appeals? Or have people done career/aptitude testing, or spoken to a counselor about it? I want a job that challenges, inspires and rewards me - how do I make sure I'm getting the best that I can, do you think?

TomW's picture
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I think you're crossing two things: What you want to do and what position you want to hold. CEO is a position (which more often than not is sales and marketing related, not management). Managing (achieving results through other people) is something you do, but even then it's not very specific. Who you want to manage and what kind of work (accounting, engineering, manufacturing, etc). Working out those details for yourself can take you a long way.

I forget who said it, but I recently came across the idea that happiness in your career is a matter of finding the intersection of what you love to do, what you are excellent at, and what someone will pay you to do.  

quietlife4me's picture
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Agree with TOMW.


Don't focus on the "position". Focus on the "doing".  Sounds like you like being a manager of people. From what I've seen of CEO's it is less about directly managing people and more about hiring good managers, finance, M&A and corporate strategy decisions.

At every place I've worked I've told my boss "I'll give you my title back if you give me something more challenging to do" :)   I've only ever left my previous employers because something more interesting came around. Not because the title or role power was greater (or even paycheck).


morelock's picture

I would suggest several different sources of information.

1.  Your industry/company.  Look around.  Who is doing something that you respect/would like to do?  How did they get there, and what kinds of skills or credentials did they need to develop in order to get there?  There are just about a bajillion tracks to CEO.  For instance some entrepreneurs call themselves CEOs when they don't even have any employees yet and just grow the company from there.  Other people work through the ranks at an established firm. What method is most typical in your industry?  And how long does it usually take?  Do those people have specific training or credentials?  Are they actually doing what you want to do, or do they spend most of their time doing something different from management (client relationships, strategy, lobbying, etc.)

2.  Yourself.  There's nothing that can replace learning about what you most enjoy, how you would best like to grow.  You seem to enjoy what you are doing "alright".  Instead of just being at the "highest post", try to imagine what would be incredible.

3.  Meta-skills.  You don't need to have an x-year plan in order to develop yourself.  There are tons of meta-skills - (i.e. communication, problem-solving) that you can always improve on whether you know where you're going or not.  Just pick something to improve and create arbitrary deadlines if you want.

4.  Personal life.  What goals do you have for your life, and how do family obligations impact that?  If you know that you will likely need to relocate after your wife finishes her degree, you might try to find a way to make that change more strategic.

I wouldn't get too caught up in an answer to the "x year plan" issue.  This does get easier as you get older just because more of the blanks are filled in.  You know your professional strengths and weaknesses better, you have a better understanding of your industry or a new industry opens up and appears interesting, and personal lives make more demands.  But the point is the working to improve, not the plan itself, because those fall apart anyway.  The best laid plans of mice and men...


VPfreedude's picture

 What worked for me was to simply looking for and/or accepting any new responsibility that came my way through my work.  Everything you do will teach you something and better prepare you for making higher impact decisions as you become more senior.

One example for me was late in the year our manager quit and 3 engineers had to split up his work load.  I took on the year end reporting & audit process because - well I had never done it before.  It was a lot of work, particularly because I was quite young at the time but when the time came to do it again a few years later where the results were more important to the company (a much smaller co) I had experience and it was easily something that our CEO delegated to me.

Stay positive and just try to experience everything you can.  


mfculbert's picture

 I will try to structure too many thoughts in a coherent manner here.

Hedge Hog Principle - This concept is an adaptation from Jim Collin's book "Good to Great." This is basically a philosophy that the greatest companies have that make them more than good. I believe that the philosophy can be applied to teams and individuals as well. There are three overlapping circles that you need to address. Passion, what do you love? Best, what can you do better than anyone in the world? Economic Engine, what compensation (financial, freedom, spiritual) do you need to be successful and fulfilled and how do you measure it?

These values mayl take years to uncover. While working on it I recommend you live the disciplines defined in David Allen's "Getting Things Done." On my first reading of the book I had the lowest two levels of visioning in place and had some ideas about the third level. By my second reading a few months later I had levels three and four in place. About a year after that I reviewed the book again and realized that all six levels had resolved themselves. This included my personal mission statement.

Finally, I recall the podcast as addressing the next step or two of your growth, not necessarily your ultimate goal. You are looking for a long range CEO role. What next step or two will lead you in that general direction. Find those job descriptions and start looking at how to gain those skills.

Best of luck!

JMStahl's picture

Not to repeat what has been said by everyone else but start off with what you love.  In my case I love project management and I would like to pursue a role as a manager over PMs or engineers.  From there you can try to locate roles inside and outside your current firm that meet up to that.

Long term goals are great and as a younger person myself (I am 28) it is hard to stay focused on the job I have now when I start thinking of the long term where I want to be.  The best advice I have been given is focus on being the top person in the organization in my current role and look at roles as they open.

I wish you the best of luck.

J. Michael Stahl, P.E.