Life is all about change.
As we grow, change happens automatically.
But, if you take a more proactive stance, you might find that you could guide your career in a much smoother way.
Accordingly, the experience would be less stressful and at a greater speed.
I think you would agree that moving up the value chain is important – it’s part of the personal self-actualization process.
Not all human beings necessarily want to move into this space. They are content to trundle along at a leisurely pace.
In most cases this does not apply to CA’s.
We’re an ambitious bunch and we want more!
The thing is that. if you look around you, a puzzling question emerges. How is it that some people are able to get there quicker whilst others make little or no progress albeit that they have the same academic qualifications?
Is it that they are just lucky or is it that they have a better understanding of what steps to follow?
I personally have never disfavoured Lady Luck but there is a lot more of a lasting benefit attached to knowing that you are empowered to effect change all by yourself!
So the answer to the above question is a resounding ‘yes’ – you can definitely speed up your development!
So here is part of the secret: it’s all about moving from a manager mentality to executive mind-set.
And it all begins with this: managers get CPI annual increases whilst executives get paid what they are worth!
Now this is not going to shoot the lights out or cause a brass band to break into song, but it is an integral part of creating your own power in the work place.
Getting to manager status is usually a natural progression. Once you qualify, you move up the scale and attain the title ‘manager’. Sure, there are good managers and bad managers but, as a CA, you can reasonably assured that you will land a management role once you qualify. And if you do nothing else, you will grow yourself and move forward at a leisurely pace, earning an acceptable ‘market related’ package. All the stuff around meeting deadlines and attention to detail will hold you in good stead.
But the next stage of your development will require a little more creative input from your side.
This is the proactive maneuvering that is required for you to make the transition from manger to executive.
Now some of your colleagues, you might think, do this quite easily. They are the extrovert-type, good networkers who go cycling with the boss and stay for drinks after work on a Friday afternoon.
Well, here’s the good news.
It’s not only about that – there’s a lot more involved and, if you did a proper post-mortem, you would find that the outer frills that looked so important at the outset, are actually backed up by a number of critical attributes that run much deeper.
And it is these attributes that you can learn and apply to take yourself solidly into the executive realm.
But know this! – it is definitely is not an overnight sensation.
It’s a process. And it’s more about relationship building than it is about skill development.
Part of it will be automatic. But there is a point where, by being creative and proactive, you can make a significant difference in guiding your career in the direction that you want it to go.
If you look around you at the people who are ‘making it’, you can sure that they are taking conscious actions that places them just where they want to be.
The intention of this booklet is to give you the critical pointers that could short-circuit your progress and get you there much quicker.
It might be important to note that executives know who they are and gather together in a kind of a ‘club’. In order to get into this club you need to position yourself for admittance.
The following 9 critical steps will help you enter the executive orbit more effectively:
- THE RELATIONSHIP DYNAMICS
Understanding the relationship dynamics at play in the work place, goes a long way to enabling you to get recognized.
There are 3 basic relationships playing out:
- You and your staff – you are the boss
- You and your colleagues – you are not the boss
- You and your boss – you are the subordinate
Being aware of the importance of each of these relationships puts you firmly in control of your own power.
How to interact to create maximum advantage is the name of the game.
But this needs to be understood. And practiced.
The benefits are incalculable. Knowing how to deal with people can make a big difference to the results you will get. Learn this skill and you are a big step ahead!
- STICK WITH PROTOCOL
Following closely behind the relationship dynamic, is the principle of corporate protocol.
Protocol is defined as a system of rules that explain the correct conduct or procedures that need to be followed in formal situations.
Now this sounds awfully stuffy and rigid but it operates like this: there are lines of command that exist in organizations. This is usually laid out in the corporate organogram. Jumping these lines of command will upset people. Respecting these lines will help you seamlessly get things done in a dignified way. Executives respect each other’s lines of command. Failure to do is a declaration of war. Avoiding war at all costs is a clever executive strategy. War wastes time and energy. Put another way, you are less likely to be let into the executive club if you are constantly ignoring protocol.
- YOUR PERSONAL BRAND
How others perceive you within the company will propel you along the way. If you start looking the part you will more than likely find yourself getting where you want to go much quicker.
Branding yourself as an executive requires a level of awareness and focus. Some people are able to naturally drift into the role but most take a measured stance and approach it in a more contrived way. This could range from wearing branded clothing to manicuring their nails. But never underestimate the impact of a good visual presence. The saying ‘first impressions are lasting impressions’ is appropriately valid in the corporate context.
It is important to be aware that everything that you do presents your brand. You might choose not to wear Pringle or Polo gear but be sure that you look crisp and sharp. And, kill yourself for a deadline
- PLAYING THE GAME
I‘ve got some bad news for you – the workplace is a game.
Ignore the game at your peril!
Sure, if you want to stay on the management level, the game is not that pronounced. But in the executive space it’s essential. If you do not know the rules of the game it is unlikely that you will be let into the executive club.
So it looks as simple as this: You cannot play cricket when everyone else is playing soccer.
The corporate game is ‘soccer’- if you are playing ‘cricket’ you will be bowled out time and time again.
Part of this game playing is understanding the different personalities in the mix. Often the executive team is dominated by a person with narcissistic tendencies. Failure to deal with such people in the appropriate manner will put you on the losing end and prevent you from gaining traction on the team. Standing firm on important issues is part of the process but it’s more about avoiding getting sucked into some of the manipulative tactics that are used. Usually the most common is approval-seeking behaviour. You can be sure that if you go this route you will find yourself outside the circle in no time!
- STEPPING UP – MAKE A DECISION
The concept of stepping up is one of the deciding markers between managers and executives.
Managers ask for confirmation – executives make a call and step forward and commit themselves to a course of action. Obviously corporate governance sets the boundaries, but within those boundaries executives will make decisions even if they turn out to be wrong. And even more than that, they take responsibility – if it’s a bad decision they stand firmly behind their choice and face the music. Although there are unsavory characters who will look to shift blame onto an unsuspecting subordinate, in the main, executives will stand solid on their decisions – even if they face the possibility of dismissal.
Decision making is an important part of leadership. Being able to weigh up the options and choose a course of action is the sign of strong leadership. Stalling on decisions and floundering in a space of uncertainty will reveal your inability to ‘carry the flag’
- PRESENT THE ANSWER NOT THE QUESTION
Following from the point above, managers tend to be more likely to ‘dump’ than to solve. Where the manager will arrive with good ideas, he will leave his boss to do all the real valuable parts. When nothing happens, he will complain that he gets no recognition for his ‘valuable’ contribution. The executive, on the other hand, will arrive with a fully researched feasibility study confirming the viability of the project and with the clear identification of the pro’s and cons. All the boss has to do is sign it off!
This might sound silly, but look at it this way. If you cannot do it the executive way, rather say nothing and stop pretending that you are adding value!
- BE SECOND-IN-COMMAND
As mentioned above it is you who needs to make a proactive move into the executive space. It is your actions that will create the outcomes that you want.
Like all clubs, in order to become a member you need to be nominated. The best way of doing this is to select a respected referee who will put you forward.
Who better than your boss?
If you want to be recognised as a candidate executive, your best way in is on the vote of your boss.
Accordingly your relationship with your boss is paramount. But it’s more than that. When you sit on the side of management you are sitting on the other side of the fence. Moving over to the executive side is a game-changer.
I can easily tell which side of the fence a client is sitting by simply asking them what their boss does all day. If they don’t know, it’s a sure sign that they are playing on the wrong side.
From the boss’ perspective, it is unlikely that he will feel comfortable with you siding with your staff. It separates him from you – you are sitting on the wrong side of the fence. Furthermore you staff affirm your management status simply by them seeing the distance between you and the executive team.
Attempts to get closer to your boss can look like approval-seeking behaviour. This will not work!
The type of closeness I recommend is a process that adds value to your boss. If you become high-maintenance, constantly needing his attention and support, you are displaying immaturity. That will be disastrous!
What is needed is something much more subtle.
The desired alternative is to set up a regular weekly meeting with your boss. Prepare an agenda and inform him of what you are doing and the progress being made by your team. This very valuable to him because he is not making the time for this critical aspect of his job. By keeping him up-to-date he becomes more in control and looks good when his boss asks him how things are going. This time might allow him to feed some of the more higher level stuff to you – this empowers you as you are better informed on the bigger picture.
This will result in you moving closer to the executive space. The more this happens, the easier it is for you to slot in as his second-in-command and that is the beginning of your journey to the top.
In addition, by you having a standing time in your bosses diary, gives you a status that is particularly subtle. Your boss’s PA will mention you regular time slot in her boss’s diary at the coffee machine and word starts to get around that you are sitting on the executive side.
- AVOID CONFLICT AT ALL COSTS
I’m amazed at how many of my clients believe that by not being confrontational they are ineffective and weak.
There could be nothing further from the truth! Here’s the good news – confrontation results in inefficiency and cost. It is the least effective mechanism to achieve results and should only be used after all other avenues have been exhausted. Even then, outside confirmation should be sought from an independent party before deciding to fight it out.
Executives don’t fight – they manoeuvre. They seek resolution by firstly understanding the problem and then following due process to ensure the matter is dealt with openly and professionally.
This does not mean to say that your boss will mirror this approach. But when you are looking to enter the executive space you will be disqualified if you are known as being confrontational. Essentially this means that you upset others.
This could be for a number of reasons but usually it is because you have failed to follow due process. This includes the protocol issues described above.
Most people find networking difficult. It is, however, an essential part of presenting yourself as an executive. Here is an interesting slant on networking:
It’s not what you know and
it’s not who you know,
it’s who knows you!
Bearing this in mind you will find that the whole strategy changes. Your intention centers on gentle interventions here and there so that influential people get to know you be name.
Note that there are two areas of networking:
- Networking in the company
- Networking outside the company
It is important to distinguish between the two as you might be networking very effectively inside the company but accusing yourself of being useless at networking because you are not connecting with people outside the company.
In the beginning of your executive path, your internal networking is what is far more important.
So here are some pointers:
Ø Show up at company events. By just being present allows you the opportunity to create connection.
Ø Always go up to influential directors and greet them. You don’t have to hang around and chat. Just make the connection in a pleasant and engaging way. This requires humility and subservience.
Ø Find a way to connect with those senior executives who could advance your career. This could include taking stuff directly to their office instead of sending it via a messenger. You could also position yourself to being in the parking area when he arrives. Get into their line of vision in a non-invasive way. But do it!
A lot of my clients claim to be introverts and tend to remain distant and separated at networking events. They feel overwhelmed by all the activity.
So here’s the good news – usually most of the people at the event are introverts. Notice these people and connect with them. If nothing else, it will at least get you engaged in the process and who knows what could develop from there.
Your ability to interact and engage with others is important and don’t ever think that your boss is not noticing. He’s always noticing how you are handling yourself.
External networking is a little more difficult. Apply the same principles as described above but you might want set a target for yourself. Aim to speak to three new people at an event and give out your business card. Here is the bottom line on networking: you need to be seen engaging with others. Choose a way that is most comfortable for you but show up and do it. Do not hide away! And you don’t have to stay too long. You can easily excuse yourself and leave early
I might add that there is nothing particularly earth-shattering about the process described above. Nor is there a call for you to compromise your value system or change your personality.
Just know that you have the responsibility to develop yourself and if you are not making headway, look at your actions. It’s got little to do with the fact that you are not an extrovert.
It is only once you have applied the processes described above that you can clearly make that call.
And if you still are making no progress then find another job!
Clive Kaplan, a leading executive coach, is a CA(SA) with over 25 years’ experience as an executive director in both listed and unlisted companies.
Clive brings some interesting perspectives to the field of management. Having been involved at Director/Board level, he offers a wealth of wisdom on both the people and business front.
Clive is the CEO of THE GREEN MIND CAPITAL GROUP. The company focuses on assisting executives, especially emerging young CA’s, in maximising their potential and fast-tracking their careers.
Clive has been involved with coaching and self-development since 1994. His mix of years of practical executive experience coupled with his own personal self-development journey, brings together a unique method of Transformation Coaching. He has hundreds of hours of one-on-one coaching to his credit.
Clive is also a prolific writer on LinkedIn PULSE. He has written over 80 articles on various topics from financial management and operations to job search and confidence building. He is also the author of the winQs series (pronounced ‘winks’) which appears regularly on the LinkedIn network.
Clive is also a mentor for ORT Jet and The Hope Factory, (a SAICA initiative). He also works closely with the More To Life Program, all on a voluntary basis.
Please visit our website: http://www.coach.greenmindcapital.co.za/ or contact Clive directly on: