The Assignment

Photo by Tim Gouw / Unsplash

Put bluntly, I'm here to make it worthwhile for you to be here.

Chances are, you began your career without a ton of specific guidance, but still planning to capitalize on all the general wholesale career advice for working class Young Adults that gets heaped onto American college students.

We thought if we found a Thing interesting, throw all our energy into specializing in that Thing, and then keep impressing our supervisors with our specialty, we would be crowned with the Authority of Experience, and eventually gather enough seniority to naturally take on an executive role in our chosen field.

What it is, What it Ain't, and What it's Gonna Be

See, the last decade has shortened the lifespan of Subject Matter Expertise by half, and then half again - which means the need to specialize in emerging technologies has increased, while the authority associated with experience gained through longevity (tenure) has started trending downward.

Before the 2010s, a business operated in a physical location, in local currencies for each location, and used their online presence as a secondary portal. Today, a business can have a purely online-based presence without a storefront or even a publicly available corporate mailing address, and a sophisticated system of purely online-based universal currency for the purposes of international and interpersonal commerce is also on the rise.

The way we build trust within business and professional relationships has been forever impacted and accelerated by technology, and our careers are confirming this fact with every passing year. By opening up a new avenue for relationship building and sharing information and resources, technology has paved the way for many new professional specializations, while initiating the sunset of some long-practiced specializations that involve building and maintaining strong trust relationships or working with deeply complicated manual tools or machinery.

Recent estimates state that the modern worker will need to upskill or reskill every 4 - 6 years on average, throughout their career. Careers themselves are lengthening as younger generations expect to work well past traditional "retirement" age, in fields far removed from where they entered the workforce.

Relevant Knowledge Increases Mobility But Not Seniority

You're starting to see the issue, right? While it is exciting to pick up new areas of expertise every few years, the choice to start something new often includes accepting compensation based on your expertise level in that specific field regardless of your overall body of expertise. That trade-off, coupled with the increasingly quick advancements in technology, has led to many more workers in the modern economy making not just one, but a series of lateral moves than ever before.

Why settle for lateral moves? Why aren't we swinging "upward" instead of sideways as we show again and again that we've got the chops to learn new things?

What causes this is the fact that while it is fairly straightforward to build up a new area of technical or tactical expertise, but it is not at all straightforward to build up a new suite of leadership qualities. A quick module here and there, some specialized jargon memorization, repetition through practice, and you're all set. New skill acquired. But without breaking down the component parts of executive level responsibilities, how can we evaluate ourselves on the ability to take on those responsibilities and (a) close the gap on missing executive skills, or (b) present ourselves as high-potential executives-in-the-making?

Just Go to Manager School AKA Get an MBA

As one of the early Game of Thrones characters once quietly stated: Oh, my sweet summer child...

There is no certification that serves as a guarantee that you will be An Executive. There are plenty of certifications available, which help strengthen the performance of great managers, including general or specialized MBAs. In fact, some of my favorite people have MBAs.

Managers have many quantitative responsibilities, which are generally addressed with an MBA. There are many study aides and preparatory modules that can ease the process of gaining those new skills. But going from Specialist to Executive involves developing intangible qualities that cannot be quantified in a graded exam, and for many, the path leads through the middle ranks of management.

Part of the reason is, executives are routinely stretching themselves in uncomfortable ways, because they must lead others through the unknown. While you can methodically learn processes for tackling the unknown on an individual basis, or even cooperating with a group on navigating the unknown, it is supremely difficult to impart leadership capabilities through standardized evaluation.

So...No Skipping the Hard Part?

Upskilling from Specialist to Executive is a journey that must pass through the classroom of You.

Indeed, effective and in-demand executives stand out because they exceed the standard. Because they thrive in situations that drain specialists and managers. Because adversity, which is gristle for specialists and a speed bump for managers, is an executive's lunchmeat.

Many executive roles serve as valuable preparation for the CEO position, and that is no mistake. Thriving in the midst of adversity is something that in-demand executives have in common with CEOs - which is precisely what makes them great candidates for that position.

Many specialists, who launch a new venture that finds success against all odds, have to learn management and executive effectiveness on our feet. Mark Zuckerburg is a prime example of this type of growth. For him, transparency during that process has been a double-edged sword. While Mark has had to grow in the cross-hairs of the public eye, he has also benefitted from having a reputation is a newcomer to global business ownership - all of which has contributed to his ability to change the world with his work.

Ok, I'll Have What She's Having

Right. I'm a Specialist-Manager with Executive tendencies, and Yes, Jillian! is where I'm organizing my Wedges.

It’s going to take accelerated learning to round out my accumulated expertise, so I'm going to examine and assimilate the six components that make a modern-day Executive, from a 360-degree perspective.

The more I learn about executive responsibilities, the more I can refine my Vision, so I can strive toward hitting the incremental goals that embody my principles.

Of course you're invited.

This is the proverbial "rising tide" my friend. I want to raise all of our boats.