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The writer is reminded of his professor's advice on reading books to take him ahead in his career. Above, the New York Public Library. Bo Zaunders / Corbis
Bo Zaunders
The writer is reminded of his professor's advice on reading books to take him ahead in his career. Above, the New York Public Library. Bo Zaunders / Corbis

Prepare today for tomorrow

The Life: Many people stay where they are because they stay with what they know. And in today's world it is the formula for stagnation – personally and professionally.

Sitting in the middle of a big lecture hall as an undergraduate student, week after week Dr Towns told us: "The people you meet and books you read will determine where you will be in five years."

I was reminded of this as I read a tweet saying: "If you want to know where you'll be in five years, listen to what you talk about most now."

Many people stay where they are because they stay with what they know. This may have served a career well in the era of promotion based on tenure. In today's world it is the formula for stagnation - personally and professionally.

Let's tackle this topic of preparing yourself for your leadership future. While I don't completely agree with all of Dr Town's advice, there is some truth in it.

To progress in your career, be sure you are spending time with people who will stretch you and help you to grow into what you want to be.

A friend of mine is obsessed with this point, so much so that he does an annual Facebook friend purge. He unfriends anyone that he did not talk to and did not add value in the past 12 months.

This may be extreme, but the principle of reviewing who you spend time with is priceless.

Continuing with Dr Towns' advice, start (or restart) reading books, not just social media. I am fearful of the impact of social media on our professional growth.

As a humiliating confession, my annual book reading is 20 per cent of what it used to be because I am flooded with snippets of knowledge now. Twitter's 140-character input is good for building breadth of information but as senior leaders we need depth and time to think.

I am making adjustments to reduce my consumption of bite-sized opinions to free time to read meaningfully.

In thinking about your leadership career the two points from above do matter, but there is more.

Where you will be in five years, begins with understanding how the next level of leadership is very different from your current level. Being cognisant of the phrase "what got you here, won't get you there" begs the question "what changes do I need to make?"

At a workshop this past week, one of the participants had the coveted "aha" moment as he realised that there is a gap in his understanding between his current role and the next leadership level.

In this instance, a director of technology who was performing well, realised that he will need to make adjustments from a leadership perspective to be a truly successful executive.

A progressive leadership career requires moving from technical expertise, which is what built most leaders' success, to focusing on leadership behaviour, which is comprised of: a different role, the transition and a new focus.

Each subsequent leadership level is different from the preceding one and should not be viewed as a bigger version of the current role.

Unfortunately, many leaders change jobs, and companies, so frequently that they have difficulty finishing what they started. It cripples their leadership preparation by not staying put long enough to learn from mistakes, master the right skills and gain the experience needed for sustainable leadership success.

Do your leadership career a benefit, prepare today for tomorrow.

 

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center

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