Professional Development and Crossing the Chasm from Manager to Executive

I was able to get to the top early on in my career because I chose to outwork my peers and focus on the outcome. There were plenty of software developers that were smarter, had a computer science degree, and were flat-out good.

So why did I succeed as an executive while many of them remain managers?

I have a theory about professional development in corporate America that I use to coach employees or young professionals. It comes back to the dignity of the worker and helping people excel in the area they’re called and made to excel in.

Early on in your career, you’re rewarded for getting things done. You’re rewarded for productivity and for specific skills that you have. It’s a productivity mindset that we approach our jobs with and we are rewarded for it.

Get more done, get promoted. Do good work, get promoted.

You’re continually recognized, given more money, and patted on the back for simply doing things, either well or quickly. Sometimes we are rewarded for process improvements – in other words, optimizing standard performance and helping others produce more. There are unique traits that people look for, depending on the skill set, but it’s all about the end result, about production.

There seem to be two types of people within corporate America.

First, there are those who really excel at doing things. They’re skilled. They’re great at executing. They are really able to navigate that sure and steady moving up the ladder in the early part of their career. They’re high performers in the onset of their career.

However, as high-performing as they are, many of these people find themselves hitting a glass ceiling at the manager level. Sometimes they’re promoted one too many times and struggle as a director.

A manager is fairly tactical and production-oriented, while a vice president must exemplify great leadership and strategic thinking in order to be successful. Later in our careers we are rewarded not for production but for strategy, thinking and leading. For driving towards much higher-level outcomes and results.

Second, there are those who are naturally strategic, creative, and innovative thinkers. They are inspirational leaders.

The second group of people consist of two very diverse dynamics. The first have Type A personalities who are able to figure out how to get through the production period of their careers. They excel based on hard work and grit and creativity through their strategic thinking applied to themselves. Once they hit the director level, they accelerate and blow the doors open.

But then there’s the other subset of this second group who never get there. They can’t figure out how to produce in the first place.

If we step back and understand this dynamic of how corporate America tends to work, we’re able to optimize our own performance in our careers based upon this theory.

We can also—and this is the exciting part to me—help those people who are naturally gifted at production to become strategic thinkers, to help them to learn to think, teach them to connect the dots, and either continue their career advancement or settle into the role that’s perfect for them.

We can do the same with those who never make it that far, who struggle with the doing and yet have great creative or innovative skills or are strategic in nature. We can put them in roles where they excel at that, instead of just production.

How do you support those around you and help them excel in the way they’re called?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mark Kalpakgian says:

    Love this article! So the next question is what strategies do you suggest to help “producers,” “doers” become more strategic thinkers, become better prepared for the director level. I would love to see an article on that! I’m helping manage a Leadership Institute where we will be discussing this exact issue. Thanks David!

    1. David DeWolf says:

      Glad it was helpful Mark. . .tips are in the queue. . .look for them in the next couple of weeks.

  2. Jackie S. Williams says:

    Our mind is the one who is limiting us if we go beyond our knowledge we could achieve more than what we want. When I was in New York, personal development coaching has been helping me gain and learn more knowledge. There are things that we don’t excel and failed, but there will be always a turning point for everyone. Learning is a lifelong process all you need to do is to apply it on your life.

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