Build a better candidate for that top job

No one is born into senior management. Top performers are invariably built, not born. But here’s the thing… they build themselves. They are DIY experts at equipping themselves with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that take them up to the corporate suite and then into the boardroom.

Yet many successful executives at career-end confide that it took a setback to get them started on the self-build to success.

One catalyst is assessment feedback – the report on traits, strengths and gaps in your knowledge or experience you receive after failing to get a better job or getting one. You might be handed a similar appraisal during a performance management process or after psychometric tests.

Research on talent development, specialist literature and personal interaction with self-made achievers spotlight common themes that may help some other high potential candidates make even faster progress. Here are 12 …

Don’t stew, review: Assessment feedback highlights areas of strength, but also identifies weaknesses and gaps. You might feel uncomfortable about some comments, but calmly review what the report has to say. Take time to reflect. The information could give you career-building insights and help you grow as a person.

Clarify the vision: Write down your own Vision & Mission Statement. Clarify what you want to achieve in life and in your career. Stick to the big picture.

Set goals: Use feedback to map areas for improvement. Set goals and attach timelines – short, medium and long. Targets should be doable, relevant, measurable and tough enough to stretch you. Don’t focus solely on career issues. Include health, relationships, family and personal interests. You still encounter monomaniac corporate achievers, but most are multi-faceted, broadminded and have a life beyond the boardroom.

Create a how-to list: Goals go on your to-do list. You also need a how-to list that tells you how to achieve targets. Cut down TV time and do more reading; books, journals and articles. You could find yourself following certain blogs or carrying out Net research to expand your knowledge. Building wider personal or career networks will probably go on the list along with gathering new experience and obtaining a mentor or coach. Further training and education usually feature high on the list as do lifestyle changes to promote fitness and wellbeing.

Role-modelling: Formal executive coaching and mentoring can be a big help, but you don’t need to wait for the organisation to put you on a programme. Quietly ‘co-opt’ your own mentor or several. Who are your role models – at work and in everyday life? You might admire the people skills of one senior colleague and the time efficiency of another. Try to spend time with these models. Copy and adapt some of their techniques. You can also identify a negative role model, somebody who displays behaviour you purposefully reject and don’t want to copy. Become a keen observer.

Start a learning journal: Carry an old-fashioned notebook or the digital equivalent. Jot down learnings or pieces of useful information. As you start to network more, read more and interact with role models import insights come your way. Record the data, reflect on it and put it to work.

Active listening: Make a conscious effort to listen more. Develop the habit of asking questions, noting the answers and encouraging discussion. You learn by listening not by talking.

Learning by doing: The way to develop new skills is to try them out. Apply your new knowledge. Look for opportunities to expand your experience. Volunteer for assignments that take you out your routine. Job enhancement stretches you and makes you more valuable to your organisation. Training courses are important, but learning on the job ensures skills are bedded in.

Optimise errors: Put mistakes to work by learning from them. What went wrong? Why? What would you do differently next time around? Ensure you cover issues like this in your learning journal. They ensure better outcomes down the line.

Unlearn: Things change. New knowledge creates new insights. You may have to unlearn some ways of doing things to apply fresh concepts. Alternatively, fresh ideas may turn out to have a short shelf-life. Unlearning keeps you open to new input.

Give and take: Don’t simply absorb information from others and learn from your role models; share information. Help others. Become a ‘sage’, a source of trusted information and encouragement. Give back.

Reward yourself: Self-development is not a chore. You should enjoy the progress you make in life and at work. Ensure you stay the course (it lasts a lifetime) by giving you and your family some rewards as you reach goals and move on.

These techniques are common to many top corporate performers. Another characteristic is worth noting. They are never feel sorry for themselves.

Achievers don’t say, “Oh, I never got the chance. The firm never developed me.” That’s because they develop themselves – and make an exceptional job of it.

*Michelle Moss is a Director at TALENT AFRICA, a leading executive search and talent management company and a member of the Signium Group.

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