There are times in one’s career which require a step change, and call for a different skillset to be successful. The sooner you realize it, the faster you can advance.

When I was promoted to my current principal role (first time in my career, when I was supposed to move from ‘doing’ to ‘managing’ work), I got a book from my boss called ‘What got you here won’t get you there.’ I initially did not appreciate the gift given the title (and found it a bit sarcastic or even offensive), but when I read the subtitle (‘How Successful People become Even More Successful’), I liked it a bit more. And as I read through it, I began to really appreciate it, as it resonated very well with me and the transition I was going through. When my associate was promoted principal a couple of years later, I gave him the same book.

There are times in one’s career which require a step change, and call for a different skillset to be successful. To be a strong analyst/associate in a finance or consulting role, one needs to be analytical, detail-oriented, and hard-working (ability to survive on a little sleep helps). As one moves to a managerial position, the requirements change – project management and people management (both upwards and downwards) become more important. And when one advances to a director/partner position, ability to establish external relationships and bring business to the firm matter the most.

The sooner you realize the requirements at the next level, the sooner you can start developing and practicing them. Promotion decisions are usually done (at least in talent-driven organizations) on the basis whether you already exhibit the skillset required at the next level. My approach has always been to try to master the current role in the first half of my time at that level, and then start observing, developing and exhibiting the skills required for the next role in the second half. It is usually not very appreciated, if you try to do too much project-management or business-building, before you have mastered the basics.

Once you make it to the higher level, it is important to change the mindset and skillset. I have seen too many project managers doing their excel ‘because it is faster’ (than letting an analyst do it), or directors micro-managing the work process rather than being out there and hunting for new business. This approach is unfortunate as it (i) frustrates the people at the level below, who cannot step up, (ii) does not provide for proper coaching /passing the skills, and (iii) does not allow the more senior people focus on the job they should be doing (and/or preparing for their next level). Staying in one’s comfort zone keeps you there – and is that what you want?

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