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August 28, 2015

Do You Know Your Career Currency? Making the Most Of Your Consulting Career (Part 2)

4 mins read

In last week’s post Do You Know Your Career Currency? Making the Most of Your Consulting Career (Part 1) we explored two of the foundational phases in building your consulting career, building your skills and mastering the art of communication. This week, we’re back to talk about the senior level phases of establishing leadership and decision-making! Without further ado…

Phase 3: Leadership

If you’ve navigated your first two currencies wisely, you’re now a credible expert with a skillset. What next? Armed with expertise and a mouthpiece, you can now supervise. (We’ll call it “supervise,” but it comes in various forms under names like lead, manage, oversee, etc.). Regardless of what you call it, or whether you have authority or just responsibility, you have value in supervising others.

So what? What does this mean exactly? At its most elementary level, it’s showing people by example and letting them copy you. Supervision becomes leadership if you replace showing with teaching, and eventually set forth expectations for more junior colleagues. Not every expert can or wants to manage, but those who can will see their value transform into a third currency: leadership. The market values someone who can focus team members toward a collective goal. It also values someone who can help others gather skills. Now you’re reading leadership books, writing performance reviews, and being asked who deserves promotions and bonuses. This is where lots of people get off the bus, and that’s fine. Life has become complicated, but you’re more valuable because someone’s got to do it.

Here’s what to avoid at this stage: forgetting about what you love to do. Many people find themselves in a supervisory position without explicitly choosing it. Leadership can be exceptionally satisfying, especially if you’re leading a team that does something you love. But it also requires a new skillset, and the dreaded P word – politics – starts to infect your career. If leadership doesn’t appeal to you, you can always continue to advance as a superstar expert. If that’s you, make it clear to your organization that the leadership currency doesn’t hold value for you, even though the marketplace values it.

Phase 4: Decision-Making

By this point in your career journey, you’ve added value as an expert, a communicator, and a leader. Time to retire? Not yet. There’s another currency on your horizon: decision-making. The marketplace puts a high value on good decisions, especially when those decisions are backed up with expertise, and followed through with confidence. It’s been said that the art of good decision-making is rooted in this axiom: it’s less important to make the right decision as it is to make the decision right. Every challenge has a host of right answers, and it takes follow-through to confidently choose one and follow through with it, even when the going gets tough (which it will).

Doing this well takes expertise and leadership, and the ability to communicate, and guess what: those are the three currencies you gathered earlier! Understanding the value of decision-making answers every 25-year-old’s burning question: why does a 50-year-old executive who works 40 hours a week earn more than a 25-year-old worker working 60 hours a week? The value of those decisions, and the associated rewards and avoided risks, is substantial. Because of the years you’ve invested learning things the hard way, you can now see opportunities and risks that others don’t see so apparently. That’s worth a lot, whether you’re in real estate, technology, or manufacturing, and it’s especially valuable in consulting where every problem you face is one that someone else has failed to solve.

Here’s some advice for you when your value is based on the currency of decision-making: don’t forget about your other three currencies! You still trade in those currencies, and it behooves you to “shift gears” frequently, exhibiting expertise, communication, and leadership to accompany your decisions. If you don’t, you run the risk of being a decision-maker without message or credibility. That can start to deflate your value, and at this stage in your career, you don’t want that!

So In The End….

Well that’s it: if you’ve gotten this far after decades, you’ve probably earned a happy retirement. You’ve successfully converted your currency three times (at least) to maximize your value to the marketplace. Whether you’ve done so at one company or ten, or through zero promotions or ten, is far less relevant than the increase you’ve seen in your value. I’ve worked at four companies over 28 years (so far), and I’ve never been promoted once. Keep your eye on the scoreboard that matters most: the value you provide, and what currency it’s expressed in, and you’ll do just fine!

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