Ready To Move Up The Career Ladder? Here’s Some Advice

Thad Lurie, CAE, COO at EDUCAUSE, and David DeLorenzo, CAE, associate executive director at the American Urological Association, detail the early steps to take when contemplating a career move. Hint: Get ready for some honest self-assessment.

Sure you want to move up in your career, but what does it take to actually take the next step?

Whether it’s finding the right professional development opportunities or partnering with a mentor, rising up the career ladder is not prescriptive. Two association professionals, who last week shared advice on what to expect once you’ve made the leap to an executive or C-suite role, had some additional advice on preparing yourself to get there.

Below, Thad Lurie, CAE, COO at EDUCAUSE, and David DeLorenzo, CAE, associate executive director at the American Urological Association, share their perspectives on moving up.

How proactive do people need to be in taking that next step?

Lurie: You need to be a self-advocate. You don’t necessarily want to be selling yourself all the time, but at the same time it’s very rare that someone’s going to look at what you’ve done and say, “Wow, what great work. Let’s promote you to the executive level.”

Something that you can do—it’s not skills development—but talking to people who are in the role that you would like to be in is very, very helpful.

We were talking about this topic with a panel of CIOs in higher ed [during a “Future Traits of the Successful CIO” working group hosted by EDUCAUSE and U.K.-based Jisc], and one of the guys on the panel told an excellent story where he was looking to become a CIO and he sat down with another CIO and said, “I think I’m ready. I’ve got the skills. I can do the job.”

Talking to people who are in the role that you would like to be in is very, very helpful.

And his mentor said, “Well let’s take a step back. Let’s write some lists. You write down 10 things that you do and think about every day, and I’ll do the same. And then we’re going to compare.”

Of course they were completely different because the CIO who had a lot of experience was at a very strategic high level of thinking, and the guy who wanted to be a CIO was still looking at the network and talking about servers.

What the mentor was able to say was, “Look at my list and start working on these things. Start thinking in this way. Start inserting yourself into these conversations so that you can get some practice and get some experience and start to kind of find your sea legs with respect to how some of this goes.”

What should people be considering and contemplating when they think they’re ready for the next step?

DeLorenzo: I think you have to know yourself, and you have to know the job.

Finding a mentor is a great way to help find that out, but I see a lot of people who don’t really understand what it means to be an executive with transformational thinking. They are just thinking that it’s the next step up doing the same types of things that they’ve been doing. You’ve got to know what you’re good at and what you enjoy and like doing.

Ask yourself: What do you want to be doing? Because it’s going to change. And I’ve seen people that have moved into more of the senior level and not necessarily succeeded because they couldn’t let that day-to-day type of thinking go, and they weren’t able to think strategically and function differently and communicate differently.

In addition to mentors, what other types of professional development should people seek out if they are interested in transitioning to the executive level?

DeLorenzo: You certainly want to go find things that you’re not comfortable with. If you’re looking to move up the ladder, doing a hard self-assessment is very important because you have to address skills that you may not have.

Whether it’s strategic thinking, public speaking, or a lot of different things that you’re going to be doing at an executive level, there’s just a lot of skillsets that are different that you may not have or may have never tapped into.

Lurie: Executive training is not focused on skills. It’s focused on other things like you need to be fluent in strategic planning; you need to understand the business; you need to understand the finances. There’s all these different components that may not have been things that you were working on before.

Where getting to that second-level rank is a lot of skills training, I think getting past it is much more networking, soft skills, leadership, some of the [less tactical] squishy stuff.

Have you made the jump to an executive-level position? What types of professional development opportunities did you find helpful? Please share in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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