In this more lighthearted post, we consider the ways in which we as professionals tend to approach our careers, based on our development conversations with our proteges over the years. One lens with which to view how we take action is as a range/spectrum from spontaneous and emergent at one extreme, to structured and deliberate on the other. While where we sit on the continuum is influenced by our personalities and natural preferences, the environment we find ourselves in might cause us to shift too. We will also naturally be a blend of both, rather than exclusively at one extreme or the other.
To illustrate the extremes, consider these two characters:
Norah is the extreme character who believes enthusiastically in serendipity and possibilities. She loves arriving in new situations, assessing the lay of the land and crafting her approach as she goes. She’s the one who rushes in head-first, jumps off the cliff and assembles her plane on the way down (as the startup world likes to describe their work). Exploring and determining the best approach in the moment are Norah’s natural preferences, so she reacts well to the unexpected, seeing it as an exciting challenge to solve.
Most discoveries even today are a combination of serendipity and of searching.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Anna has meticulously planned her path. She’s done her research, got the maps and structured her itinerary. For her the joy is in advance-thinking, scenario planning, and risk mitigation – she’s thought through different possibilities in advance, and built her plan to accommodate these unknowns. She does particularly well when there is a clear path ahead that she can work her way through methodically, such as a series of professional exams she needs to pass to progress in her career.
Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.”
In between these two extremes, is a multitude of blends. Indeed, you probably recognise elements of both Norah and Anna in yourself, when considering your approach to your career e.g. Noranna the Explanner or Annorah the Plannorer! Seriously though, people towards the centre of the continuum would both know what they enjoy (because they’ve reflected on what drives them and past situations they’ve excelled in) and be open to capitalising on fortunate events that arise i.e. they’d have a broad brush picture of the environment without clarity on the details (yet).
Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.
If the circumstances require you to shift rapidly from one end to the other, that can induce extreme stress. For example, Anna landing in a startup without any hope of a job description because she’s wearing multiple hats at the same time, and changing them regularly… Or Nora being required to document the step-by-step process to completing specific tasks for new joiners in her team, while herself following the predefined path to qualification required by her profession.
And, to conclude, a simple quiz to help you think about which side you might lean towards. Do also let us know your thoughts on the explorer-planner continuum and how you shift along it in different environments. The quiz covers three situations at work:
At work, your diary is full as you have major deadlines on a project you have been collaborating with other teams on for a few months. The launch is depending on you getting everything done in time, and there are significant interdependencies between your and other teams.
At the last minute, your boss invites you along to a meeting with a connection of his who has offered to share his insights on the evolving nature of your industry. He tells you to send a delegate from your team to the project progress meeting that’s about to start. The heads of each function working on the launch are attending the progress meeting and are expecting you to attend too.
How do you react?
A: Seething inside at the latest unexpected interruption and the casual ‘drop what you’re doing’ approach of your boss, you remind him (not quite masking your irritation) of the importance of the launch and your attendance at the progress meeting to it. You decline his offer.
B: You excitedly jump at the chance to join your boss, seeing it as an opportunity to learn new things about your industry, and meet a contact that could be helpful to your future career.
C: You calmly explain to your boss the importance of your attendance at your pre-scheduled progress meeting, and ask him to invite you to future sessions on your industry as you are keen to learn more about it. You offer to send one of your team to his meeting instead.
You become aware that another business unit in your organisation urgently needs someone to spend a month in South America to help a local team with a project, starting on Monday. Your skills are a great match and they are keen for you to take on that project. What do you do?
A: Suggest alternative people across the business who may be able to help them, as your workschedule is already defined for the next three months and people are counting on you.
B: Say yes, book the flight, and rent out your apartment, rushing to get everything done at home before leaving over the weekend.
C: Given the timezone difference, offer to help them remotely on a part-time basis in addition to your existing work you’ve committed to. At the same time, see if you can defer some of your commitments to free up a week towards the end of the month to meet with them in person.
You’re new into a role, learning a lot and enjoying it. You’re riding the learning curve. Do you know what your next role will be?
A: Yes, you’ve mapped out the range of next steps typically taken after a role like yours, and you have a strong preference. You also know which division of the company you want to work in, what skills you require, and who you need to build relationships with to ease the future transition. You’ve discussed your thinking with your boss too, so she knows what expectations you have of her in 2-3 years’ time.
B: Not at all. You’re having so much fun now, and you know that something amazing will come onto your radar at the right time if you do this job well. Something always does.
C: You have a sense of what you might enjoy next, and what skills you’re currently learning that are transferable to other environments, but no map of where to go i.e. general direction but no specifics yet.
The more A’s you have, the more you’re like Anna. The more B’s you have, Norah. And, if you’re all C’s you’re balancing both approaches on the spectrum.
Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.”
Today we start a new multi-part series showcasing the careers of some independent Non-Executive Directors (NEDs). Our intention with this series is to share examples of journeys in practice across different markets and different industries within financial services to inspire you to reflect on your own careers and aspirations. We trust that these features will also complement our previous articles on:
The Institute of Directors operates in a number of countries, and provides helpful resources to those performing or aspiring to such roles. Examples are the United Kingdom and Southern Africa, and similar bodies in the United States and Australia are linked to later in the article. Also, if you are an actuary, the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries has a NED Member Interest Group (MIG) that I’d encourage you to join. Their LinkedIn presence is accessible here: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/7430820/ Please do let me know if similar groups exist in your professions, and I’ll mention them too.
As described in previous articles, the main role of NEDs is to guide their organisations in a statutory capacity. Seamus Creedon, NED MIG chair, writes in "The Actuary" magazine that “corporate governance is the toughest of team sports” and explains that “good NEDs will use their skills and experience to aid the collective understanding of the whole board. A good board will be diverse [ito its members’] backgrounds, experiences and genders.”
For brevity, our shorthand NED includes iNEDs (independent NEDs) – some countries emphasise when a director is independent but others don’t. Eagle-eyed readers may spot this series’ vignettes in magazines of some of our members’ professional organisations over the coming months – I’ve tried to align my dates of sharing them here with the magazine publications as far as possible, although their versions differ, including in length. Do let us know if you see them in your magazine.
Read on for the stories, reflections and suggestions of three NEDs internationally: Lusani Mulaudzi, Hazel McNeilage and Tony Lally.
Nikki Hill is an executive coach passionate about helping professionals find their voice and stride as they step up in their careers. She’s worked in organisational behaviour roles across luxury fashion, telecommunications, food retail and financial services. In her personal career journey, she describes her multi-interest studies in Edinburgh, Cambridge and London, her experiences in the Far East and Europe, and her ongoing self-development. This is Nikki’s story:
“I remember the moment a lightbulb went off in my head and I knew what I wanted to do in my career. I was in a lecture theatre in London, learning about the GLOBE study of leadership, and all of a sudden my interests in culture, psychology, business and careers collided. It was Week 2 in a Foundations of Management course at the London School of Economics (LSE) I’d signed up for after graduating from university and I was hoping it would help give me a sense of direction about what to do next.
Up until then I’d had a whole range of wildly different career ambitions. I’d started university at 18 studying Law at Edinburgh University, with grand aspirations to be an international human rights lawyer. By the end of the first year I never wanted to read another statute again and my two sets of work experience - shadowing a barrister in Brisbane, Australia, and a family solicitor in Oxford, United Kingdom - had only cemented the fact that I loved the idea more than the reality of practicing law.
Take two involved studying English, Drama and Education at Homerton College, Cambridge, and conjured up visions of working as an editor or starting my own theatre company, before shifting to teaching after ten years or so ‘in industry’. Towards the end of my final year I’d been introduced to the idea of management accounting which I thought sounded rather appealing. It seemed to be about understanding the story behind numbers and being able to influence decisions based on insight derived from how a company was performing in different areas. I reasoned I could do that for a theatre and still be connected in that way. And, that was why I signed up for the Foundations of Management course that led to my epiphany - I went in wanting to learn more about accounting, and discovered a love for something completely different!
Suffice it to say I’ve had varied interests along the way, and my falling for Organisational Behaviour (business psychology) as a passion felt notably different... The jobs that seemed most connected to Organisational Behaviour were in Human Resources (HR) and I secured a three month graduate internship at the CIPD - the United Kingdom’s professional institute for HR.
For the first time, the idea of what I thought I wanted to do matched up with the reality of the role. The more I learned, the more I was interested. I definitely struck it lucky being asked by the CIPD to support a research project on ‘How to Attract Top Graduates into the HR Profession’ and I had great freedom in designing and running the study, interpreting the results and making recommendations. I learned how important it is to stay curious and open minded when looking for the right fit for your career. We spend far too much of our lives at work to not care about what we do or settle on a path too early based on what seems to be a good idea, even when experience tells us otherwise.