Sitting across my desk, she grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen.
With seventeen years of really interesting leadership experience in both startup and Fortune 10 companies, she was trying to quickly illustrate what she considers to be her sweet spot.
Turns out, she loves the startup life. To clarify, she loves startup life at roughly second round funding when she has the traction to innovate and really drill some smart roots from which a company can thrive while the team is still nimble enough to be led.
It took her being in a Fortune 10 company and a lot of self-reflection to reach this conclusion, by the way, which is always an authentic part of the journey as an engaged leader.
Ten seconds into her drawing, I could hardly keep my mouth shut, because she’d just sparked a major career development strategy.
You see, we’re in the process of building her boat — as I’ve called it since another client coined the term several years ago — so she’s ready to sail when the right opportunity comes along.
She’s tending to her career brand. She’s cultivating her reputation in the long term so she’s clearly known for what she loves, and by extension, what she does well.
I tried not to interrupt, but finally did: “So let’s tie your drawing back to something we talked about 30 minutes ago. Cultivating your reputation. Why not purposefully write articles and open yourself to speaking engagements that focus on that sweet spot. You’re at point X right now — a large company, steering a massive ship — so it’s not obvious that you prefer being in a startup. So why not use that authority to become a resource — an example — to startups with Series B funding who really need the intellectual and experience firepower you offer.”
I continued: “Title your articles and presentations strategically, so you not only speak to the audience at hand, but so the titles have a life beyond the moment. Then when you list them on your LinkedIn profile, in your executive bio, in your resume, you have this clear specialization — and in time, you open the door wider as a passive candidate. And odds are higher that you’ll be sought for just the right fit.”
Sure, you might be one of the folks we all admire who already knows this strategy. Forbes contributors do. HBR contributors do. They write to their brands, which brings to them even more enjoyable opportunity.
But for others of us, it’s the little tips like this that flip on a switch and we’re on our way. I have a feeling good things are on the horizon for her in a career that’s already pretty stellar.
Do you have a sweet spot that isn’t being fully utilized or realized? It can feel like a Titanic effort to redirect. But the tiniest rudder — the smallest strategic adjustment — will change one’s direction over time. And sooner than you know it, you’ll be in your ideal role looking in the rearview mirror, smiling back at what was once today.
Turn the wheel today. I’m serious. Make a decision and take a step forward, because if you’re like so many of our species, you’ll be the first to under-prioritize yourself.
Until next time!