Why “everyone” believes climbing the corporate ladder is the ultimate way to build a career?

Maybe it is me who has a different attitude versus the rest of others who think that building a career means climbing the highest possible. For my part, I have always switched between a senior executive role and a more specialist role. I have never been driven to be a top executive, which does not mean that I do not thrive in that role. But that does not mean I have to be the CEO or have a director title. I may well have a subordinate specialist position where I can dig into the profession rather than always being the visionary strategist. My confidence and security are not in the title or position, but in the subject that interests me, whether it is an operational position or a more professional position in process efficiency.

I been asked “ Why do you choose a professional position over top executive positions?”.  Because the specialist position interested me more and saw several opportunities to learn and develop myself both as a senior executive and as a human.  Once a time earlier in my career I had been in charge to lead the process of consolidate 7 different distribution companies into one unit with 1500 employees. After this period, I choose to go down to an operative Project Director position to lead the Project Management Office, PMO instead of entering a CEO position. Why? Because I found it more interesting to lead an operative PMO and be hands-on. For some reason, I find that very few people understand this. For most people, this would be considered career suicide. How would you explain to any prospective employer going forward that you willingly decided to step down? In particular, few recruiters understand that they want to choose something other than and continue upwards towards the top of a larger and larger company. I wish more people realized that life is more than climbing a ladder.

I experienced same mentality when I early in my career chose to educate myself as a chef. “this was a NOT wise choice Glenn; you should have chosen business and administration and not a profession as a chef”. But I wanted to something practical, while also having a passion for food and wine. Today, 20 years after this so-called catastrophic choice of educational course I have earned my PhD in Management. Now, at first glance I am often judged as an academician without practical experience. Although, my dissertations have been practically designed and used in actual work-related issues. This may not be seen at first glance. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” says an expression. Every single day we meet people that we judge from a first impression, not infrequently we may consider many negatively. It’s important not to forget that nobody is actually just what we see. Not infrequently, the first impression is wrong, due to it only gives us a piecewise and divided image rather than a complete one. One should never let the first impression be an accepted truth.

The fact is that not everyone needs to climb further on the corporate ladders to another CEO position to feel successful. If you are a recruiter, HR professional, or simply manage people on any level, it is important to take the time to understand each person’s unique career goals. For my own part, it has been more important to have a position where I can develop myself and acquire new knowledge and contribute to other people develop themselves on their journey,  rather than having a director position. The word “career” is a synonym for occupation, trade, profession, or vocation. This definition refers to what a person does to earn a living. The original meaning of a career came from riding, where the term referred to the horse’s fastest gait, and meant “running track” or life track . The mantra “once boss, always boss” belongs to the past. Everyone who serves as a top executive should understand that the top management role is only on loan for a period. Nothing is as pathetic as when top executives cling to power and position. It is like a dictator who do not understand their time to rule and lead is over.

When I move from senior executive to a lower- or specialist role I do NOT look at this as a downgrade. NOR do I look at it as an upgrade when I move from a specialist to the role as CEO. I do not identify me with the position or title I might have there and then. My identity lies in who I am as a person and what I contribute professionally. For me, it is all about choosing what I want to do and what I find rewarding and interesting with a role. What senior executives and recruiting personal should try to understand, is that everyone has a different idea of what their career path looks like. Some simple want to go work their 9-5, head home, and not think about work until the next day. Others do not want to take on the responsibility of leadership roles and would rather produce and do the work they love. Others make family a larger priority and do not want to put in the 70+ hours per week or travel extensity that may be required on an executive level. This career path diversity is important in any workforce. Sometimes it is good that not every person on your team is vying for it. Employees can contribute and add value to your organization in so many ways beyond just advancement. What companies can greatly benefit from the skilled workers that are happy staying right where they are. That does not mean that they can’t be an integral part of your team or have a role in the success of your company. I have several times hired people who have been overqualified for a position with great success. Once, I hired a state-licensed accountant with long experience and expertise from one of the major consultants and accountants in Norway. The person had applied for a “simple” controller position. Immediately I saw the potential of the applicant, and I understood what motivated this person to choose a “lower” position than what she was qualified for. This has been one of the best appointments I have made, despite she was being far above the so-called overqualified person. So, before you automatically reject a potential “overqualified” person, find out what is their career path and what they are motivate by and what’s their attitude.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely (John Dalberg-Acton) perhaps more important than ever to point this out to people in positions of power. This is definitely something that every leader should reflect on what matters. In particular, it may seem that some managers have excessive confidence in their own assessments. Being able to move both sideways and downwards and back again or you might thrive in a specialist role and stay there. It’s about being able to have different perspectives and not be seated in their top manager’s perspective, but the ability to see other perspectives, which is easier to do from the bottom up than always from the top down.

If you feel like it and want to take a step down, do it, you can always climb back up. Stop paying attention to anyone who says you just want to ruin your career. Follow your own path and trust yourself!

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