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The keys to success

In order to reach the top, executives need to exhibit competency and confidence and they need to be prepared to invest time in their professional development on an on-going basis. Continuous learning is a key success factor and going above and beyond the call of duty in their existing role is a common trait.

Through our years of experience working with senior executives across the globe, we have identified the keys to career success. All top leaders have invested in these five elements to get to where they are today:

1. Coaching

2. Mentoring

3. Sponsorship

4. Networking

5. Training

1. Coaching

CEOs of some of the largest and most successful companies have highlighted their confidence in executive coaches, for example both Henry McKinnell, former President and CEO of Pfizer and Meg Whitman, CEO and President of HP, turn to their coaches as trusted advisers.

All top executives benefit, or have benefitted, from an executive coach to hone their skills. Coaching can be used to develop a particular skillset or to support with career development. It serves to develop and cultivate self-awareness to enhance leadership. Coaching is often focused on behaviours and managing change.

What are the benefits of coaching?

• Offers a fresh perspective on personal and professional challenges

• Enhances decision-making skills

• Increases confidence

• Can improve productivity

2. Mentoring

Many senior executives say they have benefitted from fantastic mentors during their careers. Mentors serve to shape your internal career path and in many cases, like sponsors, they have to be earned.

Mentoring can be completed formally through an internal programme, or informally through your own networks. There is also huge value in acting as a mentor for others in order to share your knowledge and develop future leaders.

What are the benefits of mentoring?

• Helps to achieve your business and career goals

• Serves to build your network of contacts

• Useful to engage on a strategic level, not on minor tactical issues that you can get help on elsewhere

• Mentoring others serves to build leadership skills and enhance coaching skills

• Reverse mentoring helps to develop new skills such as the use of digital platforms and tools

3. Sponsorship

Sponsorship cannot be developed, it is a relationship that has to be earned. This is all about the value of the relationships you create. In order to be sponsored, you have to be known - sponsors are the gateway to new opportunities. If you deliver exceptional results and demonstrate high potential, you will increase the likelihood of winning sponsorship.

Executive sponsors are incredibly valuable and you must invest time in maintaining your relationships. From either a senior-ranking external or internal party, sponsorship can help you to progress by making sure you are visible and considered for career-advancing assignments, that top role or board position. Research from the Centre for Work-life Policy entitled: The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling, demonstrates a sponsor can benefit a career between 22-30 per cent.

What are the benefits of sponsorship?

• Promotes your visibility and opens up career opportunities

• Offers unique insights in terms of business and career advice

• Makes connections to senior leaders and other external contacts

4. Networking

Networking is essential to any top executive in order to build and exert influence. In addition to internal networking, be sure to look beyond and develop contacts with people from outside of your industry or field.

According to a LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co study, only 10 per cent of senior women executives said they had the aid of four or more executives to help them advance, compared with 17 per cent of senior male executives.

It is important to invest time and effort in developing your business network. Ensure you are known to key players in the executive search industry for example. Suppliers and advisors such as accounting and law firms can also provide a useful network.

What are the benefits of networking?

• Serves to develop a valuable community - both within your business and externally

• Learn from those around you

• Opens up new career opportunities

5. Training

Continuous learning and development is key to any executive career. Investment in honing and developing new and pre-existing skills is essential, both internal and external training is beneficial. Take every opportunity you can to learn and expand your skillset.

What are the benefits of training?

• Serves as a platform to achieve the other keys to success, for example earning sponsors and providing networking opportunities

• Learn new skills and gain knowledge

These five elements are crucial in getting ahead in your career. Coupled with a drive to succeed and the willingness to learn and develop, focusing and investing on the five keys to success will serve you well.

Other traits that all successful executives share are strong executive presence and an outstanding personal brand. For more information, see our recent blog on how to develop executive presence.

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact us.

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