“It’s not one of my ambitions to lead a team or become a CEO. Is a long-term programme right for me?”
A leadership programme? Surely that’s for managers who want to enhance their leadership skills? Actually, it’s more than that. Even if you focus more on your expertise and less on leading a team, a management programme gives you insights into yourself, your growth potential and the next step in your career as an expert.
In a traditional management career, you start out as a junior in a specific role, build your expertise and get promoted to a senior role. If you want to go further, the next step in your career is often becoming the head of a team. You will evolve from an expert to a manager. And a leadership programme gives you the tools you need to lead your team as effectively as possible.
But what if leading a team isn't really your thing?
Peter: “I was jealous of the people on my team”
Peter lives and breathes marketing. When he took a Masters in Marketing Management at Vlerick in 2002, he had a clear career path in mind. And he made his dream come true: ten years later, he was the Marketing Director of a major FMCG firm. “The only thing is that my job mainly consisted of reporting, planning and solving problems – especially people problems – in my 20-strong team… marketing didn’t come into it much by then. I was actually quite jealous of the people on my team. They were still essentially doing a marketing job.”
His lack of people management skills cost Peter dearly. He lost his job, but gained the insight that it was his marketing expertise that truly energised him. Today, Peter works as a Global Marketing Strategist for a worldwide player in the FMCG sector. He closely monitors global marketing trends, uses marketing data all the time and has two assistants.
“Peter's story confirms that it’s not an obvious move to step away from the hierarchical treadmill to continue focusing on what gives you energy,” says Veroniek De Schamphelaere, Manager of the Vlerick HRM Centre. “However, it does show that a senior management role is no longer the only solution. The role of leading expert can equally fulfil a burning ambition and in some sectors, such as the financial sector, it has even more status and prestige.”
Talented experts who struggle with their flawed coaching qualities – with a dented self-image and damage to the company as a result – are fortunately becoming more and more of a thing of the past. Emerging tech companies, with Google leading the way, quickly realised that they had to offer their experts who had no ambition to become team leads, equal – or even better – growth opportunities if they wanted to keep them. This is why more and more companies are providing multiple ladders: a management ladder, an expert ladder and sometimes also a project career ladder. That means two or three ladders that enjoy the same status and prestige within the company.
“Ideally, the company will also create the mobility to allow people to zigzag between these ladders,” Veroniek explains. “A junior engineer could climb a few steps up the expert ladder to become a senior engineer, but might actually be interested in becoming a team lead on the managerial ladder and after a few years end up steering a project in Dubai - on the project ladder, that is.”
Regardless of your growth path as a manager, expert or project leader, at some point in your career you will need general skills to grow: speaking the language of the financials, being able to network and communicate smoothly, having an open mind and being resilient in the face of constant change, being able to handle Big Data, exerting an influence and developing strong relationships and so on. If you are considered equivalent by your employer in your capacity as an expert, this also means that you bear the same responsibility when it comes to your career. As an expert, you are also in charge of your own career.