Want to make a mid-career change? 5 leadership skills you will need on your CV
Regardless of the reason; a new year, a change in circumstance, feeling stifled or unfulfilled, a desire for something new, a mid-career change can be an exciting but daunting prospect. While taking a socially distanced walk with a friend in our local park, he shared that he was considering a career change after 25 years of work, 12 of which had been spent in his current organisation.
He spoke guardedly but with enthusiasm about the type of work he was interested in pursuing next. Clearly the thought of the mid-career change was making him feel anxious. Afterall, he had spent many years building his skill, knowledge, expertise, and network and his sectoral understanding was outstanding. As we continued to explore his ideas, meandering along the damp leafy pathways his tone contained optimism, nostalgia, and trepidation. He wondered about the skill set he had developed and how the market would respond to his particular set of competencies. This reminded me of the insights shared by business leaders around the types of skills managers and leaders require in 2021. These leaders are in the process of reshaping their organisations, elements of which are focused on their recruitment and talent strategies. Of the range of desired skills that those in their mid-career can demonstrate, the following 5 are top of the list when taking up new roles in 2021:
- Critical thinking
- Effective communication
Flexibility: Adapting thinking, behaviour and response
Flexibility has always been considered useful. However, the pandemic has highlighted just how important it is. In Roffey Park Institute, we hear numerous accounts of sudden changes in organisational direction. From decisions being suddenly overturned, strategic directions altered, to evolving work practices, diversification and business process re-engineering literally overnight. Surviving in these conditions is tough for the organisation and the staff. Managing, or leading others through these conditions requires people who can flex and adapt to changing situations. This flexibility relates to thought, behaviour and range of responses.
People who exhibit flexibility of thought can identify new options and still manage to perform effectively even if they don’t fully agree with a decision. They are able to see the merits of change and think about how to navigate this change quickly. They are comfortable making decisions often in the absence of key information, because they can create alternative plans based on new information. Flexibility in behaviour allows for the application of the most effective behaviours related to the context. Flexibility in response enables the pace and tone to be set and changed depending on conditions.
Flexibility does not come naturally to all, and there are times when even the most flexible of us find it uncomfortable. Flexibility is not about bending and giving in, it is about the skill of adapting to the current needs with a clear understanding that these needs will change and to be effective you will be required to change too.
Critical thinking: Thinking that is appropriate to the situation
Pre-pandemic there were many organisations in which critical thinking and decision making was the privilege of the Senior and Executive teams. On a global scale, 2020 derailed the strategic plans of organisations all over the world. As a result, organisations need people who can make decisions, analyse information, evaluate outcomes and ideas, draw useful conclusions, synthesise information effectively and raise appropriate questions.
In 2021 there is an increasing demand for managers and leaders to understand organisational strategy and to be able to think critically to help engage and align teams within the organisation to its short- and medium-term strategic objectives.
Creativity: Reimagining and innovating
There is an abundance of evidence that creativity and imagination helped to solve many of the challenges faced by organisations during the pandemic. However, creativity requires openness, honesty, a willingness to comprise and not hold on too tightly to our ideas. When we can apply our skills of creativity to problem-solving we are willing to stretch our thinking beyond or comfort zone. People with high levels of creativity are not fazed by this stretch or the ambiguity that can accompany complex situations. They are adept at finding resolutions. Managers and leaders are being sought who can work with others to gain insights and share, receive genuine feedback and collaborate to generate solutions that will add value to the organisation. Creativity requires confidence to ask tough, challenging questions; What if? Why not? Could we? And to act on the answers for the good of the organisation rather than personal gain.
Self-confidence: Personal effectiveness in different contexts
By the time you have reached mid-career you have a bank of knowledge, skills, attitudes and ways of thinking which we may not always appreciate or value. While it is natural that in a new role or a new organisation there will be more to learn, we should have confidence in what we can bring and share in our new context. It is also natural that our levels of self-confidence will shift depending on the context we find ourselves in and to that end it is worth taking time to reflect and identify those situations where we feel most confident and those in which we feel less confident. Through this exercise you can open your mind to seek out opportunities to enhance your self-confidence and continue to build this skill.
Effective communication: Listening and questioning
The pandemic has not changed the emphasis on the types of skills needed for effective communication, if anything it has brought them to the fore. Listening and questioning which seem so basic make a significant difference to levels of staff/team engagement, fostering positive relationships and building a climate for trust.
Listening is a skill. The more we consciously practice it, the better we become. We can better identify what is important for those we work with (internal or external stakeholders). It enhances collaboration and information sharing ultimately supporting people working together effectively.
Questioning for understand builds trust. Questions can also help us to tap into our natural curiosity and helps us to deepen our understanding of people, policies and processes. Questioning can (when appropriately raised) help challenge the status quo. While this takes diplomacy and courage, as organisations re-engineer aspects of their work, this challenge is welcomed by many leaders.
For those of us making a mid-career change, the demonstration and articulation of these 5 skills will be different. Yet, they are skills that transcend workplace contexts. This means you can take them with you from one job to the next and continue to hone and develop them throughout your career. It may take a walk in the park with a friend to help you to realise how you use these skills and how you can talk about these skills to prospective employers. These skills also transcend time. They will be required post 2021, so taking the time to recognise your level of competence and confidence in effective communication, self-confidence, creativity, critical thinking and flexibility will likely yield you a return on your investment as you bravely step into new career opportunities.