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Stop living someone else's dream - what does it mean to be the CEO of your career?

Last year I sat down with Kaarle McCulloch OLY on the 2ndwind Academy Podcast. Amongst her triumphs, she shared her personal setbacks and at times the distrust of those she used to respect. Building from her experience as a world track cycling champion, Kaarle concluded that it was essential to become the CEO of her career, meaning that we shouldn't let our employers set our personal development strategy or assume they will always have our best interests at heart.

Being the start of the year, my family and I were making plans for the coming 12 months, when her words came back to me.

What does being a CEO mean?

Being a CEO means taking responsibility for your actions and ensuring those who help or work for you are in line with your vision and values. If it’s a ‘company of me’, then I'm charged with maximising my value as measured by some form of societal impact, profit, market share and/or shareholder return, such as creating value for loved ones.

Can you do all the roles yourself? Early on, just like many startup companies, some of the roles can probably be covered by one person. However, sooner or later, getting the right guidance, incubation or team can accelerate progress towards the goal.

Which Roles on the Executive Team?

Typically, an executive team handles overseeing specific functions within a business. I played around with what those roles could be for me in terms of managing my career:

  • People & Culture (Human Resources): Taking care of my physical and mental well-being would certainly be one of these important elements. As would preparing for recruitment opportunities and tracking my personal development such as lifelong learning.

  • Chief Finance Officer (CFO): How do I look after my finances to enable my goals? Whilst money doesn't buy happiness, if managed well it can open up options.

  • Chief Strategy Officer: What market am I in and what sort of plan do I have in place to get me forward? Am I scanning my environment to see if blue ocean strategies are needed?

  • Commercial & Marketing Director: Who is promoting me? This is critical and probably worthy of an article all by itself! Do people know who I am, what I do and what problems I solve?

  • Technology & Operations: who oversees my day-to-day operations and gets me where I need to be on time with functioning technology!

  • Chief Data Officer: How am I listening to my body, my mind and my interactions with others to better interpret, understand and even predict what’s occurring?

  • Transformation & Projects: if I'm off track, what am I doing to get back on track?

The importance of a board

My financial services career has taught me the importance of strong internal oversight. Having an experienced executive board led by a chairperson can bring a sense of objectivity. My Mum in my case is the one that steers the ship based on a set of values, cultural awareness and a balance of key measures. In fact, at times she is ready to take charge when she judges a lapse in critical decision-making; fair to say she vetoed a couple of early joint ventures...

Finally, an advisory board. As a member of advisory structures, I recognise the importance of having prompt external guidance that isn't shareholder or compliance-driven. For me, this is my own life & business coach. Not accountable for compliance or performance, but to supply a different and objective perspective. To question me through a structured and empowered process.

Where to begin?

  1. Understand what motivates you, what you’re good at and what you value. Creating a compelling vision and strategy to make things happen is much easier with those in place

  2. Be aware of which roles in your business you can expertly deliver. Know when you would benefit from external help and where to find it

  3. Only recruit individuals and businesses you trust

  4. Encourage perspective and guidance from your governance and advisory board members early

It may seem strange to refer to a leadership team within yourself, but that’s exactly what you’re doing when you take matters into your own hands and start thinking about what it is you want from your professional life.
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