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You Should Be Opportunistic When It Comes To Your Career

You Should Be Opportunistic When It Comes To Your Career

My clients often ask what the appropriate time period is to start positioning themselves for a new role. It’s always fascinating to look at the timing of this question. On average, employees start to think about and generally explore their future career path at the 10-month to one year mark.

It is around this time frame when employees have had enough latitude and perspective to have achieved quantifiable results. I would suggest, though, that the very essence of this question is extraordinarily important. Based upon this imperative, unfortunately employees often explore their next move way too late in the game.

[Related: How Valuing Your Current Position Helps You Achieve Your Ideal Role]

When, then, should you be thinking about your next move? The answer is, the very first day of your current role. This is exactly when you should seriously be considering your next move. This might seem counterintuitive or even controversial. After all, leaders should be focused on delivering results and thinking about the larger team.

I want to challenge this point even further. It is viewed by some that leaders who actively pursue their careers early on in the game are being opportunistic. Opportunism is viewed as self-serving.

This begs the question: what exactly is wrong with a self serving motivation? Of course we want to help make the world a better place whether it be access to goods, ease of doing business, advancements in many disciplines including science, health, agriculture, technology and so forth. However, unless one has elected to work for a truly altruistic enterprise where 100 percent of profits are reinvested into the cause such as feeding starving children across the globe then the basic fact is most of the employee population has a self serving goal. Making a greater contribution is not just in pursuit of the organization’s shareholders, but also employees who are vested in getting ahead on behalf of themselves and their families.

It is often argued that team interests, collaboration, and broader enterprise goals are in conflict with self promotion. These two drivers are viewed as mutually exclusive, one being laudable and the other unpraiseworthy.

I beg to differ. I think you can be a leader with great talent and have the ability to move an organization forward, while at the same time positioning yourself to be central to that evolution or revolution.

[Related: How Leaders Really Drive Change]

If you do great work this should be noticed. You do want to be tapped for the next senior role. Although the timing may be a surprise, those elected for the next senior role are thoughtfully considered candidates. This is not an impulsive decision.

These leaders generally chose a deliberate path, they chose to make a difference. In doing so they were thoughtful and pointed regarding whom they chose to advocate on their behalf. Which executives were respected, which executives had a voice at the table, which executives were known for producing great talent and which executives had a track record of promotable successors. In essence, these leaders explicitly chose to make sure they were noticed and were seen by those who matter.

So, is this opportunistic? You bet it is. We must be honest and transparent regarding why most leaders want to advance. It’s funny when we think about leadership development, we think of these initiatives as “programs.” This sounds better because there is a collective intent. Organizations want to be thoughtful about how they identify, select and cultivate their next generation leaders.

[Related: Ten Low Cost Options for Customized Leadership Development]

Of course these programs have currency and when done right deliver a return on investment. I do believe though, that leaders can simultaneously act on behalf of their deliverables as well as drive their own individual career path.

I urge every leader who wants to get ahead to be opportunistic. Identify and create a plan of how to be successful beyond your current role. For those of you who are enjoying the first day of your new job — congratulations. But make sure it is also the first day of your future role. If it is, you will be able to translate that vision into tangible and concrete steps.


Cindy Wahler, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a leadership consultant specializing in executive coaching and talent management. She can be contacted at

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