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I am constantly surprised how people’s 2nd Half Career milestone creeps up on them without them being aware. Then, as the forces come into play that limit their future career progression, they are surprised that they’ve run out of options and they’re looking at a future of work that is entirely unsatisfactory.
What is half-time?
Well, on the basis that between 25 and 45 and between 45 and 65 are each 20 years, then you could say 45 is half-time. I certainly believe 45 is half time but on a different basis. Let’s think of 15, which is the time that really you should be getting your first holiday work experience, to 45, a span of 30 years. Now consider, 45 to 75 as the second span, because you may well want to be doing something enjoyable and income generating into your mid-seventies (and possibly beyond), 45 is still half-time but getting your second half wrong is going to impact 30 years of your life rather than just 20 years. For most people, work free retirement at 65 turns out to be a fantasy bringing painful disillusion.
Leaving it too late
Sadly, too many of the people that I meet with have got into their late fifties and early sixties before they really contemplate their Second Half Career. Now, you find that the length of time you stay with each new employer has been diminishing, perhaps from 5-10 years to 3-4 years, and eventually as short as 2-3 years. You also experience a longer gap between employers that grows from 3-6 months to 12 to 24 months. You can end up unemployed and looking for work almost half the time.
So, if you have been used to roles at £150k a year and you’re only working half the time, your effective salary is only £75k. Worse, the angst and pain of sitting there wondering when you’ll get the next role becomes increasingly unacceptable.
But isn’t 45 too soon?
But surely you will say, ‘45 is when I’m at the height of my powers, 45 is when I’m on my way to the top job, 45 is the point at which I should be looking to my future in corporate life rather than looking to an alternative such as a Portfolio Executive workstyle’.
Well, ‘yes’ and ‘no’. At 45 you may begin to recognise that corporate life is not going to provide the workstyle that you want going forward. Yes, you’ve had great success. Yes, you may now be the Finance Director, the Marketing Director or the Sales Director in a significant organisation at significant scale. Yes, you are well respected by your team and by the leadership that you report to, but there are three nagging doubts that may not go away.
1 – Will your next promotion be to a bigger, better job for a more exciting organisation? Will you move from your divisional role to a group role? Will you move onto a more prestigious, larger organisation? Or, is it more realistic to expect that sooner or later there will be a reorganisation, an acquisition or merger. Will you be subject to a compromise agreement and your next role will be a step down into a smaller or less prestigious organisation, where the pay may not be so good. Will you find that the resources and support of a global brand will no longer be there and you’re never going to get that top job.
2 – Maybe you’re finding that the costs of keeping at the top are becoming increasingly unacceptable. You now have teenage children perhaps, your marriage is under threat because of the extended hours you’re working. You’ve got a great lifestyle but you are still leveraged with debt and, with increasing interest rates, the writing is on the wall that you’re not going to have it so good forever. Perhaps being at the top of your particular tree has lost its attraction. You’re finding you’re using you’re professional skills less and less. It’s more a round of corporate politics meetings and ever-diminishing influence about what you do, when you do it, and how you do it, because, surprisingly, as you get more senior your ability to take control of your own working life diminishes.
3 – More and more is expected of you: not only do you have your leadership role in your function, but you’re involved in cross-functional initiatives. You’re expected to go out in the evenings to attend industry events or entertain clients. At the drop of the hat, you may have to get on a plane and go anywhere in the world. Somehow being at the top of your game is not all you thought it would be cracked out to be. May be you would like to have the opportunity to reduce the pace, to do something different and nurture your family so that your marriage survives (divorce is incredibly expensive). You want to be able to maintain your physical and mental health: not just while you’re at peak capability in your mid-forties. You want to protect your future.
The time is now
Even if you’re going to seek to stay where you are for another three to five years; even if your next job will be in another corporate role: now is the time to prepare for your Portfolio Executive future because there are several useful things you can do now, that will prepare you for that future.
The first thing is to significantly improve your profile beyond the business where you currently work. The huge risk is you’re so busy engaging in corporate politics and internal networking that you fail to build and maintain your external network. I’m currently working with several people who have recognised that, even though they don’t anticipate leaving corporate life in the immediate future, they need to build up their external profile, so they are ready for a future beyond corporate life.
Extending your Influence
This involves becoming more influential within your target community. You also need to be very clear about what that target community is. In a Portfolio Executive workstyle, your new target community will be CEOs of businesses that are smaller than the corporate environment you’re working in now. You will therefore need to be talking to CEOs or private organisations who will bring you on as an advisor. You need to be saying something distinctive and meaningful about your professional capability in the terms that relate to what a CEO wants and looks for. You need to be taking a position, establishing an opinion that is a little bit different, perhaps, from your peers so you get noticed. You need to be regularly communicating to the outside world.
My recommendation is that you start with LinkedIn. You rebuild your LinkedIn profile to show how your skills, knowledge and experience are positioning you for the future. You start to produce a weekly article on LinkedIn that will be relevant and interesting to that target CEO community that will be part of your future. You start to do regular posts, building on those articles, so that your presence in LinkedIn starts to increase. You decide on a cause, concern or point of view that you’re going to distinctively advocate that means you get noticed beyond your peers.
Leading through Influence
As a Portfolio Executive, you will be primarily leading through influence and as a trusted advisor, rather than through direction and positional authority. There are some powerful skills and experiences you can build up in the meantime that prepare you well for that new situation.
The first thing I strongly recommend is to get training in executive coaching and mentoring. (You may well be able to get your current employer to pay for this). A Level 7 qualification from a reputable organisation is a prerequisite for good coaching skills. This postgraduate qualification will require you to do a significant amount of work. You will have to get a significant amount of coaching experience. This will equip you to be a more powerful leader in the situation you’re in, and in the way that you support and develop the senior managers who report to you, as well as equipping you for the second recommendation I have, which is that you take on at least one non-executive position.
Become a Non-Executive
There are four kinds of non-executive positions that are out there, that are readily accessible to an experienced professional like yourself.
1 – Become the trustee of a charity
Charities are always looking for great trustees, with strong professional backgrounds to support their organisation. But be careful about the scale of charity that you seek to support. You are becoming a trustee of a charity for 3 reasons. To learn how to act as a trusted advisor to the CEO of that charity, to understand governance at board level in an organisation, and, as importantly to be amongst other trustees that will enhance and extend your network into the future. You will also find it personally rewarding to give something back. Engage as a trustee of a charity of sufficient scale. I would suggest, just to make a real contribution, the charity needs to have a turnover of more than half a million. Significantly more is even better.
2 – Become a school governor
If you are currently a parent then becoming a parent government is relatively straightforward. You get very good training in how to be a governor. This governor training equips you to understand the role of governance and become an effective trustee. You’ll get the opportunity to improve your influencing skills and to understand a different environment. You will get detailed training on how to operate effectively in a board environment. Ideally you will graduate to become the chair of governors in a school.
3 – Become a non-executive of a for-profit business
This can be more difficult, but if your corporate employer has a strong brand, you may find that it’s relatively easy to be get onto the board of another business in a related but different industry as a non-executive. You may even get encouragement from the directors of the business that you’re working in. I always recommend people to look at an organisation called Women on Boards https://www.womenonboards.net/ . Surprisingly, there is no need to be a woman to join.
I wouldn’t ever go to one of the paid for services that promises to find you positions and essentially just sign you up to a glorified mailing list.
4 – Build in a relationship with a university
I discuss this in more detail here. Ideally you will develop a relationship that will establish you as a visiting professor. If your organisation already has an existing relationship with a university, then see if you can build on that relationship and become a visiting professor, visiting lecturer or faculty member for one of their executive programmes.
When I was at Andersen, I sponsored a master’s programme in computer science at Imperial College. That gave me great exposure to Imperial College and could have given me an opportunity to build a relationship with them. In the end I developed a relationship with UCL and became a Visiting Professor there.
Actively nurture your future network
Actively nurture the network you’re going to need in the future. Reach out to build and strengthen your relationships. Reconnect with the people from your school, and university. Think about how you can engage with the SME community. Look to support enterprise, professional or industry awards to develop new contacts.
Look at whether those parts of your supply chain that are smaller businesses are a source of important relationships. Consider how you might participate in industry forums that will give you access to SMEs. Engage with your professional institution.
Forty five is half-time and you need to be looking at the options for your 2nd Half Career. Check out this on-demand webinar http://2ndhalfcareer.com/ to better understand the challenges you face or look for our regular LinkedIn Live by searching ‘Your 2nd Half Career – The Best is Yet to Come’ to hear the journey of others.
Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.