Moving Up

Seven ways to prepare for executive leadership.

Oscar Wilde once wrote that experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes. Mistakes have consequences beyond teaching a lesson; they can be costly to a career. Acquiring the skills and knowledge needed for senior- level responsibilities, while avoiding costly mistakes, requires astute career planning.

Competition for senior leadership positions always has been stiff, but today, constricted numbers of positions combined with changing responsibilities of public sector leaders make it even more challenging. The Senior Executive Service turnover rate is around 8 percent. About 120 SES positions are vacant at any given time and each generates up to 150 applicants. There are 7,900 SES jobs. Thirteen percent of SES members change jobs each year, and just over 33 percent are eligible to retire. The feeder groups for these vacancies are people at the GS-14 and 15 levels; there are about 93,000 GS-14s and 57,000 GS-15s.

The competition is made even more difficult by the fact that the federal workforce is among the best educated in the world. Preparation, therefore, is critical for middle and upper-middle managers to gain an edge in the competition for senior spots. Those who aspire to the executive ranks must plan their own development and acquire the special skills needed. Here are seven ways to prepare for advancement to leadership positions.

  1. Make a list of target positions. Not everyone can reasonably seek a senior position. If you realistically aspire to the executive ranks, you will have a track record. It is likely to be in a technical or administrative specialty. Research and develop a list of executive positions for which your experience and training reasonably equip you to compete, and base your development planning on their requirements.
  2. Look for role models, good and bad. Everyone has had experience with executives who were admired for their abilities and those who were not. Both are valuable as role models. Learning firsthand which leadership styles succeed and which don't can guide you in developing your style and help you avoid mistakes.
  3. Be candid with yourself. Assess your readiness. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses is the first step toward closing any development deficit.
  4. Get advice and counsel. Address your development needs by seeking help from trusted colleagues and mentors. The mixture of advice-givers is important. You might seek out technical advice on specific work-related matters, or aid in interpreting cultural or political issues. Learn to solicit and value feedback and incorporate it into your developmental strategy.
  5. Be systematic. Use a structured approach that distinguishes between training, development and education.
  6. Leap at chances to lead in new situations. Look for opportunities to serve as a task force or special project leader outside your usual area of interest. Every new leadership experience will teach you something about yourself and will be invaluable in building your executive qualification profile.
  7. Never stop learning. Unlike university training, professional development is not neatly divided into hours and semesters. Instead, it is a career-long process whose objectives shift over time as political and governance conditions change. The more senior your position, the more essential advanced learning, not only to improve as a leader but also to guard against surprises.

The shifting emphasis from seniority to performance in evaluating senior executive candidates magnifies the importance of preparation. Structuring your plan to gain experience in leading amid ambiguity, inspiring people, handling change, building coalitions and managing risk will provide a valuable edge on the competition.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.