Three Insights from Career Pathways That Expanded My Leadership Opportunities

Tuesday, September 6, 2022 - 11:15 am
Tammi Fleming

For the longest time, I wondered why I was unable to climb the executive ladder. Seriously, I’m pretty good at my job. I am a team player and a sought-after expert. I represent my organization with integrity. So, why can’t I get past the invisible wall and achieve a role at the executive level?

I had several assumptions about the invisible wall and who was manning it. It was during Career Pathways that I gained three valuable insights that shifted my thinking from a focus on external walls to the internal walls that were holding me back. Here are the three key insights I gained that multiplied my opportunities for advancement immediately.

Insight #1 – Don’t Equate Subject Matter Expertise with Leadership

If you are like me, you can quickly answer the question, “Why should you be an executive leader?” Like me, you probably respond by firing off an extensive list of skills, experiences, and examples of your leadership in action. But as I completed the initial Career Pathways leadership assessments and assignments, my first insight evolved as I wondered, “Have I equated expertise with leadership?” While both are valued in any organization, leadership skills are markedly different from subject matter expertise.

Insight #2 – There are Competing Expectations for POC in Executive Positions

As I read the Exploratory Study of the Career Pathways of Professionals of Color in Philanthropy, I stopped on the following quote:

“...there is an inside game and set of expectations that come with [an executive position]. Then there are different expectations from others about the level of advocacy and oppositional behavior needed to make diversity meaningful. Negotiating constraints brought on by the differing expectations is the tightrope we all walk as senior executives. You are no longer able to throw the grenade into the room when you are sitting at the table.”

Have my criticisms of past and current leaders of color been just? Am I guilty of holding unrealistic expectations? How will I balance these expectations? How will people judge me as a leader? This insight unlocked a new level of empathy for executives of color and broadened my perspective on the balancing act that they must navigate.

Insight #3 – Everyone Has Blind Spots

During a mentoring session with my executive coach, a standard element of Career Pathways training, she asked about my blind spots. “What blind spots?” I replied. And therein lies the problem: I realized that, without insight, I walk around with a positive but biased perception of my leadership capacity. Our tendency to apply the “halo effect” will result in missed opportunities for growth. Working and meeting regularly with my Career Pathways coach increased my self-awareness and helped me become more conscious of how others experienced me.

I graduated from Career Pathways only two months ago, but the impact of the insights I took away has been tremendous – and the Career Pathways journey doesn’t end at graduation. As I write this blog post, I am being considered for an executive position. Whatever the outcome, I am confident in my capacity to scale the wall to become an executive leader.

So, to our next cohort of Career Pathways participants, welcome aboard! Be brave. Dig deeper. Identify and explore your blind spots. Expand your network. And finally, I hope you enjoy the journey.

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Leadership Development