Why Career Plans Don’t Work

Five year ago when writing my second book “Leadership DNA” I asked 25 CEO’s the same question: “How did your career plan look like?”

Surprisingly, the best CEO’s answered the same thing: “Do you really think I made a career plan?”

Especially I remember the answer I got from Ingolf Gabold, the head of drama production at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation and the man behind world famous drama series like The Killing and Borgen.

Here is what he said:

“Let me tell you how I decided that I was going to be the head of drama production at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR). When I was a teenager I sat down with my mum and asked her: “Mum, how do I become the head of drama production at DR?“

My mum said: “Ingolf, you start by dropping out of high school after one year. Then you start studying at the music conservatory with organ as your primary instrument, but after a while your teacher realizes that you have a big potential for composing music, and therefore you start studying music science. Subsequently, you accept a job at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) as a music producer, but after two years you lose motivation and start creating some courses in dramaturgy and storytelling technique.

A year later you get hired by a private TV production company before heading back to DR as a TV Program Director, but only 10 months into your new job you get fired. Then you do lots of different stuff for seven years, before DR reaches out again and offers you the job as the head of drama production, and you decide to accept that offer. See my son, this is how you become the head of drama production in the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.”

Success is truly a bumpy road!

This doesn’t mean that great leaders don’t make plans. They do. They make financial plans, marketing plans and ambitious recruitment plans. The difference is just that these plans are all about the project and the vision, not about themselves and how they climb up the corporate hierarchy.

The problem with personal career plans is that they often make people way too focused on politics and job titles and way too little focused on solving the task and being present.

Great leaders are much more “task ambitious” than “career ambitious”, and therefore their career roads look bumpy. Paradoxically, the best way to create a great career is often by not having a career plan.

Posted on 10th Dec 2013 by Rasmus Ankersen

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