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Career Choices

Having advanced in your career you might want to look back. And if you do, you’ll see that you are not the person that you used to be. How many principles did you have to sacrifice on the altar of corporate progress? How many situations were uncomfortable? How many times have you done something that was not totally in line with your values? The answer is probably often. And that’s not bad. Such is life. We live and we make choices.
You have to decide what you want and if you have got what it takes to be on a higher level of responsibility. But what does that mean? It means that you have to check if you have the required capabilities – not competencies – and if you are willing to make a compromise on some of your capabilities that would hinder performance on a higher level.


What are these capabilities? There are 5 of them.

  • Intelligence (IQ): Are you smart enough to analyse, come up with the necessary arguments and reasoning? Can you understand and work with the figures? Are you able to come up with the concepts and ideas that can shape the future?
  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ): Can you deal with people? Do you have empathy? Can you send consistent messages in an adaptable way to different audiences? Can you build relationships that are warm? Can you anticipate people’s feelings and reactions? Can you adapt your behavior in such a way that you do not offend your fellow-man?
  • Political Intelligence (PQ): Can you take influence? Can you network and build useful (instrumental) relationships that are of value to you and the company? Can you leverage your work by using your channels and relationships in such a way that the message you want to send gets the necessary amplification and support? Can you analyse the political landscape and act upon that analysis?
  • Moral Intelligence (MQ): Do you have a moral compass? Do you have values and principles that are important to you? To what extent are you willing to defend those in any discussion. Morality has to do with the impact of your actions on others. Are you willing to set moral issues aside to get to the result you need? Are you willing to accept e.g. bribery to enter or stay in a market? Do you want to make choices based on principles or rather based on outcome? Do you work with universal principles (what is right and wrong) or with instrumental principles (what needs to be done)?
  • Resilience (RQ): Can you take the heat? Are you robust enough to come with the stress related to the job? Can you recover fast enough from blows and set-backs? Are you able to handle the pressure that goes with the function? Do you bounce back or do you break?

Your Capabilities and your Career

These questions are important if you want to decide upon your next career steps. And what is important is that you do not need all 5 of them to the same extent on every level.
CapabilitiesYou need your IQ, your PQ end your RQ on board level. That’s pretty much the same as on executive level. On managerial level you would need all your skills, but some of them are less developed.
Now what does this mean for morality? Does this mean that you can have morally deprived people on board level? I do not think so. It means that the job requires less dependency on moral principles than other jobs. Or it might mean that you can make the moral call on board level, whereas a manager should not take decisions on moral issues by himself. It’s up to the board to decide whether we accept certain moral transgressions in a certain country to do business. I trust that people have morals on every level.
An important issue are the political skills. Politics sometimes seems a dirty word. We think of Machiavelli. But what Machiavelli described so many centuries ago, was the required behavior to survive in the political world of Florence. And many of those principles are still valid today. But sometimes political skills are restricted to knowing what to say, when and to whom. And it’s also paramount to analyse the political landscape. Who can I trust? Who does agree with me? Who are my allies? There can be positive politics. But depending on your context, you might need to sharpen these skills to become effective.
And intelligence? That you always need. I must say that the evidence for several kinds of intelligence is limited. Scientists tend to concur that there is only one kind of intelligence. Intelligence – together with attitude – determines a lot. You cannot train it, so companies had better selected intelligent people.

See it in the context

Everything above depends on the context. What everyone should do is decide if he or she has what it takes in the context in which he or she is working today. Don’t bother trying to change the context with your personal energy. You will fail. The only way you can influence the context is by working your way up. But by the time you get there you might have changed a lot. And maybe you will get there only to find out there’s not enough oxygen for you. So know yourself.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

One Comment

  • This is a very interesting approach regarding career choices. Understanding your capabilities is a laborious work, but can definitely keep you on the right track. Indeed, political skills do sound somehow threatening, but necessary in most key positions. Of course, it is the job of each candidate to put them to good use.

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