By Magella Burnett

In this series, Senior Recruitment Consultant in the Charities & Not-for-Profit sector, Magella Burnett, will be talking to industry leaders about how they have progressed in the past and their advice to those looking to follow in their footsteps.

This week Magella spoke to Patrick Barker, an Interim CEO…

When and how did you decide you were ready for the next step up in your career? 

I see career management coming down to a “push” and a “pull”. You need a reason to leave your present job, and a reason to go somewhere else. Without both these forces, you are in a state of career inertia. The “pushes” I have had in my career have largely come from no longer being challenged in the job I had at the time. Recently, as someone who now provides interim management, my push is commonly a contract coming to an end.

A lot can be attributed to being provided the opportunity to take the next step in a career. I take a more active approach and I look for opportunities, or ways to create them. This brings me to the “pull”. A pull is where you are going to somewhere that excites you, and maybe even to a role that scares you a little. A degree of nervousness is important. This feeling isn’t necessarily about a fear of the unknown (e.g. meeting a new team) but rather borne out of a realisation that you are stretching yourself. Without that, you have to ask yourself if you are truly taking a step up. To create an opportunity, you must be open. Openness is keeping an eye out for opportunities and maximising the chance that opportunities might materialise. I became CEO because I had experience of being on a Board as a trustee in my spare time, and I had the self-belief to take the opportunity. Simply by being good at your job, is unlikely to be sufficient when looking to progress to ever more senior positions.

Did you have a mentor or coach?

I have used (and paid) a coach in the past when faced by specific challenges, but I find coaching less impactful over a long period of time. Over my career I have had, and still have, multiple mentors. A mentor can be anyone in your life, who you trust to give you impartial advice. The best mentors steer you to find your-own solutions and challenge you to think differently.

Did you step up within the same organisation, or move to a new company?

Stepping up could mean taking a new role, or simply stretching the boundaries of your existing job. The size of the organisation is going to be a key determining factor in if you need to leave to advance your career. Generally, I have left an organisation, in order to progress.

If you moved into a more senior role in a new organisation, how did you demonstrate your ability to step up?

Talking about finance roles, I see three main senior ones

  • Head of Finance
  • Finance Director
  • CFO

These roles require similar skills but the emphasis on those skills differ particularly when considering; gravitas, leadership skills, strategic insights and influencing skills. To demonstrate these skills (notable not technical financial capability). I developed my knowledge base through completing a Masters degree. I became a trustee to broaden my experience base, and I always sought to push the boundaries of my existing roles.

Did you have someone who helped and advised you in your progression? If so, who?

I am not saying this because I am writing this for a recruitment agency, but I have always found a good recruiter as a great sounding board for career advice. They understand the market, the available roles and what managers are looking for in their next hire.

As someone who has progressed to a senior level, what advice would you give someone who’s looking to step up?

Three skills are key; bravery, resilience, and reflection. Crucially those skills come from within you, not from someone pushing you along. It is your career and no one else’s.

  • Be brave – push yourself to grow and do something that takes you out of your comfort zone.
  • Resilience – senior roles are tough, with a lot of responsibility and often no clear “right answer”. Remember, when stepping up, you are taking a risk and the transition may not be smooth
  • Reflection – The best leaders take time for self-reflection. They are able to critically evaluate their actions, motivations and abilities.

Any other comments?

When taking a senior position, look at your team first. Your success is founded on maximising their abilities and helping them thrive. Nurture your team, be there for them when they need you and trust that they will be there for you too.

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