Published in The Nashville Business Journal
The best preparation for senior leadership roles is broad-based experience. Regardless of the strength of your skills, your growth potential likely will be limited when you stay in a narrowly focused role for a long time. Taking on different responsibilities gives you more knowledge and a deeper perspective on the organization. But it’s up to you to take the initiative to serve in different roles.
My career began in retail store operations for a discount store chain in the Northeast. I volunteered to pitch in at grand openings, during which I learned about operations on a different scale and I got exposure to senior leadership. I also volunteered for special projects, which led to being appointed to head the HR department. What a learning experience that was, going from line to staff management. All of a sudden I had to learn how to “sell my ideas”— a pivotal new skill. It was tough and equally excellent preparation for future leadership positions.
In my second year at Tractor Supply, under a new president, I pitched in to take on several big ventures that were not in my area of responsibility. I learned about new parts of the business, plus I built a bond with the new boss. Six months later I was promoted to senior vice president.
My new role gave me responsibility over functions that I actually knew little about. But I quickly caught up. I went to an IBM school for managers of IT who have no technical background and then took an American Management Association course to learn more about accounting. I attended trade shows about logistics and studied marketing. Building this wide knowledge base was the best possible preparation I could have had to step into the role of president and later CEO.
The broader your experience base, the better prepared you will be to take the next step into senior leadership. So don’t sit back and rest on your laurels. Volunteer for special tasks. Talk to your boss about opportunities to move on to other responsibilities in the organization. Prepare yourself for growth by gaining wide-ranging experiences. Be proactive in building your career.