“I wish I knew then what I know now…”

10 December 2019 -

"I wish I knew then what I know now..."You may not know where your career path will take you, but neither did these senior leaders. If they could go back in time for a day, what would they tell their younger selves?

CMI Companions



Jeannette Lichner, non-executive director, senior adviser and executive coach

“I should have spent more time just thinking about my goals and my life aspirations – not just career path on its own. I think you need to combine the two.

“I do coaching for young people, and there are very few who ended up doing what they said they wanted to do at the beginning of their working life. Life is a bunch of different opportunities. The key thing is to grab them as they come along. There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect role’: no matter what it is, it’s going to change.”

Lesley Cowley OBE, chair, DVLA, Companies House, and The National Archives

“I would advise myself to focus on finding roles that I love, with a great manager that I can learn from, and where there are opportunities to develop myself. I’d also tell myself not to put up with bad managers. Also, that the jobs I would end up doing did not yet exist.

“I love my current career, and the people and organisations that I currently work with. My career goal is to work with talented senior teams and boards where my knowledge and experience can make a positive difference. These may be public or private sector organisations; the important thing is that they are ‘going places’ and have credible ambitions – especially with digital.”

Rosalind Penny, director of HR and organisation development, Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

“I had been into performing arts from the age of two and wanted to go to stage school at 18. My parents would not support this and thought I should have a proper job.

“I had also thought about being a barrister – it struck me that it was also a performance art, albeit backed by a lot of study. As I loathe injustice, I saw myself as being some kind of caped crusader that would lock up the bad guys. I’m most proud of standing up against bullying and wrongdoing. At times, this has come at a personal cost. Yet I could not and will not ever walk past something that is fundamentally wrong and damaging to others.

“When I first started working for the Lord Chancellor’s Department in London, I quickly realised that justice was somewhat elusive – there were a lot of well-paid defence lawyers. That was my first epiphany about a career in the law. I returned to study and did a post-graduate qualification in Business and Management.

“This sparked my interest in employment law, the psychology of organisations, Human Resources and also teaching. These four things underpin my career. The one overriding piece of advice I would give myself is: ‘you will have to do tough and unpleasant things on occasions, however, these things should always be done with kindness’.”

Dr Mark Pegg, director, Chalfont Associates

“I’d advise myself on the benefits of building greater resilience and developing a really hard protective shell. Working as a mentor and coach today, it crops up time and again. I expected resistance to change but faced far more push back in a rapidly changing world than I expected.

“The days of deference are over, it’s a good thing, but the ratios are tough. People readily land emotionally charged responses on you when they disagree but are much less forthcoming on anything you do that works well for them. I wish I’d developed harder Kevlar hat to deal with the incoming fire, but still remain positive, open and accessible.

“Many colleagues do not share your vision, your passion or your appetite for change, even if it is vital for your business’s survival. It is vitally important to communicate, communicate and communicate again, to keep explaining what you want to do: influencing, persuading and listening carefully, as much as working to get things done.”

Kevin Murray, business author and public speaker

“I would say to myself: be prepared, be curious, and be willing to explore – and be intense about them, because they are absolutely key to your career.

“When I interviewed 120 CEOs for my books, I asked them all one question: what do you look for in the people that you hire? The first thing they look for is intellectual horsepower and the ability to deal with problems. The second thing is the ability to get the right people on the bus. The third thing is the ability to inspire and lead. That's all about soft skills.

“I think the key thing for most people in today's world is to become more focused on developing their soft skills. Everything from the ability to listen well and to relate to and connect with people, to the ability to persuade and communicate. These are all the skills that will enable your success.”

Stephen Pierce, deputy MD, chief HR officer, Hitachi

“When thinking about your career, remember that it is only part of your life. Consider ‘who’ you want to be as well as ‘what’ you want to be. A career plan is part of a life plan.

“Recognise that careers can be a trade-off, sometimes between passion and talent – should you do what you love or what you are great at? The ideal is finding a role which is both, of course.

“It’s good to work towards achieving your career plan, but it’s also OK to change direction. People and situations change – taking a different direction isn’t failure, but can provide a new opportunity for your career and life.”

Louise Hardy, non-executive director

“After I graduated as an engineer, I would look for the next month or relevant milestone. It's sort of the difference between having a five-year goal, and an ultimate career goal. Inevitably when I left university, I was much more focused on that near-term goal, which for me was becoming Chartered.

“Along my journey, I managed high-profile projects, reached some of my goals, and reshaped my career. I remember deciding that I wanted to work for a specific company and ringing up the managing director to tell them. That particular phone call led to me joining a company that formed a consortium that won the bid to manage the programme for the Olympics.

“I was the infrastructure director and looked after a £2bn Infrastructure and civil engineering project on the Olympic Park. That took me to a summit that I hadn't actually planned for, which I reached through being speculative and taking risks.”

From more insights from CMI Companions, read Pavita Cooper CCMI’s advice for young professionals.

Image: Unsplash

Powered by Professional Manager