For many people in their twenties and thirties, career advancement trumps any quality in an employer. Why? Because the higher your function, the more opportunities you have to make a difference in your community.
But what if we took a step back, and looked at the skills required to get there? In other words: if your New Year’s resolution is to learn more skills, what should they be, and how can you acquire them? In a conversation at his offices in London last year, Andrew Likierman, dean of London Business School, drew on his personal experience to provide some answers. Most of the conversation focused on his business school, and was published in Poets & Quants article. But at the end of our hour long conversation, he offered more his personal thoughts. It was fascinating.
“I picked up four things from my twenties that helped me hugely later in life,” he said. They are: to choose a flexible academic career, to learn to deal with economic downturns – which inevitably strike you at some point in your life, to gain exposure to foreign cultures, and to develop your communication skills.
These skills, he said, allowed him to “move between government, private sector and academic life easily”. It is an understatement: the 72-year old, amongst other positions, has been a non-executive director at the Bank of England and Barclays, as well as Managing Director of the UK Treasury and Chairman of the National Audit Office. Not to mention he had a long and illustrious academic career.
So how can young people looking to progress their career gain these skills nowadays? Here’s Andrew Likierman’s insights in full:
- Make choices that give you flexibility
“First, make sure to make choices that give you flexibility. I studied politics, philosophy and economics in college, and was determined to get an additional qualification with flexibility in mind: accounting. Today I would recommend people to get an MBA, but back then (the early 70s in Europe), accounting was the established option to give flexibility. What remained true is that you open up options for yourself with an education. The fact that people that graduate from an MBA do so many different things, is an indication of that.”
- Be aware that things don’t always go up
“Second, be aware that things don’t always go up. When I started my career, there was an economic crisis: one of the major oil shocks that disrupted the economy. That’s when I learned that what goes up can also come down. My personal savings were affected as well. I was really exposed, and it was a shock. But it was good learning. Everyone needs a financial crisis, preferably early, so you learn that cycles are pretty important. We’ve had them for the last 250 years, and they won’t go away now.”
- Get as much exposure to other cultures as you can
“Third, get as much exposure to other cultures as you can. It will help you move between different sectors and countries, as you have a more open mind set. When I was young, I ran a textile plant in Germany, and that was a fantastic experience. I learned there about how people in different cultures will think differently, and that in dealing with people, you can’t simply copy-paste your assumptions of how business relations work. That was really interesting.”
- Understand the importance of communication
“And finally, understand the importance of communication. You can have brilliant ideas, but you cannot do anything with them unless you communicate them well. Early in my career as an accountant, I saw that certain people were really good, better than me, but that because they couldn’t communicate well, they didn’t advance in their career. It’s one of the things I still hold dear: that school is a safe learning environment to learn such things. It’s much better to make a mess of a presentation here than later in your career in front of a crucial client.”