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Learning Leaders in Mid-Career: What’s Next?

Congrats! You hold a senior learning leader position in the middle of your career. Now, you are managing a major function in the learning department, driving learning strategy, or maybe have been promoted to a Chief Learning Officer role (with or without the official CLO title). Well done!

So, what does the next half of your career look like? And, what are the natural development steps for learning leaders in the middle of their careers?

Normally, we are the ones giving coaching and career advice to colleagues in the workplace. Let me turn the tables and give you a summary of the advice and career options that I share with your equivalent mid-career learning leaders in conversations throughout the year:

• Go Wider and Larger: The natural route for the second half of a learning career to is go wider and larger. Become the CLO or Chief Talent Officer of your company. The average duration at the top in learning is less than 4 years, so there will always be opportunities to go wider – switching to a different team.
• Take a Stretch Assignment Outside of Learning: As a C-Level officer in your company, take a “stretch assignment” lasting several months to a year – outside of Learning or HR! A rising learning leader from a large automobile company asked for and received a one- year role as Assistant Plant Manager in Brazil. She blossomed and expanded her skill set, moving on to other very senior manufacturing roles at headquarters.
• Add an Academic Credential: Being a CLO or VP for Learning is an amazing accomplishment “star” on your resumé. Now, consider adding an academic credential. Over 100 senior learning leaders have pursued Doctoral programs at UPenn, Columbia, and other institutions. Others have added non-learning degrees, like an MBA or Executive MBA. And, others have participated in an executive development program in Strategy or User Experience.
• Join a Board of Directors: Join a corporate or non-profit organization’s Board of Directors. They will deeply value your talent and learning experience and it will give you a unique role in shaping an organization without being a manager. The networking is immense and future resources for corporate roles or connections for your next career moves are plentiful.
• Map and Validate Your Skills: Build a visual map of your skills, defining the mixture of learning, management, industry, and interpersonal competencies. Go wide and share this with colleagues and friends inside and outside your organization. Ask them for feedback on your map, including gaps or even elements that you did not include.
• Global Opportunities Await: If your lifestyle and family situation allows, consider a global opportunity. The future of business lies in the global marketplace. Reach for a learning role that either locates you internationally or has you deeply engaged in other countries and regions. Add or improve a second or third language.
• Technology and Innovation Fluency: How deeply do you explore evolving technologies, methodologies, and innovations? The world of business and learning has already changed radically in the first part of your career. Strap on your seat belt for more change in the next few decades. Immerse yourself as a learner and experimenter. Learn some code, find a few tech mentors, coach a high school robotics team, study cognitive and brain science changes, and visit a tech startup venture.
• Learning DNA vs. Learning Career? Face it: you will always have a Learning DNA make-up. Every role that you hold in the future will draw upon your experiences and competencies as a learning leader. Now, you must decide if you want the balance of your career to be in the learning field or if you are ready for a career change that will taste quite different, but that will use your people development skills every day.

Finally, we are waiting for the first Fortune 500 CLO to be promoted to CEO. There are several people in our industry that I am betting on to make this career change. It is just one of many career choices.

Again, congrats on your success. But, as my friend Marshall Goldsmith says, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There!” It is time for you to design and live the next chapters of your career as a learning leader.

Learning Leaders in Mid-Career: What’s Next?
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