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On choosing the "right" career steps

Nolan Archibald, youngest-ever CEO of a Fortune 500 company (Black & Decker), after retiring, had a discussion with Harvard students about how he managed his career. What he described was not the steps on his résumé, but rather WHY he took them.

Archibald had the goal of becoming a CEO of a successful company, but instead of doing what most people thought would be the "right" stepping-stone jobs to get there, he asked himself: "What are all the experiences and problems that I have to learn and master so that what comes out at the other end is somebody who is ready and capable of becoming a successful CEO?"

In our own careers, most of us take steps going after short term, tangible rewards, without thinking about what we are preparing ourselves for in the long run. Starting from the opposite end—"what do I need to master to be a great X?"— is a much more resilient strategy for our professional lives. Even if it makes little sense to those around us looking at our future's short term...

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