What does it take to become the top boss? It’s a question asked by ambitious young graduates and workers around the world. It was also the focus of a study published last week by LinkedIn that sheds new light on the pathways to executive positions in the modern workforce.
The new study analysed the data of 459,000 global LinkedIn members who worked at a top 10 consultancy over the past 20 years, mapping both observable and inferred factors such as educational background, work experience and career transitions. The goal was to analyse their career pathways to find what stood out for those who eventually became the boss.
The results, best illustrated in an interactive graphic created by the New York Times, shows that diverse experience within a business is the unexpected key to exponentially improving your shot at becoming the top boss. Changing job functions provides a boost equal to three years of experience, the study showed, while switching industries has a negative impact. Even more interesting: working in four different functions has almost the same impact as getting an MBA at a top five university.
Unsurprisingly, another noteworthy finding was the impact of gender. A woman with the same education and career profile as a man requires an average of three-and-a-half more years of experience to reach a top executive role.
What does this mean for you?
The study highlights future opportunities for managers, HR professionals and companies to collect and analyse data in order to better recruit star performers. It also serves to inform how employees can benefit from acquiring skills that the 21st-century economy demands and rewards.
“Success in the business world isn’t just about brainpower or climbing a linear path to the top, but about accumulating diverse skills and showing an ability to learn about fields outside one’s comfort zone,” says Neil Irwin, who profiles several executives in his analysis of LinkedIn’s study for the New York Times.
Lyn Goodear, CEO of AHRI, has made the case that human resources, with its bird’s-eye view of all departments in an enterprise, is ideally positioned for the top job. Goodear points to examples such as Ross Miller, GM of St George Bank’s retail banking, and Professor Carol Dickenson, senior deputy vice-chancellor at the Queensland University of Technology, whose backgrounds include senior HR roles.
Gary Pinkus, managing partner at McKinsey & Company, says that job skills have grown beyond the narrow confines of titles. ‘‘Work used to be much more hierarchical, but if you look at most companies now, work has become incredibly cross-functional.”
So for employees considering their next move, what are the implications? Guy Berger, the publisher of LinkedIn’s study and economist at the organisation, says that for those of us unlikely to get an MBA from a top five uni program, the best course is to find ways to work across as many job functions as possible — and above all be open to learn from those around you.