A Simple 5 Step Career Planning Guide for Leaders

By People Leaders | People Leaders Podcast

A Simple 5 Step Career Planning Guide for Leaders

There are certain times of the year that people get the impetus to examine their careers and career goals to see if they’re on track. They may be reflecting on what they have accomplished in their current role. They might be asking how the current role or job they have in their organisation fits with who they are. They may also be wondering whether they are fulfilled and on the path that will lead them where they ultimately want to go in both career and life.

These are important questions, not to be taken lightly, but in a way they may seem daunting. In order to be thorough, career planning doesn’t have to be complicated but it does take a good amount of analysis and thought. It’s important to examine where you are now, where you want to go, and what the best process is for getting there.

Even for people who are quite satisfied in their current role, the issue is that organisations are changing so rapidly that if you don't do anything to improve your skills or expand your knowledge then you will be left behind. Complacency can be detrimental to you. These days it's about adding value - being the person with the skills, knowledge and abilities to rise to the challenges of rapid change and expansion.

We covered career planning in an earlier post but today we’re going to explore the subject from a slightly different angle. We’ve created an easy-to-use Career Guide specifically to help people who are either: a) looking for a different role in their current organisation, or b) are looking for a different career entirely. There are many elements involved in picking the right role and/or organisation, and it’s worth taking the time because you actually spend a third of your life at your workplace.

Here are five steps we encourage you to go through. Follow along with the template which you can download here and if you feel so inclined, you can listen to us talk you through the process on the podcast here. 

The five steps are: 

  1. Know yourself
  2. Explore your options
  3. Make decisions on the options
  4. Take action
  5. Put it all together 

Step One: Knowing Yourself 

This is where career development starts -- with knowing who you are. In order to gain awareness of who you are, it’s important to look at the preferences that you know you would use in your work environment.

There are three key elements that we have identified. They are your values, your strengths and your skills. Let’s examine each one a little closer.


How would you describe who you are? What are your beliefs? What is important to you that you use as a guide in terms of the actions that you take or don't take?

Your set of work values are really a subset of larger values. For example, your broader value might be that you want to be of service to others and a subset of that value might be that you prefer working in a harmonious environment with people.

Values provide a reference point for decision making. When people have their values in alignment in their work environment, they have a deeper sense of meaning and satisfaction in the work that they do.

If you are living your values every day, or if you are able to express your values through your work - while it may not be 100 percent - at least you know a key value is being satisfied in your work.

Click here for a value card sort exercise 


Your strengths include your natural talents combined with knowledge and experience. A natural talent is something that you already have a propensity for. It’s a skill that you’re naturally good at.

Studies show that the people who use their strengths in their work will be more satisfied and report higher incomes.

And keep in mind that you never know who you're going to run into. People really do expect those in a senior level role to know what their strengths are, what they are good at and what their values are. Gone are the days where we downplay that.


A skill is a competency in a very particular area. It’s an ability to do an activity well, particularly because you've practiced it. While a strength is a talent that has been developed over the years with knowledge (an example might be networking), a skill then, is something that most anybody can develop with enough practice (such as analysing data or handling money correctly).

One additional thing to take into account when examining the idea of knowing yourself is to understand your personality type. For instance, are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Are you more right-brained creative vs. a left-brained analyser. If you have taken the Myers Briggs personality test you may be aware of what your real personality type is. We haven’t included these in the know yourself part of the Career Guide, but if you do have a good handle on this, keep it in mind as you go through this process.

NB - we go more into using the Myers Briggs for professional development on this post here.

Step Two: Exploring Options 

Here the Guide invites you to identify two or three roles that you would like to explore. Look at people in your organisation who are in a position or role you might like to step into at some time.

Once you have looked at your values, your strengths and your skills, you've gained a lot of insight as to what interests you. Now it's time to apply those interests towards something.

In this step you will want to research those specific skills and qualifications needed in order to go for the option(s) or roles you’re considering. Then you can ask yourself whether your skills, interests and values align with these roles.

In most larger organisations you can get copies of job descriptions. In small organisations you can actually just go and ask a person in that role. There are three important considerations here:

  1. Identify the two or three roles or careers you would like to consider
  2. Look at the gaps between where you are and where you want to go, and
  3. Explore what options you actually have within those roles.

Step Three: Making Decisions

Here you are narrowing down the options. You’ve looked at those potential three roles or career choices. You want to pull out each role and ask the following questions:

  • What are my best work or training options given where I am in my current life cycle?
  • How do each of these roles fit in with my particular skills, interests and values right now?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each role?

Doing this you begin to get clearer in terms of which type of role suits you. It helps you solidify what's important.

Take this time to contemplate what you want to project into the future. This allows you to step into the future a little bit more prepared.

Some of the activities and actions you can take are to:

  • Seek out a mentor, either internally in your organisation or externally, with the characteristics you are looking to develop
  • Set up some meetings with people who currently have the kinds of roles you’re aiming for, and then
  • Talk to your manager in your next one-on-one. 

Then, beyond just identifying a role, you can begin to look at the training options for becoming qualified for the role.

Step 4: Take Action

Now you're ready to put your plan into action you might ask yourself the following:


  • Now that I have an idea of the roles I want and the skills I need to move forward, where am I now in my career cycle?
  • What actions and steps can I take in order to move me forward towards my next role?
  • In what area do I need to expand my knowledge?
  • Where can I get help and who can support me?

It could be someone on LinkedIn. It could be someone that you know in a different organisation whom you know and trust - someone who is senior or even who has just come in from a different organisation. There are lots of options. When you identify the kind of training and skills to develop there are many online options for personal and professional development as well.

You may want to seek out some job shadowing opportunities. Even if it's just a day of work. Explore what's available to you and then share this plan with your manager in your next performance discussion or one-on-one. Or, share this plan with your mentor or a coach.Utilising a coach to support you through this process provides a great foundation.

Keep in mind that when you are going through the hierarchy of an organisation there are fewer roles up at the top. Sometimes a lateral move is going to give you great experience so when that role opens up, you've really prepared yourself by having this plan and putting it all together.

Step Five: Putting it All Together

As you look at the plan you’ve put into place it’s time to examine things from other points of view:

  1. What are the benefits of this possible shift in your role?
  2. What are the drawbacks?
  3. What interests are going to be fulfilled from this role that gives it meaning and purpose
  4. What personal characteristics will be expressed by this role or in this career?
  5. What education or training will be required for you to achieve this role?

In essence, in step five you are taking into account a broader picture and examining your choices based on all that you have done in steps one through four. You are projecting yourself into the future and asking the tough questions about how each potential option will affect both your career and your life.

We recommend spending at least 30 to 40 minutes thinking about, and putting together this plan. You will feel satisfied that you've done something around who you are and how you're going to express your gifts and talents in this world. You will be rewarded by planning and not taking your career for granted.

Don’t leave your leadership career path to chance. You can be proactive about the direction you take. #career #leadership

Click to Tweet