Fast Track Formula
How to Accelerate Your Career

By Alan Robertson
Pearson Education / Prentice Hall
November 2004
ISBN: 0273675508
157 Pages, Illustrated, 6 ½" x 9 ¼"
$39.50 Paper Original

There are several routes to senior management. But only one of them ensures that you'll be successful when you get there. Understanding and following that route will help you rise through the ranks faster, give you a competitive advantage every step of the way, and make you a success when you get that coveted senior position. Interestingly most successful senior executives don't even realize the route they followed or the shift they made along the way, until they are questioned about it.

When prompted, they will tell you that there was a shift in their thinking, and that was the turning point in their career. So there is a shift that has to occur in you, for you to progress and succeed at each level in the corporate hierarchy. This is the first book to reveal what that shift is, and how you make it happen in yourself, before explaining how you then need to communicate this changed thinking to the world around you. The shift starts in your thinking but it is reflected in what you say, what you do and how you behave and must therefore be very visible to everyone you work with - especially those who have the power to single you out for promotion at every stage. To become a fast track candidate you have to know and understand the fast track formula. Are you ready for the fast track?

Part 1 - The Big Management Shift
Senior is different
'More senior' and 'bigger' are altogether inadequate ways of describing how the demands of a management role change as - and if - you progress up the hierarchy. The failure to understand this is why most people are ill-prepared for the challenge and often fail to rise to it. In fact 'senior' management roles are qualitatively different. It's not just a bigger job, making bigger decisions or more of them - it's a different kind of managing.
This chapter will explain how, contrasting the nature of lower, middle and senior management roles, to show that senior management is above all about working with an entirely different level of ambiguity.

Several Ways Up
There are various ways of getting to the top in management. Building on the previous chapter, this will show that there are a number of viable strategies for progressing through the lower and middle levels. It will also point out some of the dangers and limitations associated with a number of these strategies. The key point is that this progress only brings you to the threshold of the senior management challenge and its very different mental demands. The best route to the top is the one that prepares you for what lies in store, but this is not obvious at the time because it is only evident with hindsight.

And when you get there…
Managers entering senior roles find themselves working in a context of pervasive ambiguity, in conditions of dynamic complexity and uncertainty where there are few, if any, right answers. Illustrated with real examples, this chapter will probe more deeply into the nature of this ambiguity, how it manifests itself in practice and the sort of turning points that make the difference between success and failure. Readers will gain a fresh and enabling way of understanding the senior management challenge.

Part 2- Thinking at the Right Level
Good enough…and better
Basic thinking capabilities - ones we don't have to think about very much - are generally up to the task in the ordinary course of events, and for the sorts of demands made by junior and middle management roles. But having to work with ambiguity means that senior managers need higher-order thinking skills. What are these? How do they differ from the everyday thinking abilities and attitudes that have served us well enough in less senior roles? Making findings from scientific research intelligible and accessible, this chapter will explain how particular thinking dispositions can make the crucial difference when it comes to working with the sorts of mental challenges that are encountered in senior management roles.

Do you have the necessary mental attitude?
With the reassurance of a preamble that higher-order thinking is learnable (and the subject of the next chapter), this section will assist readers to assess the level and character of their own thinking. The aim is to highlight their needs and assist them to prioritise their development of higher-order thinking capabilities and styles from the practical material provided in the following chapter.

HOT Stuff (Higher-Order Thinking)
The big chapter will provide a toolkit of memorable, mind-sized approaches for developing higher-order thinking capabilities. The aim is to give the reader a coherent set of highly practical and powerful techniques based on (but not encumbered here by) rigorous research work. Tools to be incorporated here will include -
The Compass of Ambiguity- choosing a direction when things aren't clear
Smart Moves in Uncertain Territories- how to tackle unreasonable problems
Joined-Up Thinking- from simple assertion to parallel chains of reasoning
Working Knowledge- seeing beyond naïve explanations of cause and effect
Superior Judgment- higher-order critical thinking
Developing Opportunities- higher-order creative thinking
The Strategic Mind- how to move fluently between the big picture and the telling detail

Part 3- Turning Your Thinking into Action
7. Defining Moments- recognizing when you need to step up a gear
Being a higher-order thinker is not enough. You also have to make that thinking influential, mobilizing a variety of stakeholders, internal and external. Over many of them you will have no direct authority. It is in this essentially political context that senior managers have to turn ideas into action. Unfortunately there are many factors which impede them. Some are interpersonal, such as the difficulty of keeping good ideas alive and developing in the hurly-burly of meetings and discussions. Others obstacles are more personal, as when uncertainty undermines our own performance. This chapter addresses a key issue for performance - how to recognize these defining moments so as to take control of them as they occur.

8. Thought Leadership- how to turn thinking - yours and others' - into effective action
Higher-order thinking requires you to actively manage your own thinking. That is a challenge in itself. But turning that thinking into action means that you also have to be able to manage the thinking processes of others, often in large groups. In these circumstances the quality of thinking typically deteriorates rapidly. It requires particular skills to maintain higher-order thinking and take it forward into action in a group context. This chapter provides the practical techniques for developing that skill-set and becoming a thought-leader.

9. Building from below- teaching others how to rise to the challenge
Why has the need to develop the thinking and expression capabilities required for senior management been overlooked so long? One reason is that successful senior executives find it difficult to articulate the skills that they have acquired. Once assimilated, these capabilities rapidly become tacit knowledge, unconscious competence. This in turn has the effect of making it difficult for successful senior managers to pass these lessons on. This chapter shows how to make your critical know-how explicit so that you will be able to mentor your team, accelerating their development and increasing the resources in your talent pool.

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