Stock Groups

This chart shows the 6 stages of career growth. Where are you now?


Different people are destined to difference career paths. However, it is possible to take on more responsibility and bigger tasks over the years that will lead you to your goals.

Over the past 15 years as a chief executive officer, hundreds of people have relied on me to help them navigate their professional lives. My best advice is to seek out jobs and opportunities that will help you develop and demonstrate capabilities, particularly in four key areas:

  1. Having a growth mindset
  2. Dealing with ambiguity
  3. Handling change
  4. Working at a faster pace

The 6 stages of career growth

While not all career paths are the same, there is a master plan that governs just about any journey — and that plan is defined by six stages:

Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry | CNBC Make It

1. Follower

Typically, this is associated with your first job or internship out of college. You are a follower because you take on the tasks assigned to you and you’re action-oriented. If you don’t understand how to follow others, then you won’t be able to lead.

2. Collaborator

Soon, you’ll begin to work closely with others. You’re still operating from your technical skill set, but you will develop valuable people skills through collaboration with peers on your team.

3. Instructor

As a first-time team leader, you’re tapping your people skills when you give instructions to your team, which may comprise of several people or just one person.

This is where the key lies in whether your ability to effectively guide others, rather than being the one doing it. Jobs that will help you progress at this level include:

  • Staff leadership: At this level, you have the responsibility, but not the authority. You might be responsible for planning and installing new systems or troubleshooting bugs, as well as negotiating with other parties.
  • Staff to line shifts: This involves moving to a job with an easily determined bottom line or result, managing bigger scope and/or scale, demonstrating new skills or perspectives and taking on unfamiliar aspects of your assignments.

4. Manager

Your skill set builds as you manage larger teams with bigger goals and objectives. Direct reports will be motivated and you’ll need to teach them how to set and reach goals.

For example, you may be in a “change manager” role — managing a significant effort to change or implement something of significance, such as total-work systems, business restructuring, new systems and procedures, or responses to major competitor initiatives.

5. Influencer

Now things get interesting! This stage involves a shift from direct management to the role of an influencer.

To be able to communicate effectively with others in the company, including those not under your direct supervision, you must have influence.

You could actually be in a position to influence people at the same level as you or at a higher level.

6. Leader

In this final stage, you spend much of your time empowering and inspiring others. You tell people what they should do instead of telling them what you think.

Motivating people to achieve greater heights than they ever imagined is your top priority.

A pathway of possibilities