More than half my career has been spent in management. That said, 21 years passed before I became an executive. I started at the bottom of the organizational totem pole more than once. Grit was developed navigating the journey. The path from middle management to executive was full of hurdles that had to be overcome.
Through hindsight, I can state earning it the hard way was worth it. The path taken has been reflective of my blue-collar mindset. Patience aside, I eventually landed where I’m supposed to be. The experience ascertained was well worth the journey.
Finding My Way
The journey from middle management to executive took years. I jumped sectors from federal, to private, to local government. I am country in my ways, which does not always coincide with an executive presence. Two-thirds of my career was spent working beyond Texas borders. Staying true to my roots while operating in environments different from my own was a challenge.
The right opportunity was out there waiting. Timing is everything. I eventually found my niche. It was a long journey that took me around the world and back, but someone rolled the dice in 2018. It’s worked out pretty well.
The individual that gave me the opportunity retired about a year ago. At his retirement ceremony, I thanked him for the opportunity and made sure he knew how much I appreciated his belief in me. Crossing paths with the right person can make all the difference.
Pillar 1 – Knowledge
The first pillar I leveraged to climb rungs on the professional ladder was knowledge. I went from high school to the military and was almost 10 years into my career before I began pursuing higher education. First, it was a bachelor’s. Then a couple of certifications. A graduate degree followed, and a few more certifications. From my late 20s through my early 40s the pursuit of knowledge was constant.
Off and on for 12 years, it was classes and writing papers on weekends on top of working full time. I got married somewhere in there. We moved from LA to the Bay Area, then back home to Texas for new positions. We took vacations and breaks as needed, but it was a long-term, life-altering commitment. If you want something in life, you better be ready to work for it.
Pillar 2 – Commitment
Early on, I made a list of every professional credential I felt I needed to attain my definition of success. In January 2018, I checked the final item off that list I had made many years prior. It felt great. Nobody made me do it. I had good jobs, made a good living. I wanted more.
Being satisfied with the status quo has never been who I am. That general non acceptance of the current situation has been beneficial over the years. Fundamentally, I do not believe in having my circumstances dictated. If you desire change, make it happen.
Pillar 3 – Accountability
Professional education is not the be-all and end-all. If you go for that degree from a top university, you’re not going to waltz into an organization and run the show. You can load up on credentials, but at the end of the day, you have to back it up. The alphabet soup after your name is great. If your day-to-day productivity isn’t there, forget about it.
Not only does the output have to be noteworthy, but the ability to navigate relationships inside and out of the organization becomes more paramount as you elevate professionally. Relationships and your ability to communicate in all its iterations will make or break you in your journey to the executive level.
Pillar 4 – Intangibles
Looking back, every stop in my journey aided in providing the tools necessary to achieve my professional and personal goals. I am beyond grateful for the experience. Numerous mentors helped me progress mentally and professionally.
I learned over the course of my career the value of embracing change. I’ve met many folks that are abrasive to bumps in the road of life. I have never felt that manner of existing was optional. I do not believe you can evolve personally and professionally if you’re not receptive to what’s out there. The best executives are those that possess the experience of life.
My experience says if you aspire to be the big boss and everything that comes with it, you have to own it. Not just your 9-5, but substantially more. Make a plan. Commit to action. Educate yourself. Optimize communication. Profit from the experience that is life. Find a mentor to guide you. Be thankful for the victories and to those that help you along the way. Believe in yourself and what you have to offer.
At the same time, it is imperative you take the time needed to live your life. Enjoy the moment. Take advantage of your down-time. If you have to take a break to relocate or start a new job, it’s OK. Keep your eye on the prize but place your focus when and where it is needed. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. If you think you have it in you to elevate professionally, take your shot. I believe in you.
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Shane “El Jefe” McDaniel is the first Director of Information Technology for the city of Seguin, Texas, with more than 24 years of experience across multiple IT disciplines. He began his technology career in 1996 through an enlistment in the Air Force supporting military intelligence, subsequently transitioning to NSA, NRO, private industry and municipal government technology operations. Shane is the proprietor and champion of Country IT, running the countryexec.com website promoting personal and professional development for future leaders. You can find him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.