Executives in search of purpose

anitaAnita Hoffmann, of Executiva, published the following article in the Guardian describing what executives are looking for in their careers post the financial crisis and how to find a position where they can do well while doing good. The majority of senior executives contemplating leaving their corporate employers have one thing in common: a deeply held desire to do something that contributes to the greater good.

Whereas before this might be discussed in their mid to late-50s as they prepared for retirement, executives now start developing alternative and portfolio careers in their early and mid-40s.

We publish the article here with kind permission from Anita

The financial crisis prompted a period of soul-searching in executives as well as corporations about their future purpose and contribution to society.

With the collapse of financial giants such as Lehman Brothers, it has become clear that no company or job is completely secure. And since working 24/7 to retire early and rich is no longer a fail-safe strategy, many executives are taking destiny into their own hands and doing something they deeply believe in.

The majority of senior executives contemplating leaving their corporate employers have one thing in common: a deeply held desire to do something that contributes to the greater good. Whereas before this might be discussed in their mid to late-50s as they prepared for retirement, executives now start developing alternative and portfolio careers in their early and mid-40s.

Executives looking for a role that is both purpose-driven and financially rewarding are forging a pioneering path. Seeking out what they want to do and how they can make the change is an ongoing discovery process that needs time to mature.

The first question is: “What am I really passionate about?” To work this out, executives have to ask themselves what they would happily spend their days doing, even without being paid. A question as significant as this can take six to 12 months to figure out, and in the process many executives rediscover passions they had in their youth that they then pursue with a great surge of energy.

They must then ask: “What kind of role do I want?” and “What are my financial obligations for the next few years?” Some executives will discover that the company they work for is ready to embrace purpose-driven business and create roles where their staff can fulfil these wishes. Others will have to consider their options. There are few highly paid executive roles in purpose-driven businesses today. However, over time more of these positions will emerge in mainstream companies as they address their social as well as their financial purpose.

As few social enterprises of size exist, starting your own can be hugely rewarding but requires an appetite for risk alongside the skills and motivation to get a start-up off the ground. Previously, renewable energy and clean tech companies (both public and private) were a popular option. In the current tough fundraising climate this sector is somewhat subdued, although there are still opportunities, particularly in technology-focused businesses.

Family-owned companies often start with a purpose and maintain these values with pride, offering interesting opportunities for outsiders. Private equity, meanwhile, is investing globally in education at all levels, from primary education to university level, and in healthcare, particularly in tech-focused companies. This could be another excellent route to purposeful executive positions.

Once executives have narrowed what it is they’re looking for, they must consider how to find a position in their chosen field. The most practical way to approach this is to view it as moving to another corporate job in an entirely different industry. You do not know the industry or what they value, and they don’t know you or what you can bring. This requires a long exploration phase to build new networks, but it is invaluable – understanding what kind of organisations are out there and how their sector works means you can present your abilities in a way that is relevant to them.

Most executives find this process challenging. It is also the most exciting and exhilarating time of their lives. I call it “the process of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable”. There are many new opportunities to contribute to society, and new business models that are developing inside and outside our own narrow corporate world. It just takes a leap of faith and some careful planning to embrace them.

Anita Hoffmann is founder of Executiva, a board advisory, executive search and coaching firm. She is a visiting fellow at Cranfield School of Business Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility.

Executiva was founded by Anita Hoffmann. She is an expert in the energy, renewable, clean tech and sustainability sectors as a leadership advisor, accredited coach and executive search specialist. Anita has over 20 years’ experience in her field and is a respected advisor to premier Clean/Tech, Renewable, Private Equity and Venture Capitalist houses, their portfolio companies, and blue chip energy resources corporates.

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