How mid-ranking bankers destroy their careers

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Have you heard of executive derailment? If you're a vice president (VP) or director-level banker and you want to get promoted, it's about time you familiarized yourself with the term.

Executive derailment is the unfortunate phenomenon whereby careers that were going incredibly well at junior and mid-levels suddenly go no further. Sometimes, this is no fault of your own. Often, however, you will have fallen into a trap: the trap of being indispensable.

May Busch, a former COO of Morgan Stanley Europe and careers coach to executives in the banking industry, is keen to educate VP-level bankers on the avoidance of career pitfalls. "When you get to the mid-level of an investment bank you need to pull back from your day job and to re-position," she says. "Unless you do that, you risk damaging your career. You also risk burning out."

As Richard Jolly, a professor of organisational behaviour at the London Business School eloquently points out, the problem for mid-ranking professionals is that the skills which got you recognized as a junior and VP are not the skills that will get you promoted to the levels beyond that. Juniors and VPs need to be technically excellent. Directors, executive directors, and managing directors need to manage. The two things are different, and if you're too technically excellent you'll be considered indispensable in your current role.

"[efc_twitter text="As a VP, you need to stop being indispensable as the person you are and to start becoming indispensable as the person you can become"]," says Busch. "You need to show the organisation that your future possibilities are greater than your current possibilities. This means working with your team, learning to delegate and becoming a good manager of people as a way to deliver results."

Jolly likens the transition to teaching someone how to drive. It's no good getting frustrated at their driving inability just because you're a brilliant driver yourself. "You too were once a bad driver...Helping other people develop skills that have become automatic for us requires learning some basic management skills."

Transitioning to more senior roles often means foregoing a reputation for technical brilliance, says Busch. " [efc_twitter text="If you’re the technical expert with all the answers, you’re not letting go"]," she says. "You need to stop being the person who just answers other people's questions. CEO's ask great questions - you need to start thinking strategically."

At the same time, Busch says mid-ranking bankers need to avoid competing against their peers. "Although not everyone gets promoted to managing director, banking is not a zero sum game. Behaving as if it is another route to burnout – you’ll get stuck in the mind-set of competing in the role you’re in, and in trying to make yourself indispensable where you are, rather than thinking strategically for the future."

Busch says the VPs who get ahead are those who think less about competing with the other VPs and more about the value they can bring to the organisation: "Remember, that as a VP it will not always be clear to you where the business is going.  Whole new areas may open up and if you’re narrowly positioned, competing intensely in the role you’re in, you could miss the broader opportunity.”

Jolly puts it another way - you definitely don't want your boss to say: "You are the last person I would promote. You are far too important where you are.” Avoiding derailment is all about showing that you can teach other people to do the job you're doing, so that you can move on to bigger and better things.

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