How honest to be about your future career plans

I speak to a lot of leaders who are invited to take part in exclusive leadership programmes in their roles. A lot of the time, this is a positive experience and a step up for any professional, but sometimes it can be a dilemma. Recently, I received a question from someone who had been offered a spot in an emerging leaders programme, but had reservations about committing to it fully. They were grateful to have been asked, as it meant their employer recognised their potential, but they weren’t sure if they 1) even wanted to be a leader 2) wanted to stay at the company for the foreseeable.


Companies have to take risks on employees all the time, and employees have to take risks on companies. You would not expect a company to tell you if they may have to make you redundant in three years, and similarly, there is no expectation for you to tell them that you may wish to leave at some point. This is a risk that comes with this sort of programme, and is often why they put lots of people on it… if they put through twenty, then hopefully ten or so will stay.

Some development opportunities which companies provide, particularly those which have a qualification attached, end up being written into your contract, that if you leave within x years after completion, you are liable for some of the costs. But this is usually for more formal programmes, such as training to be accountant or lawyer. If no one has flagged it before, it’s not likely to be an issue. But check if you are concerned. Assuming there’s no financial burden to you if you leave, I would say that it is honourable, but unnecessary, to tell your company that you may not want to stick around. 


The same goes for the second question, about whether you should tell them that you may not want to be a leader, which is that you don’t need to. Especially if you are uncertain, and may change your mind, you do not need to rule yourself out of being a leader at this stage. You may even find that the training helps you to make your mind up, one way or another.

But when you do reach the point that you are sure you don’t want to be a leader, or if you want some help in making your decision, that could be a good moment to broach the subject with your boss. I recommend this because they may have you in mind for a leadership-based career path, rather than a different path, e.g., functional specialist, which may be more appealing to you. You could tell them your dilemma, or that your mind is largely made up, and then ask for their input. You don’t have to let what they say influence you, but they could have some useful thoughts, and also may be able to help you access the roles which appeal to you more. 

Three resources to help with leadership career planning:

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