This article first appeared on forbes.com.
What’s your next career move? How about moving up into your boss’s spot? Have you ever thought about that? Of course you have — your career has to keep advancing — but is that particular move upwards actually the right one for you?
The first step is to examine the job that you think you want. Do you know what your boss actually does, or why he makes the sometimes surprising decisions he does? You probably only see him when he interacts with you, but there is a whole lot more he is up to when you are not looking, and a lot more stakeholders that he has to deal with. Most likely, he has meetings with people you’ve never met and discusses challenges you’ve never imagined.
Chances are that the new position will have quite a different and unfamiliar balance of elements like business strategy, operations, people management and client interactions. So be clear in your own mind what you are aiming for in the longer run. Making the decision to move up into that slot will affect your career trajectory and job satisfaction for years to come.
Consider carefully what your boss’s job entails. Look at how it’s being done and understand the position’s overall vision. Then conduct a thought experiment: Imagine you have stepped into his shoes and decide what you would do with your new powers. What would be your vision for the job? How would you innovate creatively so that the work would get stronger? How would you lead and motivate? How would you build the business? How would you attract and keep the kind of talent you’d like on your team? Is the culture right as it is, or would you want to shift things?
Once you start thinking this way and describing your ideal situation, you will be well on your way to understanding what the next step should be. You will have a better idea of whether what you want aligns with your boss’s role, and you’ll get a clearer grasp of whether you should aspire to move up in your own organization or search for another company where you could better implement your new vision.
Moving Into Position
If you’ve decided you want to move up, it’s time to start a little career planning for someone else: figuring out what your boss’s next move should be. See if you can identify an opportunity for him to advance within the organization and then pull you up behind him.
Your best shot may well be to make him look so good that he will get the nod and you can step up. (Beware of being too overtly indispensable in your own position. I know this is an oft recommended tactic, but don’t make it too hard for anyone to move you. As I have written elsewhere, always be training your replacement.)
To make your boss look good, first figure out what motivates him, what he’s good at and what you think he wants to do next. Think about how to make him look good to the people he reports to. For instance, maybe he is overstretched and you can relieve the pressure. This will give you the chance to put some of your ideas into practice while helping him advance all at the same time. Your boss will recognize you for this and thank you for it later on.
And if all this takes too long for you, which it might, or if there is no room in the organization for the dance you are choreographing, then at least you will have developed a clearer idea of what you would like to be doing. You’ll have an idea of where you can better thrive, and you’ll be that much stronger and more valuable a candidate when you present yourself to another firm. Understanding your vision and the careful thinking you’ve done, they will be thrilled to have you.