As I age and supposedly become wiser, I find myself more and more in the situation of providing career advice to newer generations of internal auditors as they contemplate a path to the chief audit executive (CAE) role. As I reflect on my own path as well as the paths of other respected leaders in the profession who I had the chance to tag along with, there are plenty of factors that will be important to put auditors on the right path. Here are two key things that I particularly want to highlight that make a huge difference.
1. Set Your Goal and Make Sure Leadership Is What You Want
Is internal auditing truly your passion and is becoming a leader in internal audit truly what you aspire to? Are you clear about your professional goals?
As author Simon Sinek would put it, do you have a good answer to the "why?" question. If you want one day to be in a position to inspire others, you first need to inspire yourself!
So, are internal auditing and leadership your professional purposes?
I remember my own epiphany when it suddenly became very clear to me that I wanted to become a leader in internal auditing and of internal audit. That epiphany boiled down to having clear answers to these questions:
- Am I truly passionate about internal auditing? This means that I am not just good at it and feel comfortable with it or have an affinity for it. I am truly passionate because I understand and believe in the purpose of internal auditing and the ever-growing perspective for the profession in the future. I feel that not only do I want to excel in the discipline, but that I also can see myself at some point being able to innovate in the field and hopefully become a source of thought leadership. It is clear that I will never stop learning and being challenged in that profession.
- Am I looking to become a leader for the right reason? Like in most professions, the fulfillment you get from doing and leading are different things, and the capabilities and competencies to excel in leadership are very different from those you need to execute the work. You may have noticed that not all great quarterbacks make great football coaches, and not all great soccer strikers and team captains make great soccer managers. If the motivation to become a CAE — and any internal audit leadership position up to CAE — is about gaining status and recognition, it will not get you very far or it will not be as fulfilling as you think. I quite like this little series of characteristics from the Journey to Leadership blog that can help you introspect, as well as this 2017 Forbes article, which can help you pressure-test your understanding of leadership and whether it is for you.
2. Network, Network, Network
I would not be where I am today without my network, period. Let's clarify what a network is and how to build and nurture one.
When I say network, I mean a professional network. When I say networking I am not referring to a social gathering around a drink after work, but investing personal time to engage with other professionals and build lasting relationships based on an ongoing exchange of knowledge and know-how. And the breadth and depth of your network matters. You want to, of course, build lasting relationships with professionals in your field, but you also want to build professional recognition and respect with stakeholder-like professionals (CEOs, chief financial officers, heads of operation or functions, etc.).
Why does the network matter? First, the process of networking is in itself a fantastic source of learning and growth.
Second, there comes a time when, as you are looking for your next career opportunity, you will no longer apply to postings on LinkedIn or other job posting boards for you to land the job. Your network will be the source signaling an upcoming opportunity or championing your name, credentials, and accomplishments.
Third, as a leader, you spend your day trying to solve complex problems, many of which you have not experienced before. Your network is your problem-solving powerhouse, a source of inspiration and knowledge that you can tap into. Without your network, your ability to impact your organization and innovate will be greatly diminished, hence decreasing your opportunity to be recognized for more responsibilities.
Network, network, network … a good starting point: Volunteer at The IIA!
Dominique Vincenti, CIA, CRMA, is chief audit executive at Uber Technologies Inc. in San Francisco.
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