En route to becoming chairman, president, and CEO of defense/aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson has held no fewer than 20 positions at the company. When people ask her how to set a course for success, she tells them to prepare for “unexpected turns,” since you never know where your career will take you.
“It’s more important to chart a general direction than to plan a specific course of steps along the way — in part because when you’re open to opportunity, that’s often when opportunity finds you,” Hewson writes in a tremendously insightful LinkedIn post titled “Five Tips for Mapping Your Career Path.” It’s a must-read for workers of all ages and industries — not just future execs at major tech firms.
Hewson’s first tip is to “take stock of what sets you apart.” Early on, she knew she was driven by innovation, leadership, and a desire to serve her country. That led her to Lockheed Martin and the path she’s followed ever since. Her trajectory isn’t right for everyone, of course, so it’s a matter of figuring out your talents and motivations and building on those.
Next up: “seize opportunities to try different roles.” At Lockheed Martin, Hewson was able to sign up for development programs in finance, operations, communications, and engineering, and these made a huge difference. By taking advantage of such “rotational programs,” she says, you might discover skills and interests you didn’t know you have.
And you don’t have to go it alone. Hewson’s next piece of advice is to “ask for help — and pay it forward.” As she says, colleagues make wonderful “advisors, sounding boards, mentors, and sponsors,” and just as you should never hesitate to seek guidance from individuals positioned to help you grow and advance, you should always remember to be there for others coming up behind you.
As you continue along your path, Hewson warns about getting too caught up in titles and promotions. Growth, she says, “is more important than distance covered,” and realizing this is tip No. 4. The important thing is constantly moving forward and feeling fulfilled, and to that end, she recommends volunteering for projects and constantly putting yourself in positions to learn new things.
On that note, Hewson’s final tip is to “never turn down a good opportunity.” Over the years, she’s moved her family eight times, and every time she’s seen a chance to “contribute, learn, and grow,” she’s talked things over with her family and gone full steam ahead.
“No matter what you want to achieve,” she says, “the most important thing is to never set limits on yourself.”