Building blocks to a bright future

A Fortune 500 CEO shares some insights on how to evolve in your career
by Lauren Johnson, CISI copywriter 

Building blocks - 1920

Building a successful and fulfilling career is no easy feat, but having a driving force, an end goal, and access to the right resources, helps you get there. Especially with guidance from those already at the top, like Penny Pennington, one of few Fortune 500 women CEOs who rose to become managing partner at financial services firm Edward Jones in 2019 and was ranked one of Fortune’s most powerful women in 2021.

The best advice she has received thus far is to “get comfortable being uncomfortable”, she says, speaking to senior content writer Corey Mittenberg in a blog post published by the UVA McIntire School of Commerce in the US. It may seem off-putting, but challenging yourself by jumping into work that is unfamiliar is an integral part of the growth process and can be the difference in how soon you can get to where you want to be.

1) Consider your end goal

In a previous Review article, we mention that a sharp focus on a goal is a common characteristic of ambitious professionals, like Serena Williams, for example. This is no exception for Penny. “Helping others has always been part of my personal purpose,” she says, and she sought opportunities to develop herself to become a leader and ultimately help guide people.

Career development looks different to all of us. For some, it means progressing to higher-level roles, for others, it means acquiring a wide skill set and a range of experience. Your end goal may change but, once you know what you want, you can begin looking at the routes you can take to get there.

2) Say ‘hello’ to what you don’t know

Penny says that growth comes from “diving into [the] unknown”, according to a CNBC article by Gili Malinsky. “That’s where the confidence comes,” she says. Throughout her career, Penny received offers of work that was unfamiliar to her. When she became a financial adviser for the first time in 2000 with Edward Jones , she was concerned because she had never worked directly with families before, but she obtained the appropriate qualification to fill her gaps in knowledge.

As an organisation and charity that champions lifelong learning, we understand that it is a process that takes time and patience. Self-development is not a race, nor should it be viewed as a marathon, but a continuous practice where you learn lessons to apply to the next challenge you face. We have previously shared tips on how to launch yourself by stepping out of your comfort zone. 

3) Look inwards

“Who am I and what do I want to be?” is a question Penny likes to ask.  Her courage in embracing the unknown and her sense of purpose has been a strong motivator in her ascension to becoming a managing partner.

In a previous article where we write about how to climb the career ladder, we share tips from the job site, one of which includes the need to show your leadership skills when going for higher-level positions. Penny identifies courage as a key quality in a leader. This doesn’t necessarily mean fearlessness, she says in the CNBC article, but “act[ing] in the face of trepidation [and] ambiguity” with a firm sense of purpose based on team goals.

Penny is an inspiration to those wishing to build a solid career in financial services, which she has done by identifying her purpose, displaying courage, and exercising self-reflection. These qualities are likely to serve most of us well throughout our careers. 

Published: 21 Apr 2023
  • Soft Skills
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • featured
  • professionals
  • Fortune 500
  • careers in finance
  • career development
  • advice

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