What Comes After CEO: Exploring New Avenues

Are you done with the corporate ladder? Pivot into board-like roles to keep advancing your career while finding more time and space for balance in your life.
Written by
Kim Le
Published on
May 31, 2024

What's after the corporate ladder?

Where do you go if you’ve already achieved your career goals? Maybe you've been a founder, an executive, or part of a leadership team. You have a wealth of knowledge and experience that sets you apart and in a league of your own. But what can you do to take your career to the next level? “Board” roles are a natural progression.

At some point in a startup career progression, many hit a wall—especially former founders or executive leaders. Finding that next role without taking a step back can be challenging. When starting out, there are numerous paths to progress from entry-level positions up to managerial or senior individual contributor roles. Some break through to the leadership levels, driving companies to achieve great results. However, planning what comes next usually isn’t done by operating within the bounds of a defined role.

Why not take another [insert current title] role?

Naturally, a VP of Company A can aim for another VP role at Company B, ideally with Company B having better growth and long-term prospects than A. Or a COO can search for a CEO role, demonstrating career progression. These progressions are natural. Sometimes a hop from one role to another—even one that pays more with a larger scope at a bigger company—may not be desired. We sometimes don’t necessarily want more; we want something different.

Lateral moves feel like a step back

For many seasoned professionals, moving laterally in their career feels like treading water. The excitement of climbing the corporate ladder has worn off, and the prospect of merely switching companies but keeping the same role doesn't spark joy. It can feel like a step backward, even if the new company offers better pay or perks. You’ve already mastered the role, so why repeat it elsewhere?

Staying at the same job is career stagnanation

On the flip side, staying in the same role at the same company for too long can lead to a feeling of stagnation. The challenges become routine, the development opportunities diminish, and the excitement wanes. The drive that once propelled you to the top is now replaced by a sense of complacency. For someone who's always thrived on new challenges, this can be frustrating.

In search of something new

The allure of something new and exciting can be hard to resist. After years of tackling similar challenges, many professionals crave fresh experiences and new learning opportunities. They seek roles that allow them to leverage their extensive knowledge while offering different kinds of challenges and growth pathways.

Sabbaticals are good, but so is intellectual stimulation

Sometimes, taking a break is necessary. A sabbatical offers the chance to recharge, reflect, and explore new interests. But for high achievers, completely stepping away from intellectual pursuits can lead to restlessness. The key is finding a balance between relaxation and mental engagement.

What's Beyond the Corporate Ladder?

Board Advisory Roles

Board advisory roles are an excellent way to continue your professional journey without the full commitment of a board member. These roles help you work closely with founders and provide guidance based on your extensive experience. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement: you gain exposure to new businesses and challenges, and the company benefits from your expertise.

Non-Profit Board Member Roles

Joining a non-profit board is an excellent stepping stone toward a corporate board role. If you work with an executive recruiting firm focused on placing women on boards, this will likely be the first type of board role to be positioned for.

It provides good practice without the same level of pressure found in corporate settings. Without the rigor of public shareholders and investors, nonprofits are a good practice setting. Plus, it allows you to give back to the community and engage in meaningful work, which can be incredibly fulfilling.

Independent Board Member Roles

Independent board member roles offer the opportunity to bring your expertise or diversity to a company’s board of directors without the need to be an investor or founder. These roles can be highly influential and rewarding, allowing you to shape the strategic direction of a company and guide it toward success.

Even with an illustrious track record, this might be when it's good to engage with an executive recruiting and placement firm. The firm can help match you with prospective companies that are looking for board members.

Founding Your Own Company

If you’re looking for the ultimate challenge, founding your own company could be the answer. As a founder, you automatically secure a board position and learn by doing—often the hard way. This path is as challenging as it gets to landing better roles down the line, but comes with significant downsides, particularly a high failure rate. On the plus side, being a founder offers unparalleled learning opportunities and the chance to create something from scratch, leveraging all your past experiences and knowledge.

Careers are Nonlinear

Advancing your corporate career doesn’t always mean climbing higher within the same ladder. There are numerous ways to continue growing professionally while finding new and exciting challenges. Whether through board roles, advisory positions, or starting your own venture, the key is to seek out opportunities that align with your passions and expertise.

By exploring these avenues, you can break through the career wall, find renewed purpose, and continue making a significant impact in the business world. Don't limit yourself to traditional corporate roles. If you're creative, the possibilities are endless.

Related Articles

Consulting For Equity: Getting In On Startup Upside

Professional Communities for Mom Founders

How to Become a Consultant

The Eight Twenty Newsletter
No spam. Just the latest releases and tips, interesting articles, and exclusive interviews in your inbox every week.
Read about our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

DISCLAIMER: Information on this site is for educational purposes only. LeHerring LLC does not provide, legal, accounting, tax or investment advice. Although care has been taken in preparing the information provided to you, we are not responsible for any errors or omissions, and we accept no liability whatsoever for any loss or damage you may incur. Always seek financial and/or legal counsel relating to your specific circumstances as needed for any and all questions and concerns you now have or may have in the future.

We cannot guarantee your success, nor are we responsible for any of your actions. Our role is to support and assist you in reaching your own goals, but your success depends primarily on your own effort, motivation, commitment, and follow-through. We cannot predict, and we do not guarantee, that you will attain a particular result.

AFFILIATES: From time to time, we may promote, affiliate with, or partner with other individuals or businesses whose programs, products, and services align with ours. In the spirit of transparency, we want you to be aware that there may be instances when we promote, market, share or sell programs, products, or services for other partners. In exchange, we may receive financial compensation or other rewards.