Embrace Personal Disruption to Future-proof Your Career

by Savoy Staff

Photo caption: Abim Kolawole, Vice President – Financial Planning Excellence and Strategy, Northwestern Mutual

Throughout life, we’ve all heard that, “The fastest route between two points is a straight line.” In mathematics, that’s a geometric certainty. But in the professional world, a career that winds and curves is often the one that yields better results for the individual, the company and the customer.

In my experience, leaders who successfully guide teams focused on innovation and transformation tend to have a personal history of disruption. They’ve taken risks, challenged themselves and stepped out of their comfort zones throughout their career paths. This is no small feat. In fact, the easy choice for anyone is to do what they’ve always done and remain on that straight line. It takes courage to step away from the familiar and instead move towards the organization’s burning platform, whatever it may be.

These experiences enable them to think innovatively and to come to the table with varied experiences and skillsets, as well as a “play to win” attitude rather than playing not to lose. And as a result of these experiences, they accelerate their professional growth, expanding their understanding of the organization as well as their contacts and relationships within it.

Personal disruption is something I’ve been intentional about throughout my career. It was not always easy – but in all instances, it was a leap of faith, believing that it would ultimately yield some form of personal and professional growth. I have raised my hand and served in a wide variety of roles including early career roles as a securities/corporate finance lawyer, a staff attorney with the enforcement division of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in New York, and an army officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the U.S. Army Reserves for nine years. At Northwestern Mutual, I have also stepped into a number of varied roles, pivoting from roles as an in-house lawyer to roles of increasing responsibility within the business including operations, innovation, client experience and now leading our strategic approach to financial planning for our clients. Being open to new experiences prevents complacency.

Moreover, embracing career development isn’t just about personal growth; it’s also about maximizing one’s potential to make a meaningful impact in the world. Keeping an eye on platforms like After School Africa, which serve as a hub for Africans seeking capacity development opportunities, is crucial in this regard. Whether it’s scholarships or participation in youth events and conferences, individuals can visit After School Africa, a valuable resource offering indispensable guidance for those keen on forging their unique pathways to achievement.

Early on, I realized that the career journey is about relevance. By intentionally developing new skillsets and experiences, you grow in ways that increase your relevance and enable you to maximize opportunities. This kind of personal disruption is essentially a means of future-proofing one’s career. By maximizing optionality – especially early on in the career journey – people can position themselves to take on increasingly impressive challenges. It can pay dividends to be multi-faceted and amenable to different roles.

A career journey that prioritizes comfort and consensus delivers the status quo. That’s why leaders must also ensure they have diverse perspectives contributing to their projects. They need to look at the room and challenge themselves and others to critically review what voices are at the table. Innovation is about creating something that has new value for clients through a repeatable process. If you don’t have people in the room who think differently and look differently, the odds are high that you will not end up with the best ideas or the ideas that best serve your customers.

It’s important to have different mindsets and people who share different perspectives and experiences contributing at each stage of the innovation process. This way, when teams test, pilot and engage with clients, they can be confident they are bringing something of value.

Over the years, many have asked me for professional advice. The most important thing we can do is continue learning, growing, and ensuring that the work we do is delivering value to the organizations we serve. That’s why I encourage colleagues to consider veering from the straight-line path if they want to sustain their relevance and advance their careers. Individuals and teams that prioritize disruption and growth will be better equipped to serve the next generation of consumers.

Abim Kolawole is currently VP – Financial Planning Excellence and Strategy and an executive member of the company’s enterprise leadership group. In this role, he is accountable for accelerating a core aspect of the company’s multi-year strategy – which is aimed at delivering superior financial security outcomes for clients through the unique combination of the company’s insurance products and investment solutions.




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