Eminence Grise: A trusted advisor

While reading “The House of Cards” I came across this:

From time to time over the years, [Alan] Schwartz had thought about giving up his management position at the [Bear Sterns] firm and assuming the mantle of eminence grise in the M&A world, not unlike a Felix Rohatyn or Jack Levy, who were well-regarded senior M&A bankers without a management role.

I did some homework on the meaning of eminence grise and found that what it boils down too is “trusted adviser.” Aldous Huxley wrote “Grey Eminence” — a biography of Cardinal Richelieu’s trusted adviser.

I’ve been thinking about the direction of my career over the past few years. My personality is such that I am always looking ahead of the current step and think about what I want to do next. In the 12+ years of my career I’ve seen people who were trusted advisers to their respective business leaders. I always admired them and envisioned myself one day to be in such a role.

Reading about well respected people who shun management roles reaffirms my long-term goal of becoming a trusted adviser or a chief technologist to a visionary business leader. In my mental exercises I’ve come up with several scenarios of accomplishing this.

Patiently sticking with the same vertical at the same employer and gaining the trust of the management. In this scenario I become a key technologist responsible for the well being of a specific piece of the company’s IT systems.

Alternatively, a consulting or a consulting-like approach may work too. With this career development path I see myself focusing on the horizontal aspects of technology while advising client(s) across different industry verticals.

First scenario is less risky and more secure. Second scenario would require me drawing on my past consulting experience and being more proactive at marketing myself. In the first scenario, I am risking being looked over when it comes to promotions in a company where a corporate structure is set up for IT management roles rather than engineering. In the second one, I am risking job stability and there is a chance of becoming a Jack of all trades but master of none.

There are obviously pros and cons to both approaches, a lot more than I had just described. Is there another scenario ? A road less traveled, perhaps ?