My leadership journey: Horizontal vs. Vertical career growth

by jared ginsburg - director of ticket sales for oilers entertainment group
May 11, 2020

Are you preparing yourself for your next opportunity in the industry?

I felt like a million bucks as I took the short walk from my new office to the sales bullpen with a bit of swagger in my step. I was 23 years old and had just been promoted to Director of Ticket Sales for the ECHL’s Fresno Falcons after just one season as an Account Executive (AE) with the team. I loved the status of what the promotion brought – a private office, management meetings, talking about “my team,” and running my own sales meetings. However, the one thing my naïve self at the time neglected to think about was how we were actually going to achieve results.

As I started our first sales meeting, I laid out expectations for the basics – make this many calls, set this many meetings, get out to networking events. The same things I had seen the previous regime do, but just assumed that I would do them better. I then spewed out some clichés from management books I had read along the way (I even broke out one of my management textbooks from school!).

I had a lot of eyes staring at me in that meeting looking for direction, strategy, tactical insights, not a to-do list. What I realized very quickly in my new role was that I did not understand the intricacies of how ticket sales strategy worked, how to coach my team to get the best out of them, how to utilize incentives to stimulate behavior, how to create a culture, and on and on…

The reason being, I had not sought out this information when I was an AE. I had tunnel-vision for my sales role and did not bother to worry about sales strategy or people management tactics. Not because I did not think they were important, but because there was no immediate consequence to me or my career if I learned about these things or not. I simply wanted to do enough to get promoted and receive the “benefits” that came with a higher role.

In my next role in the industry as Director of Business Development for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, we had a relatively small front office, where I was primarily in charge of the ticket sales team. Over time, and after delivering results, I added corporate sales and game ops to my portfolio, as well as assisting with marketing strategy and merchandise sales – basically everything except drive the Zamboni (and trust me, I tried). I may not have been an expert in each, but I knew that learning these areas and understanding how to juggle multiple departments would play a part in helping me prepare for the next level.

There are some in the industry, as I was in Fresno, who are so laser-focused on their next opportunity that they neglect the opportunities right in front of them to be exceptional in their current role, which truly sets them up for success when the next role does become a reality.

During these uncertain times, this is an extraordinary opportunity to slow down and take stock of where your skillset is at. Based on the overconfidence effect that many of us face, we tend to overstate our own abilities. So, I am talking about a real, true, honest look at your strengths, weaknesses and potential growth areas. As part of that, reflect on how well you know your department and how it operates. If you were put in charge tomorrow, would you know where to start, where to focus on growth, what resources are available? After the bumps and scrapes I endured as a new leader in Fresno, I have changed my focus to work on growing my skill set versus growing my title.

Enter horizontal career growth. Simply stated, horizontal growth refers to earning opportunities to expand your workload, skill set and responsibilities while still in your current role. Horizontal growth focuses on delivering results, while providing a low-risk opportunity to expand your practical toolkit and gain exposure to new areas of the business. All the while, carving out a clear and transparent path to your next role. From my experience, horizontal growth leads to vertical growth.

I am definitely not saying that vertical growth is unimportant – of course it is – but solely chasing vertical growth can hinder your ability to prepare yourself for success when your next promotion comes. The right opportunity, not just any opportunity, will present itself when you are truly exceptional in your current role.

While the possibilities are limitless, some simple examples of horizontal growth opportunities that we have provided to our top-performing staff based on their future career goals include:

  • -Running a structured mentorship program with a new AE

  • -Having an AE assist in interviewing potential new hires

  • -Participate in high-level strategic meetings

  • -Job shadowing opportunities with leaders outside our department

  • -Participate on company committees and stretch projects

  • -Having an AE lead an important training session during our annual Sales Boot Camp

  • -Running weekly business tracker meetings with new sales reps

In my mind, horizontal growth boils down to one thing: Focus on results over status.

This was my mindset that I took my entire time in Kingston – work hard, deliver results and soak up as much knowledge as I could. After four years of attendance, revenue, profitability and personal growth, I was in a one-on-one meeting with one of my AE’s and my phone rang. It was a call from a recruiter asking if I would be interested in pursuing the Director, Ticket Sales position with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG).

Several months later, there I was, walking from my new office to our first sales meeting with my new team in Edmonton, having a much different demeanor than I had making the same walk in Fresno years earlier. Since joining OEG, I have continued to concentrate on delivering results as well as horizontal growth to gradually increase my portfolio. I now oversee our Ticket Package sales team, Group Sales team and Premium Sales team for both our Oilers and Oil Kings brands, along with advising our AHL Ticket Sales leadership in Bakersfield. I say this not to pat myself on the back, but rather to show that horizontal growth is real.

Here are some of the main actions I have taken to gain horizontal growth that have helped pave the way for where I am today:

Excel in your current role

This does not necessarily mean being at the top of the sales leaderboard every week (it also does not mean you can be at the bottom either!), but rather, are you doing the intangibles to make yourself indispensable to your team and your managers? Our department looks for three things in successful team members: sales success, continual development, and leadership. Can your manager count on you during crunch time to meet a hard deadline or close a big deal? Are you setting the tone in the office through your work ethic and attitude? This is what delineates good from exceptional teammates. More importantly, as more responsibilities come your way, do not let your foot off the gas on your core duties. This is ultimately how you become successful at higher levels – harder work, more balls to juggle and higher expectations. Learn to manage these now.

State your intentions to your manager

Make sure you and your manager are on the same page with where you want your career to go. When your manager is aware of where you want to head, and your current performance backs it up, your manager should be more aligned with providing you horizontal growth opportunities that will get you to your next step. Rather than spending time searching job sites looking to grow your title by moving from team to team, invest your time to create new opportunities internally.

During my first week as Director, Ticket Sales for OEG, I went through individual meetings with each my new AE’s to get to know them better and to understand their aspirations. Two of my top AE’s both had a very clear message that they wanted to get into management positions with the company. The important piece was that they also backed it up with results both on the sales leaderboard, but also as leaders within our team that season. As such, they earned opportunities to learn about people management and sales strategy and were both promoted to management positions the following summer. The key was that they were up front about their intentions and together we worked on a custom plan to get them there.

Network like crazy

The more you talk shop with others in your organization or with colleagues from other teams, the more you are going to learn. There are some who believe industry networking is about creating relationships that will lead to new job opportunities, and while this may be true to an extent, my goals for networking have been a bit different. I try to use networking to gain new knowledge that I can bring back to my team and implement immediately to drive results. Although the relationship is important, it is more status-related than the actual knowledge gained, the latter of which is what truly drives the results.

I had an AE from a minor league team reach out to me last week for a quick 30-minute call. He was incredibly well prepared with questions that could help his business now. He was not concerned with how he could get a job with my team, but rather on getting insights that would help grow his business. However, his professionalism and passion shone through and not only did he leave the call with some new actionable knowledge, he also left a lasting impression with me about his personal brand.

Take the time to learn about the role that you are aspiring towards

The best way to set yourself up for success in a new role is to know what success looks like at a higher level. Ask to sit in on a higher-level meeting, sit down with your manager after-hours to have them explain the intricacies of the strategy for a new campaign, debrief a peer-to-peer accountability situation with your manager for their thoughts on how they would have handled it. You only know what you know, so take the time to grow your knowledge base about the role you are aspiring to.

I have seen occasions where colleagues applied for newly posted positions because the job sounded “sexy”, when in reality, they were not even sure about what the role entailed or where it would take them in the future. Conversely, I have seen some truly remarkable examples of colleagues who did everything they could to set themselves up for a specific role that was not even available yet, such as going for lunch with the department head, job shadowing, and sitting in on department meetings. They were learning as much as they could to be prepared for when the opportunity came.

Jump on every opportunity presented to you

‘No’ should not be in your vocabulary when you concentrate on horizontal growth. Every opportunity has at least one piece that can be extracted to help further your career. Additionally, taking on any and all tasks helps to align you as a true team player and solidifies your leadership position on your team.

Last year, I was lucky enough to be able to co-chair OEG’s Operational Leadership Team, a group of VP’s and Directors from across the company who were put together to tackle several high-level organizational projects. This was not a promotion, nor did it come with more pay or additional benefits – it was strictly a growth opportunity that I tried to maximize to its fullest. While there was certainly additional workload included, I was able to build my skillset with some unique experiences, including making presentations to our Executive Leadership Team, assisting in orchestrating high-profile organization-wide staff communications and working on different types of accountability scenarios. These experiences have helped me become a better leader for my team today, but will also help my career in the future.

While there is so much up in the air right now with regards to our industry, use this time to concentrate on controlling what is controllable, and setting yourself up for future success by taking horizontal steps forward to better yourself and your career. I truly believe that opportunities will come for those who are patient and prepared. It might not be today or tomorrow, but put yourself in the best position possible for when that time does arrive.


Jared Ginsburg is the Director, Ticket Sales for Oilers Entertainment Group in Edmonton, Alberta. He oversees Ticket Package, Group and Premium Sales for the Edmonton Oilers (NHL), Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) and Live Entertainment at Rogers Place, along with consulting for their AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors. Prior to joining OEG, Jared has a wide background in sports, having spent time in the ECHL, AHL and OHL in Ticket Sales and Corporate Sales positions. You can connect with Jared on LinkedIN here.