Many aspiring future leaders enter the first rung of the ladder after graduating top of their class from a prominent university, then compete vigorously for one of the limited slots of a renowned and accelerated leadership development program.
The new entrants carefully study the prowess of their assigned executive “sponsor” during business meetings, engaging with external customers or chatting in plush offices with other equally impressive leaders. They begin to envision themselves enjoying the perks, status and confidence that they attach to these senior positions.
After coaching many new entrants to the company leadership track (including millennials) who want to get to the top of the corporate ladder, I’m often asked the same question. The high-achieving fast tracker always asks: What do I have to do NOW for the chance to reach the top of the leadership ladder in the FUTURE?
Of course, the first and easiest part of that answer is that it takes a LOT. At minimum, you have to work hard, go above and beyond expectations and outperform your just-as-talented competition. But, as has been said before, there is much more to the story than that.
3 tips to help in your climb up the corporate ladder
- Clearly understand what key decision makers/insiders value most. If you want to become a part of the “inner circle”, you must first observe and understand who resides there, how its members operate formally and informally, and what they value most.Listen to not only what is being said, but what is NOT said during interactions. Look at body language, listen for tone, watch how decisions are made and what information is shared and by whom. Be a sponge in and outside of formal meetings and gatherings.
- Protect your reputation – inside AND outside of the company. Your work performance, how well you work with others, your external image, your adaptability and agility are areas you need to assess regularly – since how you view yourself versus how decision makers/ colleagues view you may differ at times.Make sure you are not afraid to ask for feedback regularly – not only during formal reviews. Go beyond just asking how you are doing as some leaders/peers find it difficult to give constructive feedback.So, a good question to help illicit this from others is to ask: If I could improve or change one area of my performance or reputation, what is your advice? Asking this way gives the person permission to give you helpful feedback they otherwise may hesitate to share.Also, make sure you Google yourself regularly. How you show up on social media can have as much impact on your image as your internal brand. Be aware of what you are communicating /posting on the internet and what others may be posting about you without your knowledge.
- Be likable. If those who work with you don’t like you, your leadership options are limited. People prefer to work on teams with those they like. Leaders prefer to promote those they like. No matter how strong your performance or how high your ratings, likability matters. That’s the hard truth. How can you improve your likability?
- Find a connection with your colleagues and leaders. The connecting conversation with a colleague or leader could be about attending the same university, sports or hobbies you both enjoy, similar community service interests, or a shared passion for the kind of work you do.
- Put the needs of others above your own. Contribute to the success/wins of your colleagues and leaders even if, at times, it means putting your own needs on the back burner.
- Expand your network inside the company. Get involved with meaningful projects, volunteer committees and informal events that allow you to interact with those outside of your immediate team. The goal is to expand your relationships and gain exposure to a wide variety of people who can influence your career growth – formally or informally. Note: make sure to actively manage your brand in all situations, including after-work gatherings.
Keep in mind, it is normal to trip on a step or two as you climb your way up the corporate ladder. That is how you learn and then readjust your approach as needed. These are just a few of the tips to consider as you begin – or continue — the journey.
What other tips are helpful to someone climbing the corporate ladder?
Or ready to learn more about what it takes to become a successful future leader? Find out more here.
For Shelle, coaching is not just her job…it is her passion. With over 25 years of experience in leading and creating meaningful change in high performance organizations, Shelle has collaborated with leaders across a wide spectrum. From CEOs and C-suite executives to developing leaders to aspiring or future leaders, Shelle uses her diverse background to instill change with her clients to achieve desired results.