Most young professionals arrive on the business scene fresh out of their learning institution with grand notions of achieving a rewarding and successful career.
And there are those that won’t be satisfied with anything less than “making it to the top”; grabbing the brass ring of CEO or another senior leadership position.
Scaling the organizational pyramid is a daunting prospect that often deters individuals from attempting it. They look around at their competition and the few executive positions available and conclude that the odds of anyone occupying a chair at the executive table are so low that it isn’t worth the effort to try. The probability of success is so low that the failed outcome is a foregone conclusion.
I believe that most people overthink the challenge facing anyone who wants to climb the corporate ladder. They do the analysis and deny themselves the opportunity to find out if they have what it takes to make it. The journey is over before it begins.
I am one of those very fortunate individuals who “made it”. I graduated with a BSc in mathematics and computer science and immediately took an entry level management trainee position; before the age of 40 I occupied the VP Marketing chair of a major telecommunications company in Canada and then went on to be President of the company that provided data and internet services.
In earlier days, telecom companies were monopolies, and executive positions were dominated by professional engineers. It would have been easy to look up, see the “iron ring” glass ceiling and decide that it was impossible to break through it. It hadn’t been done before.
But I didn’t.
Despite the odds, I decided to set my objective to be in the executive suite before I turned 40.
These 10 moves enabled me to achieve my goal. They’re not rocket science and they are totally within your own control.
1. Determine the gap in leadership that would have to be filled going forward if the organization is to thrive in the changing environment. Engineering would give way to marketing and customer service; monopolies would fall to a world of competition.
2. Find a mentor in the discipline that would be vital to the future success of the business. My boss was an executive from the retail world. We were tight; he was my biggest supporter.
3. Go beyond your job description to deliver results where others are unwilling. I was active in making process improvements for service delivery; beyond the scope of any role I had.
4. Let “How can I do this differently be your modus operandi. It will make you visible to others and not blend in with the crowd of people who go unnoticed. I asked myself this question with every task I was given.
5. Learn everything you can about the competencies needed to meet future threats and opportunities. I learned marketing – and more importantly practiced it – with no formal academic background in it.
6. Volunteer to lead project teams. Get experience in leading people and delivering results.
7. Be a doer not a pontificator. It’s one thing to intellectually understand what needs to be done, but it’s another thing completely to do it. Let the number of “tries” be your guide.
8. Spend time in the trenches discovering the issues impacting how delivering products and services are delivered to customers. No one else did it. I became known as “the frontline guy”; I was the go-to source of marketing and customer service solutions.
9. Hone your communications skills by being the passionate messenger of change in front of employee groups. If you fear it, do it.
10. Help people. Move demonstrably away from command and control thinking and be the one that asks “How can I help?”.
I would never suggest that reaching the top is a walk in the park, but there are some basic moves you can make to increase your chances of getting there.