“You cannot push anyone up a ladder unless he be willing to climb a little himself.” — Andrew Carnegie, American billionaire and philanthropist.
It’s basic human nature to want to better yourself, so it’s no surprise that the vast majority of workers want to climb the organizational ladder as far as possible during the course of their working careers. The money tends to increase the higher you go, so rank hath its privileges. Many entry- to mid-level workers look toward management as a goal, and those already in management often want to ascend higher.
Let’s say you’re already middle management and have an eye on the distant gleam of the C-Suite. You can improve your odds of getting there if you:
1. Get down to business. If you’ve aimed for management from the very beginning, this probably won’t be a problem; no doubt you already have an advanced degree. Admittedly, you don’t absolutely need it to reach the C-Suite. Many top executives have made it with little more than a basic college education, supplemented with drive and determination. Neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates even finished college, but they represent rare exceptions, since they literally built their companies from the ground up. A specialized business education can open doors other educations can’t, and it prepares you specifically for management. If you don’t have an MBA or similar degree, start working on it now.
2. Believe you can. Big dreams and consistent optimism can go a long way toward overcoming everyday barriers and obstacles to advancement. There’s a saying in sports: “go big or go home.” It applies to business ambition as well. As real-estate tycoon Donald Trump pointed out once, “I decided as a young man that I would be a millionaire, and of course I met that goal rather quickly. And then I thought, ‘Why can’t I be a billionaire?’” If you love your work and pour your efforts and resources into it, it’s a lot easier to get where you want to go.
3. Turn your dream into a goal. Know exactly what you need to do to advance toward your next position. Set deadlines and establish mileposts, just as you would with any project. Learn everything you can about subjects that will help you rise through the ranks. Get cross training and line or field experience if you have none. Actively work your next transition plan when you start each new job.
4. Toot your own horn. Stand-outs have a greater opportunity of catching the eye of those who matter. Express ambition to your superiors, in a positive way that supports team goals. Volunteer for new projects (but don’t abandon old ones to do it). Become a paragon of productivity and professionalism. Innovate in ways that bolster the organization. Make recommendations that can help the organization function better or save money. Don’t be cocky about it, but make your excellence known. If you just quietly do a good job, you’re less likely to advance.
5. Mentor and be mentored. Step forward to help greenhorns learn the ropes and increase their productivity faster, thereby aiding both them and the organization. Be seen as a leader who helps develop others. Meanwhile, look for your own mentor: someone higher than you in the hierarchy who’s already been there and can help you avoid the pitfalls as you push upward. Bounce ideas off them, and seek their advice in all work-related matters. Whatever side of the equation you’re on, you’ll learn from the other person.
At the top, the pay and the view are much better. Plus you’ll have a lot more say in running the business. To get there, take massive action now. The tips I’ve outlined here should help you gain a toehold; where you go from there is entirely up to you, and no doubt you’ll find additional helping hands on the way up. Because in truth, a business hierarchy doesn’t resemble a ladder at all. It’s more like a rock face—one you’ll have to climb with great care, dogged determination, and all your wits about you.