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Getting on the Right Escalator - The Path To Advancement

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I recently spoke at a major women's leadership conference and had the opportunity to engage with some sensational women executives. We talked about the tough, but sometimes, critical choices women have to make over the course of their career. One of the tough decisions when a person desires to advance in their career is described by a phrase I coined, "getting on the right escalator," which simply means moving in the right direction in your career. I have to admit that I've been on the wrong escalator a few times in my corporate career. My personal challenges were positions where I was very comfortable with the daily tasks of the job and I was well regarded for the results I produced. In those situations, I often missed other opportunities because I just wasn't interested and, frankly, those around me didn't encourage me to move on once I told them how much I liked what I was doing. There's something about maintaining the status quo that is very appealing in the short term. But I do remember feeling "twinges" when others would get a promotion or be chosen for a project that I felt I could have done better. Those were my clues that I needed to switch escalators!

Some women get stuck because they don't think of the long-term goal or they are waiting to take their boss's job when he or she moves on. But did you know that in today's world, you have less than a 50/50 chance that will actually happen? With so many changes - mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations, and downsizings - no one can promise anything concrete these days. Stuff happens and the best-laid plans don't always work out.

Tips for Getting - and Staying - on the Right Escalator

Here are some tips for taking stock of your career and determining if it's time to jump on a different escalator to maximize your leadership potential and move toward achieving your ultimate goals.

1. Recognize your greatness.
Great leaders have the ability to look within themselves to understand their beliefs, values, assumptions, goals, dreams, hopes, fears, strengths and weaknesses. It's all about knowing who you are and how to translate that into leadership capacity. Start seeing the greatness that you have to offer as a leader. Start imagining yourself as a CEO, president, executive director and so on. If you can't see it, no one else will either.

2. Clarify what's important to you.
Determine what's important to you at this particular stage in your life and where you want to be in 3 to 5 years. This is a conversation you usually have with significant others in your life. Do you really want to be an executive and is now the right time for you? Take a serious look at what happens at the top - what values do you see demonstrated and are they in sync with your own values? How do the executives behave? Are those the behaviors you want to live with on a daily basis? How much am I willing to learn, do, and change to make it happen? Are you willing to ask for new opportunities and take the risks associated with doing something new that might be out of your comfort zone?

3. Control your own destiny.
Don't wait for someone to hand you an instruction manual for your career. No one can map it out for you. You're going to have to figure it out for yourself and systematically lay the groundwork for your future. Map out a plan that takes into account both your situation as well as your aspirations. This is essential for getting on the right escalator at the right time!

It's also important to know that when it comes to the direction of your career, there is no right or wrong. It's about knowing yourself and becoming aware of any potential misalignment. Then, you ask yourself, what steps do I take now to change this situation? Remember to take stock of your strengths, consider where your organization is going, and then proactively move in a direction where you can add value to the business while staying true to your values, goals, and commitments.

4. Don't assume others know your career goals.
Unless you are very lucky and have a coach or mentor who has taken the time to learn about your career aspirations, chances are that people assume you are happy doing what you are currently doing without considering where you might like to be in the future or even what you might want to be doing differently now. So, it's very important to communicate your career goals with people who are aware of and connected to potential opportunities.

It's essential to get people who recognize your value and know your ultimate career goals "onboard" so that when opportunities arise, they are there to champion and support you. If you don't, those around you (with all good intentions) may put you in a box that isn't where you really want to be.

5. Get feedback from others.
Feedback is invaluable. The more you know about yourself, the more confident and resilient you will be. But getting feedback is not always easy, and women tend to take constructive but difficult feedback personally. In SHAMBAUGH's Women in Leadership and Learning (WILL) courses, we start off with the notion that our leadership is a reflection of the perceptions that others have of us. That's why it is so critical to discern what we want that perception of our leadership to be and then to look at ways to be it consistently. Some questions to consider when seeking informal feedback on this are:

  • How are you doing? How are you perceived by others as compared to your peers? Do you have your personal "board of directors" who can tell you how well you're doing and what folks are saying about you as a leader?
  • What results are you getting? How are you measuring your effectiveness? How is your team doing and how are they measuring their success? When you have success, do the right people know about it?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do others think you do well (what are you "famous" for?) and where do they think you could do better or know more, etc.
  • What are your blind spots? What can they share about you that you don't already know?
  • What are your key differentiators? What is your unique value proposition? Why might you be chosen for a senior position over your potential competition?

6. Find the courage to get out of your comfort zone.
I have always believed that to advance to the executive level, you have to have the courage to take bold action. This means not staying in one role or one function for too long. How often do you get out of your comfort zone and take a risk? When was the last time you volunteered to do something totally different than your normal job? Do you take on new roles or engage with different teams? How often do you volunteer to help out on other projects? Is your team looking for new and challenging opportunities? Are they volunteering to do work that is new and different than their current responsibilities?

If you think it's time to get on the UP escalator, then consider these steps I have outlined for you.

You can't expect someone else to take you to the top. It just doesn't happen that way. You have to manage your career. Decide what you want out of your career; map out a plan to get there, and then put yourself in a position to achieve it.

SHAMBAUGH's Leadership Development Programs and their Women In Leadership and Learning (WILL) Program help leaders to be aware of their strategic capabilities and position themselves correctly. To learn more about the Sticky Floors check out Rebecca's best selling book, It's Not a Glass Ceiling, It's a Sticky Floor, and for more information about SHAMBAUGH's Leadership Development Programs visit www.shambaughleadership.com