05/24/2012 12:27 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2012

Rise to a Leadership Position in 7 Steps

By Linda Descano, CFA®, President and CEO, Women & Co. and Managing Director and Head of Digital Partnerships, North America Marketing, Citi

What does it take to make it and rise to a position of leadership in business? That's the question New York Women in Communications posed to a panel of women executives and entrepreneurs, including me, at a recent Cocktails & Conversation program, The Corporate Ladder -- Women on the Top Rung. Moderated by Sunday TODAY show co-anchor, Jenna Wolfe, my fellow panelists included Cindi Berger, Chairman and CEO, PMK*BNC Public Relations and Marketing; Carol Evans, President, Working Mother Media; and Caroline Hirsch, Owner, Caroline's on Broadway.

The panel discussion was enlightening, insightful and inspirational, yet completely practical, lending itself quite naturally to a series of practicable steps to climbing up the ladder, rung by rung. Are you looking to rise to a position of leadership in your career? Take these seven steps and get started rising to the top:

1. Earn your privilege to lead. Leadership is earned; it isn't bestowed by virtue of having the word "manager" in your title or your level; it is the sum total of your words and actions -- the interactions, behaviors, qualities and decisions you make every day.

2. Be authentic. Be honest about who you are -- your attributes and qualities. If you know yourself, you can promote an honest brand. Ensure that your message is consistent. If it is erratic, it will undermine your efforts. Everything you do -- and choose not to do -- contributes to your personal brand, from the way you talk on the phone to the way you behave at meetings or write e-mails. Don't let the insecurities and biases of others turn opportunities into obstacles. I didn't and don't you either (check out my story)!

3. Make yourself visible. Build your profile internally and externally. Ways to do this include networking, signing up for high-profile or stretch assignments, showcasing your skills in presentations or workshops, writing for internal or external publications, volunteering for committees or panel discussions at a conference.

4. Get ahead by working hard and working smart. Working smarter starts by prioritizing and having a plan. It also means keeping an eye on the big picture at all times, which gives you the ability to add value and shape the direction of your work -- and that ultimately helps shape the direction of your career.

5. Your actions need to match your words. You can promise people the world, but if you don't follow through, your promises are meaningless. Your actions need to match your words. You need to be seen as someone others can count on in a pinch. Ask yourself these questions: Can you be depended on to follow through no matter what? Are you the go-to person who consistently gives more than is asked for? Are you able to multi-task with grace? Is your word your bond? Answer "yes" to these questions and you will deserve the confidence you're seeking.

6. Raise your hand. Seek out mentors and sponsors, raise your visibility and seize opportunities that come your way. And, lend a hand to share your insights and wisdom with the next generation, as I've shared in a recent blog post of the same title.

7. Approach work/life balance as a journey, not a destination. Only you can decide what's most important and what balance is "right" at any particular time. But, it's up to you to "own" communicating the choices you make and letting people know when your situation changes.

About the Author:

Linda is President and CEO of Women & Co., a service of Citi that brings women relevant financial content and thoughtful commentary. She also serves as a Managing Director and Head of Digital Partnerships for North America Marketing at Citi. A recognized expert on the topic of personal finance, Linda is also the featured contributor on and, for which she serves as their women and money expert. Her writing, tips and commentary have appeared in countless publications including: Huffington Post, MORE Magazine, American Banker and MSN Money to name a few. She is the recipient of a 2011 Luminary Award from Womensphere® and was the New York recipient of the 2009 Corporate w2wlink Ascendancy Award.