Too many ambitious people mistake climbing the corporate ladder with ass-kissing. The latter won’t help you climb the ladder. And nobody likes ass-kissers, nor do they like themselves.
Climbing the corporate ladder can be a planned, well-orchestrated strategy of building a great career. My first advice would be — don’t work towards or look forward to the end, but rather make sure you enjoy the whole path. Each and every step is an opportunity to learn, to make friends, to build connections, and ultimately — it is others who propel you upwards. There is a saying that you’ll meet the same people on the way up and on the way down, so make sure you don’t burn bridges. I’ve made it and stayed normal.
Here are some things I’d advise you to consider:
Be curious. Ask a ton of questions, especially when you start. Let people describe their work, the processes, their colleagues, customers, partners. Learn how they feel, what drives them, see what works. Find small role models.
- Suggest, think out loud.
Once you learn the workings of the business, try to add some ideas. See the challenges that make everyone go into their hiding places and tackle those. Don’t worry about making stupid suggestions, you’re learning.
- Use data and metrics.
Don’t BS-timate if there is data available. Always define success metrics, and get them confirmed by others. Ask what the success looks like. Ask what failure looks like. Check-in, see where you are, and adjust course if necessary.
- Discover systems.
See how the best of the best do stuff. Copy them. Or find tools from outside your company that could be applied to solve different challenges. Stand out as a clever person that thinks differently.
- Be organized.
If you want to be successful, you’ll have to design your own methods of organization. Invest some time into learning different productivity and time management systems, then remake them to serve your purpose. Don’t hide your secret; showcase how you work to stay organized — people are always curious and impressed by that.
- Be reliable.
Show up on time. Deliver what you promised. If you can’t call and apologize. Upfront. “We’re supposed to meet at 14h today, but I’ll be late. ETA is X — does this still work for you? And I’m very sorry about this.” Don’t lie. You can make it sound funny by being honest: “I left my house too late, and I’m too stupid to remember that the traffic is awful at this hour.” No “dog ate my homework” excuses. Unless that piece of fleas really did that. Get rid of the dog. If you realize you overpromised, say it directly. Don’t wait till it’s too late. With this, people will learn to trust you, not only because you’re delivering, but they’ll be confident that you’ll also give them heads-up in case you’re struggling. Those are super valuable.
- Be vulnerable.
Showing your vulnerability is a sign of strength. Say when you’re struggling. When things aren’t alright. Be open. People admire that.
Try to feel how others feel. Even those you deem as enemies or competitors. Close your eyes and step in their shoes. Not only professional but personal too. It will help you be a better person, leader, human being.
- Step up.
90% of people are afraid of public speaking — even in the small conference rooms. Shy salespeople have skinny kids, they used to say. And shy people can’t lead others. Learn to stand up, speak up, learn public speaking. It’s an instant leap forward in any setting.
- Recognize others. Let others recognize you.
Don’t brag with your own success. Instead, recognize others, even when you’ve put in most of the effort. That way, others will recognize you, oftentimes behind your back. And that shit compounds.