Whether you are a young rising professional or are tagged to be a senior leader’s executive assistant, there are some very sound steps to help you get through turbulent waters. Few people want to go through the pain of the steps required to rise through the ranks in the corporate world, but those who have the fortitude and follow some simple rules will most often come out on top.
Realize that in most corporations, there really is a process for getting the best people to the right positions within the company. Yes, some are haphazard, especially if you find yourself in the cubicle world and soul-crushing monotony of working for the “pointy-haired boss.” But most companies make genuine efforts to raise their young professionals into senior leadership with a deliberate process. So if you’re young and want to rise to the top, consider what the senior people in the company know compared to you. I know that we all think we could run the directorate or the company if given the chance, but that is really unrealistic for young professionals.
So what are some steps you can take? First, volunteer for some tough assignments, even those that aren’t in your primary lane. To rise in any corporate body, senior leaders look for breadth of experience as well as depth of knowledge. So this means that you have to be expert at what you do, and learn to do lots of things. There are lots of jobs that nobody likes to have, but that are really important in any organization. Sometimes senior leaders want to see how well you will handle a task that you think is beneath your abilities. Humbly accepting those jobs and doing well at them will often make you pass a test you may not have known you were given.
Second, be right when you answer questions. Everyone has worked with Ned from the FedEx commercial who is always wrong. You don’t want to be him. You want to be the person who anticipates what the questions will be, and has the answer for the boss. One step better would be to anticipate the questions, and then go fix the issue before it goes to the boss. That builds your credibility with senior leadership.
While you are anticipating questions and fixing issues, you are building up relationships with your peers and learning who does what in the company. You want to gain a name for yourself as being someone people can work with rather than the person who is always demanding. Sometimes you really can give it another day for them to work on. Most of the time, you won’t need to ask what their progress is when you are still a week away from the suspense and you know your peers have a full plate like you do. You never personalize professional decisions. Even if you think your peer that you’re working with might be wrong, you handle it professionally. Tell them what you think is right and let them do the same. If there is a genuine impasse, take it to your next level bosses and let them make the decision. Then you live with it professionally and make it your decision as well. This gains you credibility with your peers.
When you have credibility with peers and senior leaders, you’ll find yourself leaned on more and more. Then you get to look in the mirror and decide if you really meant it when you wanted to rise up the ranks. because if the answer is yes, you’ll learn quickly that in addition to your primary duties, you will be turned to for lots of other tasks. But you will also have to keep up with your e-mails, your formal correspondence (you’ll learn the importance of writing thank you notes with pen on real note cards), phone calls and having coffee with your peers and customers. Its amazing how much more you can accomplish over a cup of coffee than you can in a staff meeting. The point here is that you will need to increase your capacity for managing your time as more will be given you to fill it.
All of this is possible to do with a good disposition. Nobody likes to work with “angry, bitter guy” who is always grumpy. And people will know that you’re busy as well. But they’ll appreciate you all the more because you don’t overplay how busy you are. Busy doesn’t mean you can’t smile and be polite.
So if you want to move up the ladder, seek out the difficult tasks and master them. Get to know your peers and what they do. Help them and watch how quickly they come to help you. You all work for the same company, after all. Strive to be accurate and help others to be so as well. And be kind…always. You never really know what someone is going through that you work or interact with. You’ll soon find yourself being given higher and more difficult jobs as you climb up the ladder.