Don’t Skip These Four Rungs on the Corporate Ladder

Are you climbing the corporate ladder?  When asked, a common response from many professionals is a desire to progress and grow their career – whether within one company or spanning across several.

Career growth goals are good.  But how often do we really make a plan for how to develop both our technical and leadership skills in the process?

Here’s the invaluable truth:  The higher up you go in an organization’s hierarchy, the value of your technical job skill declines while the value of your interpersonal skills increase. 

What does that mean?

The “lower” in the organizational chart you are, the more granular detail and control you have of your job responsibilities.  Your knowledge is deep within specific tasks in that job function.  For example, a payroll clerk knows the ins and outs of the process involved in running payroll for a company.  The input of hours into the system and actual check cutting follows a specific process that is the required expertise of the clerk.

However, the inverse is true of the payroll manager.  While he must understand the overall process of cutting payroll checks, he must also oversee the larger functions of the accounting department such as payables, receivable, tax, etc.  A higher level of coordination must exist among each departmental function while depending on individual members of the department to their individual jobs.  Detailed job knowledge is less while the broader leadership skills increase.

Why pause on this concept?

Sadly, employees are often promoted through the ranks in an organization because they do the tactical elements of the job well.  “He is great widget maker, so let’s promote him to manage everyone who makes widgets.”  Unfortunately, the skills that make him a good widget maker are not necessarily the skills that make a good manager and leader.

If you find yourself in a leadership position of any type (and titles are irrevelant), it is important to recognize (for your own success) the importance of developing your interpersonal leadership skills.

Here are four areas successful leaders continually develop:

1.    Their antennae are always up.
These leaders force themselves to be aware of their messaging to others which means they watch body language (which means they slow down and possible re-cue some messages), they ask clarifying questions (they recognize communication is always two-way), and they don’t assume the other person has a shared meaning of their intended message.

2.    They ask two questions of themselves each week.
Q1: What did I learn from my team this week?  – This means I’m listening to the people who understand and perform the detailed tasks that create the team’s total performance.  My payroll clerk is closest to the payrolls system and knows better than anyone if it’s working correctly.

Q2: What did my team learn from me this week? – This means I’m coaching and teaching the people I lead every day.  How am I helping them in their development?  Where are the opportunities to offer praise?  This is where the relationship is created.

3.    They continually seek an extra “piece” of feedback.
Leaders seeking real growth are not satisfied with a simple “good job” from a customer, employee or leader.  Improvement requires feedback on specific behaviors so they intentionally ask for suggestions for improvement even when the shareholder seems pleased.  How can I listen more closely to my customers?  What are ways to anticipate my team’s needs?  What one additional task could I perform even better?

4.    They are accountable to someone.
Growth is a process and let’s face it, when done right it is painful.  Changing habits or acquiring new skills is a gradual process which means we must involve someone else in the process.  The key for accountability is someone who asks you the tough questions you won’t ask yourself.  They encourage your progress too.

Aspirations for career growth and advancement are admirable.  In fact, the movement keeps organizations alive.  The challenge for us as leaders is to remember that the skills that got us here won’t get us there.  So, where is your “there”?  And what is your development plan that will take you to that next step?  Happy climbing.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Skip These Four Rungs on the Corporate Ladder

  1. Kayla,
    I could not agree more. This is an excellent article. I especially take note to your widget comment. So True! I also take note that as you climb higher (depending on the position) your technicals usually suffer. It’s time to get back to basics!

    Thanks for the insights. I enjoyed reading it.

    1. Thanks for you comments Jan. We’ve seen this one manifest itself personally, haven’t we? These steps aren’t difficult but it sure takes an intentional attitude to focus on.

      1. Yes Kayla. This article has hit me directly and I have first hand insight. If you come across seminars in the area for Microsoft Office, I could use a refresher course, particularly in Excel.

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