“I’ll work on that once I’ve worked my way up the ladder…”

ladder tree imageCareer paths have radically changed over the last decade or so. Many of us in the ‘Millennial’ bracket will almost certainly have many jobs within our lives, and we are due to be working for longer than our predecessors. Sheryl Sandberg for example has asked us to think of a career ‘jungle-gym’ now, rather than a linear career ladder. So how do you navigate this jungle gym? And how do you balance the desire to try new roles or sectors with developing your career?

Here’s 3 things to consider if you’re a more junior manager that wants to get ahead:

  1. Are you waiting for opportunities to come to you?

I’ve been struck by how many younger managers, or those who seek to be future leaders, fail to actively plan for their careers in any way. I’m not talking about a step-by-step plan to make it to the boardroom. I’m talking about the idea of working on your career, not just your job. It’s been well documented that ‘just’ excelling at your job will rarely get you a seat at the top table. Your networks, your internal influence with stakeholders, and your credibility are just some of the other factors that play a part.

The idea that you can work on these aspects later (once already in senior management) is potentially a dangerous one. Dr. Meg Jay in her book ‘The Defining Decade: Why your Twenties Matter’, urges individuals not to approach their twenties as a dress rehearsal – that is to act as if there will be no ramifications later on (professionally and personally). In no way does this mean one should not experiment or discover one’s passions – but beware of under-selling yourself in the belief that jobs (or relationships) are ‘just for now’.  Think about where you’d like to get to – this doesn’t have to be a rigid plan but if you want to reach a senior management position, consider how you’d get there. Talk to people, ask them how they did it, put yourself forward for stretch assignments, attend events that are outside your comfort zone, or whatever you might need to do to explore future career options. In the wise words of Zig Ziglar, “a goal properly set is halfway reached.” So, what kind of goals are you setting yourself?

  1. Do you know how you’re perceived?

Whether you buy into the concept or not, you have a personal brand, and we all know that people make judgements about us on a daily basis – and that these will be riddled with unconscious bias. You can’t stop that of course, but you can mitigate against it by actively choosing how you’d like to portray yourself to the working world.  At a recent event on paths to the boardroom, the dynamic Terri Duhon imparted many wise words, but one thing that she stressed really stuck with me. If the key roles of a board are to support and challenge the executives, your credibility and how you communicate are absolutely critical. Moreover, getting feedback on this (both ways) is essential.

Do you know how you are perceived? Have you asked for feedback on how you come across in meetings or at events? Are you putting yourself in situations that will get you exposure to senior management? What are you doing that demonstrates your capability?

  1. Do you think you have nothing to say?

If you are in the earlier stages of your career as you read this, you may have often been the youngest person at a meeting or an event. This can sometimes be daunting but don’t underestimate the value of a fresh pair of eyes. In some organisational cultures there can be an unwritten rule that you need to ‘earn your dues’ before you are taken seriously, and the link between age and expertise can be over-valued. This is not to dismiss that someone more senior has more experience in the sector, but rather to challenge the idea that therefore they must have all the answers and you as a ‘newbie’ have nothing of value to add. Coming in and asking the ‘stupid questions’ or asking why a process is carried out the way it is can be incredibly refreshing. A new perspective brings diversity of opinion and perspective and this ultimately leads to better decisions being made.

 This is superbly documented in the TED talk and works of Simon Sinek. Coming back to the fundamental question of why you are doing something can be revolutionary to a team or organisation. It’s worth asking yourself why you are pursuing a certain role or sector too.

If you want to get ahead, you need to start acting now. If you can consider the opportunities that you can embrace, how you want to be seen to embrace them, and what you bring to the table that will be a pretty good start!

Whether you are in the early stages of your career, or are supporting or managing those who are, visit us at PDT Global to hear more about our programmes on Impact & Influence.


Kusia Pell is a Global Solutions Consultant at PDT Global – Building Inclusion Globally.