Career Advice for Moving Up the Corporate Ladder

Old World Mindset: Create a Niche

A common question I hear from the executive suite is, "How can I get to the next rung on the corporate ladder and advance my career"?

Old-world wisdom was to go deep and develop an in-depth and specific skill set. Master a skill and be known for it. You made a name and reputation as a wicked bean counter or as a strategic planner bar none. But in an economy where many large companies' growth depends on a global presence and a diverse workforce, being a specialist might not be the best strategy for you or your organization.

New World Wisdom: Be a Jack of All Trades

We've all heard the phrase, a Jack of All Trades and a Master of None. It is certainly not a phrase we want associated with our business persona. But what if we varied the expression: be a Jack of All Trades AND a Master of One. A Renaissance person--a Leonardo Da Vinci of business.

In other words be an executive who has a mastery or specialty, but also a working knowledge of other areas crucial to the growth of your organization. Going broad has replaced going deep.

Many Organizations Now Seek Generalists

As you advance up the rungs into higher management positions, there is a broader strategy you might consider: cultivate your specialty, but also know enough about your organization so you can step up and contribute to other parts of the business.

Today, many innovative enterprises encourage or even require a rotation so their employees can grow a broad skill set. For some organizations, part of their succession plan is to insure that top managers gain expertise in a variety of areas crucial to the health of the organization. In other words, they are looking for qualified generalists who can see the whole picture, not a limited view of the company. Bottom-line, don't use a micro lens, rather a wide angled one.

Five Tips for Climbing the Career Ladder

With that in mind, here are some tips for business leaders seeking a strategy to help advance within their organizations:

1. Gain a broad working knowledge of your organization. For example, if you are in marketing, educate yourself in finance, in sales, or in areas of corporate governance or strategy. Get to know lines of business outside of your specialty.

2. Each business quarter, target one area outside of your comfort zone, and educate yourself. Read journals, attend meetings and associate with others who have skills in this new area of interest.

3. Keep an ear to the latest trends outside of your area of expertise. This means reading a broad base of business magazines and journals, not just specialty or trade publications.

4. In meetings, speak up and comment on topics that are not directly related to your area of specialization (remembering to only comment when you can add value). It is important that others in your organization see and recognize that you have interest and knowledge outside of your specialty.

5. Finally, find a mentor outside of your department--someone who can give you in-depth and insider insights into another area critical to your company's growth.

Ultimately, you'll not just be preparing yourself to be a future leader who can impact your organization, you'll be preparing yourself to be a more well-rounded contributing member of society!