Climbing the corporate ladder to become a C-level executive is not an overnight process. It takes time and you have to be aware of the hard truths involved along the way. We explain what entry-level employees, and those halfway up the corporate ladder, can expect to deal with to get ahead when climbing the corporate ladder!
Warning: Some of what you read may sound polarizing. But in no way should it ever stop you from trying to be successful.
1. The smartest person in the room does not always win
It is tough to discover that the people with no college degree, a 2.1 GPA, and a 3.9 GPA can all climb the corporate ladder as quickly as the other.
People who get things done tend to go farther than those who think a degree is a free pass to the top. The determined leader survives longer than the person who believes, “I have a Masters degree. I should be promoted!”
You should be proud of your degree. You worked hard for it. It will be helpful and you will be better off than those without a degree. However, if you cannot lead and execute strategies, you will be seen as a “doer”.
2. You must take risks and lose your fear of being wrong
Taking risks breeds both failure and confidence. Those that climb the corporate ladder are fearless, never afraid to be wrong and sometimes dive in headfirst without knowing the depth of the water.
You are the very thing that “Monday Morning Quarterbacks” love to complain about. In the face of all danger, you know the outcome of taking a successful risk outweighs the criticism for taking the risk.
Additionally, you often take the risk of speaking your mind and doing what you believe is right. You do not mind being the unpopular one in the room. In fact, you love being called crazy or outspoken in meetings and in public. To you, it means you are doing something right.
3. You hold yourself accountable to all stakeholders even when it hurts
Today’s world of “public trial by social media” has led to an increase in corporate leaders who have to accept accountability for the mistakes of people they had no control over. When someone at the bottom of a corporate ladder messes up so badly that it hurts a company’s reputation, the person at the top of the corporate ladder pays for it.
However, the popularity of using social media to harm company and people’s reputations has also led to an increase in leaders assigning blame to those beneath them. Unfortunately, all employees trying to climb the corporate ladder are vulnerable to being knocked off the corporate ladder at the mere scent of trouble or PR issue.
Your ability to proactively take responsibility for your actions before problems arise will be tomorrow’s powerful predictor of long-term success on the corporate ladder.
4. Loyalty to a company matters very little
The mutual loyalty between you and the corporation is prone to falling apart for unpredictable reasons. Your loyalty to the company matters very little if it does fall apart. To give you a true example, an unnamed executive worked at a company for 17 years. He was responsible for saving the company tens of millions of dollars through denying insurance claims. He was one of the most popular Vice Presidents in North America and his successes were used often as training materials.
One day, he shows up to work and his entire office is packed up and boxed. Security stood by him waiting to escort him out of the building. He was officially fired without discussion. Why? One of the claims he had handled fell into default status. The reported claim was not acknowledged as filed by the company.
In English, a claim was reported and the insurance policy owner never heard back. The person who filed the claim was automatically rewarded $100,000. It was a simple, yet costly mistake.
When you weigh 17 years of service and tens of millions of dollars saved, $100,000 seems like a drop in the bucket. But that did not matter. He was escorted out of the building without a moment’s chance to say goodbye to the people he worked with for 17 years.
Note: See #3. It was not completely his fault. Both he and his staff had dropped the ball.
5. Big decisions affecting your status on the corporate ladder happen over dinner
This is the hardest one to stomach. You spend all day at work trying really hard to do your best. You have meetings about company direction and strategy. Everything seems to be going well!
Then suddenly something changes overnight. All the final decisions affecting the company (and your job), are made by those on top of the corporate ladder outside of work. They were either having dinner, drinks at the bar, playing golf, at a conference, or some other social event where leaders gather.
Work your way to the top of a corporate ladder and you will see for yourself. It almost sounds too strange to believe. On the other hand, you can do what millions of other people in the USA have done to avoid the corporate ladder: Start your own business