A young woman recently asked my advice on how to climb the corporate ladder. While I don’t consider myself a poster child for ascent (especially since I leaped off midway) she thought it was worth sharing, so here are a few tips, based on my personal experience.

  1. Think like your boss. Whatever your boss’s role is put yourself in his or her shoes.  What information, validation, will she need to take the project to the next level. What will her boss ask for before he approves the budget, “green lights” the project?  Whatever that is, do it. Or at least gather the information to enable your boss to do it. By anticipating your boss’s needs, you will soon train yourself to move beyond completing tasks to creating solutions – and being a problem solver will accelerate your career.
  2. Build consensus (or at least learn the position your non-supporters will take). Busy executives need to make swift, informative decisions. Your ability to be concise, while providing the pertinent information required for making an informed decision, is as important if not more important than how well you do your actual job. Remember that an executive has to consider not just your perspective but how a program will impact other parts of the company. To form a compelling argument, talk to other functional heads, understand how your program will support their organizational goals. Also understand what objections others will have, formulate appropriate solutions, and proactively address these as part of your argument. For example, as a marketing communications leader, I had to quickly learn to think like a sales person (the maker of the money) and an accountant (the holder of the money) and incorporate their critical thinking into my arguments.
  3. Deliver. Deliver. Deliver. The business world is a small one. Whether it’s your company, your industry, or your market – you never know whose paths you may again cross.  So      no matter how high or low on the organizational chart be sure to leave a good impression. This isn’t accomplished by always saying “yes.”  The key is to manage expectations, deliver on your commitments, provide prompt and proactive updates as circumstances change, and take the time to explain sound rationale when you need to say “no.” People will respect you for it.
  4.  Act the part. We’re all green at some point in our careers, or new to a certain rank. In my case, I can still remember my first industry networking event, first high-stake vendor negotiation, and first presentation to the board. When in doubt, I observed the most confident, seemingly seasoned people in the room and simply did as they did. Sometimes with a few butterflies in my stomach, but I decided that no one was going to treat me as a confident, smart young professional unless I presented myself that way. For the most part, it seems to have worked!

I became the youngest corporate vice president for my former employer at the age of 29, and had the opportunity to travel internationally, help integrate more than 30 acquisitions and even ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange!

But most importantly, I learned lessons that have helped me to succeed in the corporate environment and in my post-corporate life, as well. It was my rapport, reputation and relationships with executives throughout my corporate career, that enabled me to start a successful marketing communications agency seven years ago, on nothing but word-of-mouth.

By Liza Palermo, Managing Partner, MarCom Group


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