IALWAYS shake my head when I hear junior executives, male and female, complain about the 'glass ceiling' that keeps them in their junior positions. They don't appreciate how most corporate structures are designed to help them get noticed and get ahead.
Meetings, sales calls, budgets, reports, proposals, projects, crises, quotas, projections ... all of these are opportunities for a junior executive to make a strong impression on the bosses deciding his or her fate.
Here are four strategies to keep in mind now that you know your bosses are watching you.
1. Tackle the impossible.
Every company has its share of corporate politicians who hold their fingers in the air to see which way the wind is blowing and then volunteer for all the easy 'sure-win' projects. Most bosses aren't fooled by this.
In our company, I've always said that a chimpanzee could close million-dollar deals for Bjorn Borg when he was the Number One player in the world. I was always more impressed by the executives who could generate new income for the players that Borg was beating. It showed a resourcefulness that went beyond answering the phone and taking the order.
Be careful not to volunteer for every sure-win assignment that comes your way. Over time, you'll get a reputation as someone who likes the easy way out. Do the unexpected. Tackle some impossible cases. If you fail, no one will hold it against you, particularly if none of your peers was even willing to try.
2. Stay close to home.
I once read an article about municipal layoffs during one of New York City's perennial budget crises. It reported that city employees who work outside City Hall - that is, the valuable employees on the streets who deal face-to-face with the public - were considered more expendable than the paper pushers inside City Hall who work near their bosses.
The inherent unfairness of that situation reveals something important about organisations: most bosses will reward the above-average people they see every day ahead of the great people they hear about occasionally. This is standard out-of-sight-out-of-mind thinking. I don't endorse it, but you ignore it at your peril.
I had a friend who passed up a giant promotion at his company because he wouldn't be given the office next to his new boss. He wasn't too concerned about his title or his compensation, but he was adamant about the office location.
When I asked him about it, he said: 'Most of the good relationships in this company start with people bouncing ideas in the hallway or around the water cooler or simply popping into one another's offices to shoot the breeze. I can't do that with my boss if I'm way down the hall or on the other side of the building. I'll be in his division, but not in his inner circle.' 3. Don't be afraid to make an enemy or two.
I know a chief executive officer who judges his executives' potential for advancement by how many enemies they make. His reasoning: he likes friction and controversy. He wants people who have one or two enemies within the company because that indicates a certain boldness of spirit, a willingness to try new things and rub people the wrong way.
I'm not sure I fully buy his logic (and I'm positive that's one corporate pyramid I wouldn't enjoy climbing). But there's a germ of wisdom here.
It's one thing to be abrasive and obnoxious. It's another to be so cautious and benign that no one notices you. Somewhere between the two is a strategy for success. By all means, be bold enough to make an enemy or two along the way (it comes with the territory). But when you have done so, be smart enough to know who they are and never let them out of your sight. Better yet, make the effort to transform them into friends.
4. Be the logical successor It's an axiom of good management. All bosses are expected to have heirs apparent - backup people who are as good if not better than they are. Bosses are only doing half their jobs if they fail to develop a visible Number Two who could effortlessly step in and replace them if they got run over by a truck.
Look around you. Who among your peers would you say is your boss's logical successor? What are you doing to make sure that it is you rather than someone else?