Enter the corporate world and the first lesson you are taught is that you must constantly be climbing the career ladder. One rung at a time, your sole purpose for showing up at work is to make it up to that next rung. Pay your dues, stick it out with your company, deliver results, add a dash of good luck; the next thing you know, you are lord and master of the coveted corner office!
As a two-time CEO, one-time COO, and five-time VP; there are plenty of lessons that I can share with you regarding climbing the corporate ladder. The good news is that you do not have to sign up for a pricey online seminar, you do not have to purchase my latest self-help book, and you do not need to attend a three-day conference at a budget hotel that features an “all-you-can-eat stale pastry” breakfast buffet! Instead, I will consider this blog post to be my daily contribution to the well-being of humanity. Although I must admit, I was really looking forward to that watery hotel-grade coffee!
Scaling the corporate ladder can be an exhilarating experience. One step at a time, you face new challenges and competition as you work your way up to the letter “C” appearing on your business card title. You learn your company’s business inside and out, you take advantage of mastering each of the business disciplines thoroughly, and soon you have arrived at the top of the ladder.
An interesting observation about ladders in general; the further up you climb, the shakier the ladder becomes. Additionally, the higher your ascent on the aluminum or wooden implement, the further the distance you may end up falling. Still, there is no thrill that can parallel the feeling of accomplishment when you get to the very top!
I would like to ask you to humor me by undergoing a small experiment. Get up from behind that computer screen, trot out to the garage or shed, and grab a folding ladder. Please assure that it is at least five feet tall. Stand in front of the open ladder, grab a rung with your hand, and raise one of your legs laterally away from your body. Now climb up onto the first rung and repeat the leg exercise. Continue to do this routine until you find yourself on the very top of the ladder. In the process, try to ignore the sirens from the fire engine that your next door neighbor just summoned on your behalf.
Undoubtedly you had the same experience I did when attempting this feat. As you got higher on the ladder, raising your leg laterally became more difficult. You found yourself clinging onto the rails of the ladder to prevent your own personal confirmation of the Law of Gravity! Once you were almost to the very top rung, you suddenly realized that there was nothing for your hand to clutch onto. At the very top, you swayed dangerously as the feet of the ladder lurched up and down off the ground. Congratulations, you just made it to the C-level in the business world!
This simple illustration should now give you a solid sense of life at the top of the corporate world. With each step you take upward, maintaining your balance becomes trickier. The likelihood of failure increases with each new rung. You find yourself having to clutch onto others, relying on them to assist you in maintaining balance. Sadly, you soon reach a point where there is nobody left to cling onto. You are left to your own devices, the balancing act becomes more difficult, and the severity of falling increases exponentially.
Going back to our little experiment, picture for a moment an entire series of ladders. They surround the one you are standing upon. Some are shorter than yours, no more than step stools. Others tower over you, stretching up into the sky. These are the career ladders of your friends and peers. Go back to lifting your leg laterally away from your body once more. Feel free to grab onto the ladders around you to assist in maintaining your balance. Even at the very top of your personal ladder, you have something to hold onto. Gee, suddenly the exercise is not so difficult, is it?
The climb to the top of the corporate world is not a solo effort. If you open yourself to using the ladders belonging to others, the effort is reduced. If you allow others to use your ladder as well, their success becomes your success. If you help others build and reinforce their ladders, they will quickly return the favor. That said; please feel free to put one foot on my ladder any time you need to!