Ep #109: Where You Need Straight A’s (and B-’s) In Your Professional Development
I didn’t really care about grades when I was in school. I cared about how things made me feel.
I got decent grades in most of my classes, and higher grades in the ones I naturally gravitated towards.
And for most of my education, this was fine.
But recently I’ve been thinking about grades in a more strategic, purposeful way by asking myself this one question:
Where should I invest my time and energy in order to get the biggest return?
Right now, you may also care more about the areas of your job that feel good.
Because it can feel so good to be the subject matter expert in your niche and to feel completely irreplaceable in your role.
But doing what you’re already good at won’t help you advance your career.
To reach that next level, you need to start settling for a B- in the things you excel at, and pushing your other skills (communication, relationship building, and more) to an A+.
And in this episode, I’ll show you how to do it.
This week on Maximize Your Career with Stacy Mayer I’ll reveal how to use the traditional grading system to figure out where you need a higher grade in order to advance your career and where it would actually benefit you to go for a lower grade.
If you want to receive the recognition you deserve, step into a higher leadership position, get paid for your ideas instead of the hours you put in at work, and enjoy more time, freedom, energy, and joy, then you need to get your hands on a copy of Promotions Made Easy. Get your copy here.
What You'll Learn:
- Why doing what you’re good at is stopping you from advancing to that next level of leadership
- The areas you actually need to get straight “A’s” in
- What you need to be doing less of in order to advance to the executive level
- Why building relationships is one of the most important areas to excel in
- What doing an A+ job looks like in action
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- Ep #107: How To Be Recognized For Your Powerful, Executive-Level Decisions
- Connect with me on LinkedIn
- Join my group coaching intensive, Executive Ahead of Time
- Get your copy of my brand new book, Promotions Made Easy: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Executive Suite
Hello, everyone, welcome to another episode of Maximize Your Career. I'm your host, Stacy Mayer, and super excited to be here with you again this week. Before I get started today, I want to share with you an amazing testimonial that I received on LinkedIn. And this is not amazing just because of what it says about me or the program, but it's actually amazing because of how it made me feel. I felt enormous pride when I read this one sentence in particular, and I wanted to share it with you. And part of the reason that I felt so much pride and excitement is because what she shares is something I've been actively working on for several years.
Staci - who is the Director of Systems Engineering and also has a fabulous name herself - she shares 'what was most helpful for me', and she's referring to the Executive Ahead of Time training that she went through with me last year.
"What was most helpful for me was the way that Stacey would challenge my limiting beliefs with wit and grace. I don't know. It's some kind of superpower she has - maybe ninja mind tricks where she calls B.S. on pity parties and gives you the courage to go out and get yours, whatever yours is."
Oh my goodness, this is huge. So, calling B.S. on pity parties is definitely something that I've been living with my entire life. It is the way that I call B.S. on my own pity parties all of the time. Now, have I been able to do that for other people? No- that was definitely a learned skill that I had to learn over time. But the part that stood out to me the most was this idea that I am able to see through other people's limiting beliefs. And two weeks ago, I shared with you an episode about decision making.
And so, I wanted to use this testimonial as an example to share with you how I got to that place, how I make decisions, what I'm thinking about inside of my head. And I think this could be a really great example for you when you're sharing your accomplishments. So normally we would just share something like 'somebody said' or 'I created the school' or 'I had this amazing win'; And then what I want to challenge you to do - and go back and listen to the episode if you haven't already - is to start to think about what was the decision that led to that accomplishment? And then how can I articulate that? How can I communicate that to other people? So, I'm doing this in real time - in action - sharing with you why Staci, who left the testimonial, was able to say that about me.
How do I make decisions that challenge other people's limiting beliefs? And the thing - the skill - that I have cultivated over the last several years is the skill of always making decisions from my future vision. So, I'm always thinking about 3X. And so, in turn, I'm also always thinking about my clients 3X. So, I'm thinking, I'm looking at the corporate badass, and I'm thinking, are they making this decision from now or from the future? And generally speaking, most of us ask questions, make decisions, and have challenges based on our immediate circumstance. And so, I use our goals, our vision, our long-term future to make short term decisions. And so oftentimes that comes off as challenging your limiting beliefs as to looking at what is possible.
And so, this idea of ninja mind tricks and everything - and I think when we can start to be transparent and really see, 'Oh, I can do this for myself too.' This isn't something that's very magical outside of me, but it is a practice that is learned over time and cultivated and enhanced and improved upon; and I have received an enormous amount of coaching on this skill. So, this is definitely a skill that I have worked on for a very long time, and it's this number one skill that I work on with the corporate badasses who are in my Executive Ahead of Time and my advanced Leadership Table mastermind. This is what I'm trying to show them and get them to do - is to begin to make decisions from this future.
So, I'll give you a little example from our Executive Ahead of Time group coaching call just yesterday. So, we were having a conversation about empowering our team. What are the ways that I can begin to empower my team more? And I think it's an excellent question. I love the question. There's all kinds of different tools that I can give you for team building, for delegation, for conversations that you can uplift other people. And so, I started to do that, and then I paused for a second and I really thought, 'Okay, can we figure out the answer to this question? How can I empower my team more?' The answer is yes, and we have lots of tools in front of us. We have other leaders at our organization. We can try something - we know the next best step to try and really get to the bottom of empowering our team. But essentially, at the end of the day, what that does is it makes us a better manager. And if you've read my book Promotions Made Easy, a lot of it talks about ‘how can we start to build trust as an executive leader versus being seen as a better manager? ‘
So, this idea of empowering our team is a concept to make you a better manager. And like I said, it's an important thing - you need to be a better manager, all of those great skills. But what I teach is how to get you into an executive leadership position. So, if we're going to do that, we have to start thinking bigger. We have to think about the goal. We have to think more long term.
So, the way that I approach the answer to this question was, what if we were empowering leadership instead of worrying about empowering our team, what if we thought about ‘how can I empower the executive team?’ How can I empower leadership? Now, one of the ways that we can empower the executive team is to be an incredibly empowered leader ourselves. So, if we can get out of the weeds and really empower our team, then we can become a more empowered leader ourselves, which in turn allows us to be a role model for executive leadership. It allows us to make our bosses' jobs better. It allows us to have more high-profile conversations with the CEO. So, this idea of empowering our team is important, but we really need to span out and look at the 'why'. Why are we empowering our team? Why are we doing the work that we're doing? It's because what we really want to do is empower executive leadership. We want to show them we want to be the role model. We want to give them opportunities to even model our behavior.
That is when we're able to really get pulled into those higher-level conversations, to be a more valuable member of our organization, because all of us have tried and tried and tried again to empower our team. And at the end of the day, what happens is we're still exactly where we were when we started. We're still in the same title. Our team feels slightly more empowered, but we're stuck. We still feel empty and then we end up having to leave the organization and go find another job. So, what I'm trying to do is span out. I'm always, and so in terms of decision making and why I believe I received this amazing testimonial and why it fills me with such great pride is because I've actively worked on spanning out. I have expanded my capacity. I always question. I always ask, 'why?' And if you're a corporate badass in my community, that's what the work that we're doing -is we're taking on the surface, the question and then we're expanding it out and we're looking for alternative ways to approach and get to the same resolution, but with a bigger, bigger impact. So, I thought that was a great example that I could share with you at the beginning of today's episode. And it's also an excellent segue into what we're going to be talking about today, which is focusing on the right problems and stop doing what you're good at.
So, I will talk more about that in a minute. But I just wanted to give you a beautiful example of how I make decisions, how I think about things. And if you can start to ask yourself, 'how did I get to this place that I'm at today?'; and then 'how can I communicate that with other people?' - You will be 10 steps ahead of your colleagues and really be on your way to that executive level promotion.
Now, what do I mean by 'stop doing what you're good at'? It's based on the concept of what got you here, won't get you there. So, when we look at what got us to this point in our career - being the subject matter expert, having all the answers, being an amazing manager for our team - that is not what's going to get us into those higher-level executive positions. And what we have to start doing is recognizing some of the skills that we're relying on, and some of the traits and the abilities that we have as a leader that we're relying on to get ourselves into that next level leadership position, are not actually helping us in terms of getting to that next level leadership position. So, I'm going to break this down for you a little bit today in terms of grades; and this has actually been very, very helpful for me in the last couple of years is to start to give myself letter grades on certain projects or actions or things or work that I am doing in my business, in my career.
And I actually got started doing this because of a couple of different people in my life that are in the academic world. And these are my neighbor and my husband - both have their PhDs, and the way that they communicate often is in terms of letter grades. And so, they'll actually say something like, 'I think that this particular thing that I'm working on needs to be a B-minus, and I'm okay with that.' And I was like, 'Okay, well, what does that even mean?' That needs to be a B minus this, I'm actually shooting for an A. This particular project, this thing that I'm working on, I'm shooting for an A.
And so, I want to use this analogy for you today, when you start to think about what you can start letting go of and make more of a B-minus, and then how can we start elevating and creating more A's? And this might at first make you a little angry or annoyed. And here's why - because we see people all the time who are less qualified than us get promoted into higher level leadership positions. And it's frustrating and it's annoying. Or we see incompetency at the executive level and we're like, 'Okay, well, how did they get there?' Well, it's because they did A’s on the right things and then, they were a B-, or probably even a D in other areas. And the areas that they were an A in - they got promoted. That is what got them into those higher-level positions.
Now I want to look at you. So, you are already an excellent manager. So, when I gave the example earlier about empowering your team, there are definitely ways that you could improve that. But let's say if you were going to give a letter grade to yourself right now in terms of your ability to empower your team, would that letter grade be an A-? So, there's definite room for improvement, but right now you're at an A- and you want to get yourself to an A or an A+ in terms of empowering your team. Because that's naturally the way that we work - we want to be better managers, especially when we have come up from a subject matter expertise role. We just want to be better at our job -that's the quote-unquote, what we're good at. We want to be really, really good at that. So, we want to go from, 'I'm an A-minus right now in empowering my team - I want to become an A or an A+.
And then what happens is you focus on that area for an extended period of time, and you get to become an A or an A plus. And at the end of the day, it doesn't matter, because the criteria for your role was A-. That you needed to be an A-minus at empowering your team, and you didn't actually have to be an A or an A+ in terms of getting promoted, in terms of making it to that next level position. And so, then you get frustrated because you're like, 'Well, I did the work. I've become a better manager. I'm an A+ now, why am I not getting promoted?' And then it feels very confusing. And so, what we're going to start to do is we're going to realize, what are the areas that I need a higher letter score? And then what are the areas that an A- is good enough, or a B+ is good enough, or a B is good enough. And what can I start doing less of so that I can have more gain?
Now I want to give you a caveat because I know that you're not driven by titles and seniority and you might be driven by money, which is fantastic. You might also be driven by titles, but it's not from that extent. Like, 'I have to have this title so that I can feel good about myself and feel powerful.' No, you want the title or the authority so that you can make a bigger impact at your organization.
And what I see happen in the women that I work with is it works that way. So, when I'm able to get them promoted into higher level positions, they have a better impact on the outcomes of what's actually happening at their organization. They start to be able to have more influence. They feel better about their job. They're able to participate more with their family because they're not constantly going back to trying to just be a better manager, A+ being a better manager. And so, they're putting their attention in different places and it's actually diversifying their ability to really impact and to be able to make that bigger difference that they want to be able to make at their company.
So, when we look at the incompetent person that got promoted into executive leadership, it would be interesting for you to come up with a real-life example of somebody who was promoted that you think is less qualified than you; and really say, 'What were the areas that that person had an A.' What did they do well? And some of the things that come up right off the bat are relationships. So, relationships, when you look like the rest of the room, come a little bit easier. Because we relate to people who are like us. And so, we tend to build trust without even trying because we look like them, we act like them, we think like them, we make decisions like them. And so, we just by default, we get promoted because we are like them, and we build that relationship trust.
And so, if you're listening to this podcast, chances are great that you don't look like the rest of the room. And when that happens, when you're not the same gender or even the same way of thinking and solving problems as the rest of the leadership table, you actively have to do something different to build relationships.
So, the way that that used to work is you would go to the bar afterwards or you would go to the golf course, or you would do some sort of outing with the executive team to kind of buddy-buddy-up with them. And the concept that I teach inside of Executive Ahead of Time is 15-minute ally meetings because I think as women in particular, we don't have time, energy, or desire to buddy up with people on the golf course. This is not interesting to us. It's a waste of time and we're not going to keep doing it. And so, what I teach is 15-minute ally meetings, which replicates the exact same outcome as the golf course. It's just done in a different physical form that works better for women and their ability to build that trust. Because even when we show up at the golf course, we still feel a bit like an outcast. But in the 15-minute ally meetings, never. We're building that equal peer to peer trust that we're ready to lead at that executive level. So that's the process that I teach inside of Executive Ahead of Time, and we dive very deep into it, and I give you coaching on that process in particular.
So, we look at relationship building as an area, let's just say, and I'm oversimplifying it as an area that might be useful to get promoted. We might need an A in relationship building. And on the other side, we're already getting an A- and being a good manager. So maybe that we could be a B+ at, in terms of outward letter grades, like the letter grades that our boss would give us versus, what our own expectations are. So, we can sort of let go here and work and focus on building relationships.
And when we start to shift that dynamic and put our attention and focus in the right areas, that's when we start to get promoted into those higher-level leadership positions. Now this is kind of a generalized example because we have subject matter expertise on one side and relationship building on the other side, and there's lots of different things that we can work on to build our skill set to be successful at the executive level. But I'm just sort of giving this to you as a letter grade example.
And so, I want you to start to think about what are the areas where I can actually get a lower score in; and then what are the areas that I need to focus my attention on? Where do I need to really be thinking about getting a better letter grade and start to shift that dynamic. And essentially, what this looks like is - stop doing what you're good at. So first of all, you have to identify what you're good at, what everybody calls on you for in the middle of the night, the problems that you always solve and start doing less of that in terms of letter score.
And then let's start doing more of these other areas. And like I said, I'm just calling it relationship building. as just a broad way of looking at it. And then here I have a caveat for you. So, you can still get an A in being an amazing manager. You can still get an A in being an excellent subject matter expert. So now I want to have a caveat. You can actually still get an A or an A+ in being an amazing manager or an excellent subject matter expert for yourself. I'll say that again, I am not saying that for yourself, you can't empower yourself to be a better manager or a better subject matter expert for yourself. But what I want you to start to realize is that this is not what leads to those higher-level executive level promotions.
You're going to have to get better scores, better A's, better grades in some of these other areas in order to move the needle. So, what does getting an A or an A+ mean for yourself? So that means that you still do all the research, you do the learning, you ask questions, you take courses, you try and become a better manager. You challenge yourself. But what you're also doing is you're also making sure that your letter grades are going up on the other side, so you're doing the 15-minute ally meetings, you're building those relationships, you're having professional development conversations, you're talking about future goals. You are tying what you're working on into the organizational goals. This is all building trust that you can lead at that executive level.
And on the flip side, you're communicating less about all of your knowledge. So, let's say you're getting an A+ in terms of your own mind, but you don't have to communicate every single detail about how awesome you are in that area. You don't have to communicate all of the ways that you're learning and building on your skill set of your subject matter expertise. You're going to start to expand out and build those relationships with the executive team getting those higher grades. And when you're communicating with people, you're talking about those relationships.
So, I even advise with the 15-minute ally meetings, if you have a great conversation with an executive on another team when you have a 15-minute ally meeting with a different executive, you can say 'yesterday I talked to Simon, and we talked about X Y Z.' And then what you're doing is you're saying, 'Look, I take relationship building seriously.' This is actually my project - is that I'm building relationships with the executive team. Because it's not just about kissing butt or schmoozing or anything like that, it's about - how do we succeed at that executive level when we get that position. The way that we succeed is by having these diverse relationships understanding what matters to the organization.
You don't succeed as a COO because you understand in a deep way the knowledge of every single aspect of the company. You can do that for your own self or your own peace of mind. But in terms of the ability to succeed at that executive level, it's all about - how do I problem solve? How do I make decisions? How do I pull in other people into this conversation? And so, it's a different skill set.
So, I want you to start to shift your letter grades - start looking at where can I get a lower letter grade and where do I need to get a higher letter grade and start to begin to shift that. Again, keeping in mind that you can still get a high grade for yourself, but it's how am I communicating and what am I communicating about in terms of my accomplishments and how I'm communicating with executive leadership.
Now I want to leave you with one last thing, which is my goal is to change the way organizations do business from the C-suite out, and that starts with you getting promoted into a higher-level executive position.
So, I am not advocating in any way through today's episode that we need people who are incompetent in leadership. I'm actually saying the opposite. I'm saying we need you in executive leadership - somebody who is incredibly competent, incredibly knowledgeable, incredibly skilled, but has also added this other skill into her repertoire so that she could get promoted into that higher executive leadership position.
That is how we start to change organizations from the C-suite out. We bring you - with all of you - into that higher level position. But the way that we're going to get there is to stop relying on what we're good at and to start focusing on what matters most so that we can be in those positions of influence and authority and really start to drive change at our organization from the C-suite out. Thank you so much for listening, and I'll see you next week. Bye.
About Your Host
Hi! I'm Stacy Mayer, a Certified Executive Coach and Promotion Strategist on a mission to bring more diversity to the leadership table by getting 1000 underrepresented corporate managers promoted into senior executive positions each year worldwide.
I help undervalued executives scale to the C-Suite using repositioning strategies that build your confidence and visibility, so you can earn the recognition and support you need from key stakeholders while embodying your unique leadership style.
My podcast “Women Changing Leadership with Stacy Mayer” tackles topics like executive communication, getting more respect in the workplace from challenging bosses and team members, and avoiding the common mistakes that sabotage career advancement.