Ep #92: Forget the Corporate Ladder to the C-Suite and Climb Up this Way Instead
There is no corporate ladder at your level.
This may come as a surprise to you, but it’s true.
Sure, there likely was an obvious ladder moving you from individual contributor to manager all the way up to Director.
But after that point the ladder dissolves.
Not only that, but focusing solely on the corporate ladder is super problematic because it seriously limits the vision you can have for your career.
And I don’t want YOU to have limits.
I want you to have endless opportunities available to you instead.
That’s why I’m dedicating this entire episode of Maximize Your Career with Stacy Mayer to dispelling the myth that you need to climb the corporate ladder to reach the C-Suite AND I’ll show you what to climb instead.
What You'll Learn:
- Why the “corporate ladder” mentality is so problematic for your career
- How your linear approach to your career is causing you to get stuck AND setting you up to fail once you finally do reach that next level
- Why the corporate ladder only exists for subject matter experts
- The “And” approach and how it will help you increase your promotion opportunities
- The steps you need to start following today to reach the senior executive level (AND thrive once you get there)
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
Hello everyone - welcome to another episode of Maximize Your Career. I'm your host, Stacey Mayer, and super excited, as always, to be here with you again this week.
So, at the time of recording this episode, we just hosted our kickoff call for Executive Ahead of Time. A group of women will be going through the training process over the next six weeks, really setting themselves up for that next level of leadership and to have success once they get there. And so, on this kickoff call, it's a way to get to know the other participants and learn about their goals. And I also give them a couple of quick wins and some coaching at the end of this one-hour meetup, so to speak. And so, this was last Friday - and on the call, we're checking in with each of the women and we get to one of the women, and she says she got promoted. And so, she starts off the conversation with 'I watched Module one, I took notes and I started implementing exactly what Stacey says, and they announced my promotion to vice president. And it's being finalized today.'.
This is a new record inside of Executive Ahead of Time, and I really wanted to celebrate that with you. Also, the irony is when I had a conversation with her, I hopped on the phone with her a couple of weeks ago for a strategy session because I want to make sure that each of you who join us inside of the program are a perfect match. And she told me that she was going to be my next success story, and I had no idea it was going to happen that quickly. So, I wanted to share with you a little bit about how and why this happened for her. And I want to make sure that before I get into today's episode, that you understand that the way this process is set up, this is not a fluke. In fact, I actually said that to her when she made the announcement and she said 'No, 100 percent, this is not a fluke'. So, she had been working on getting this promotion to vice president for a couple of years. And a year ago, it became very clear that the main person that was blocking her from getting promoted was her direct boss, and then her direct boss left the company. So, you would think that she would be a shoo-in for her promotion. 'Okay, it's just her fault. She's the reason why I'm not getting promoted. So where is my promotion' and then - it still wasn't happening. And months and months were going by, and nobody would give her specific feedback as to why she wasn't still being promoted.
Now, a little bit of a side note I want you guys to know is that if you have a boss and you're fixated on fixing your boss to get a promotion, this is a huge problem. And this is why when students inside of Executive Ahead of Time come to me and they're talking about their boss as being the problem, I look towards alternative problems because to me, it's obvious it's not just your boss that's the problem. I mean, it could be 70 percent of the problem, but the real challenge is that remaining 30 percent, even if your boss was taken out of the equation, doesn't automatically equal a promotion to you. So, this is what my student inside of Executive Ahead of Time learned herself the hard way. So, she joined us inside of the program. She went headstrong all in. So, this is the first thing that attributes to her win and I'm going to talk about this in today's episode, but I know many of you have growth as a core value. You love growing. You like challenging yourself. You're high achievers. And so, I want you to understand when you come to work with me that you're going all in and every single one of the women that I met last Friday are all in. They're all determined, they're all ready to challenge themselves and to do something different. And so she was, first of all, number one, and this is not to go lightly, is that she was all in. She had even told me, ‘I'm going to be your next success story.’ And then she was. So, she's all in on getting that promotion.
And then she's not just in on getting that promotion to vice president. She's really already thinking about her long-term goals of becoming a president someday. And this, obviously for her, is going to happen a heck of a lot sooner now that she has received this promotion to vice president. So, do you see how all of that works out? So, what did she actually do to land this promotion? So, she watched Module One, which is all about getting out of the weeds. And if you've been listening to my podcast for a while, you understand that to me, getting out of the weeds is not about time management, it's about communication. How are you communicating to executive leadership? Are you communicating as that subject matter expert? Or are you communicating as an executive leader? So inside of Module One - Getting Out of the Weeds, I break everything down so that she could really see how she was sabotaging her own communication with executive leadership. It also gave her something to do. So, she wasn't receiving feedback from executive leadership on to what to do differently. They just were like, 'Yeah, you know, we'll get around to it', basically. You know, this is common advice that women are given is, 'keep doing what you're doing'. But that didn't sit well with her. She wanted to do something different. And I showed her what that something different was. So, she went back.
She made those simple shifts in the way she was communicating with executive leadership. She made the direct ask again to become a vice president - and within days, it happened. And she received a significant pay increase. So, the $2000 investment she made in Executive Ahead of Time is done - taken care of, right? She's already made her money back for the program. So, if you're listening to this and you feel like, 'oh, well, that's great that it happened for her, but it wouldn't happen for me'; No - this program gives you the tools to get yourself advanced into executive leadership. It gives you the tools to have success - Once you get that promotion to continuously be thinking about growth and be that high achiever, make that impact that you really want to be making at your organization. So, congratulations to her. And all of my Executive Ahead of Time students are about to have huge, huge wins just in these first few weeks of the program. I'm so excited to have each and every one of them in this program. And I'll be continuing to share some of their wins along the way.
So, today's episode is about the corporate ladder. So, you've heard this term - it's climbing the corporate ladder. And actually, I was just creating the book cover design for my book that's scheduled to come out later this year. And one of the things I emailed them when I was doing the design is 'I do not want a ladder on the front of my book'. I do not want a ladder because I'm talking about career growth. I know the first thing you're going to do is put a ladder. And that's not me. This is not what I do and no ladders. So, they didn't do that. They created an incredible design using a staircase instead, because I teach in the book a step-by-step process to get you promoted. So, they used a staircase, and I love it. It's absolutely gorgeous. I'm super excited. I should be able to start sharing this book cover design with you in the next couple of weeks. But anyway, I just wanted you to understand that I am so vehemently against ‘corporate ladder’, and in today's episode, I'm going to show you why that is really, really problematic.
Now, this episode wasn't just inspired by the design of my book cover because I have been vehemently against corporate ladder mentality since I started my coaching business over six years ago. But the reason that it was inspired is because there is a woman in my life who I admire so much. She is a coach, and she is my coach for mindset and mindfulness and thinking and how I am perceiving myself as a leader in my space and my growth and has just helped me tremendously over the years. And I was listening to a call with her, and now she mostly works with entrepreneurs. And her background is actually in the corporate world.
She worked in marketing and was a vice president of marketing for many, many years before she started her business. And she said something, and I was like, 'ooh what?' So, she was talking about how in entrepreneurship, it's not a linear progression. That we take many, many different avenues. We get to our goals in many, many different ways, and the freedom that that presents to us as entrepreneurs. And then in the same token, she says, 'in the corporate world, it's not like that. It's much more difficult because you have to go up this ladder.' And I was like, 'Excuse me, that's not true, excuse me.' And so even this woman who is totally - I see her as somebody who thinks outside of the box. She doesn't see traditional patriarchal structure as being something that you have to follow. She is definitely against the grain. And yet even her, even she said the words 'in the corporate world, it's much more difficult because you have this ladder that you have to go up, you have this progression that you have to make'. And I was like, 'Hello. That's not true.' I couldn't raise my hand. I've just now raised my hand with you guys and created a whole podcast episode about it because it's so not true. And it's actually part of the reason that you're not getting promoted. So, I want you to understand this.
If you're thinking about your corporate career as being a ladder, this is causing you to not get promoted. Why is this causing you to not get promoted? Because you're not making executive level decisions, because you're not able to think outside of the box? You're not able to be innovative with your own career, which is a requirement of executive leadership.
So, imagine you're in a senior vice president or a C-suite level role at your organization and you're thinking about the challenges that your company is facing in a linear way. You're going to be screwed. You're not going to be able to think outside of the box. And so many corporate executives faced this problem this past year during COVID because they weren't able to think outside of the box. They were so rigid in their beliefs and organizations that failed and that struggled over the past year. It's because they didn't have that innovative thinking ingrained in their executive leaders. And so thankfully, you're here on this podcast today to actually get that ingrained in you from a very early stage. So, whether you're already a director or senior director or even in early level management, it's important to start thinking in this non-linear way. And this is why it's also so great to have a coach or an executive coach like me in your ear every single week through this podcast because I'm reminding you that your approach in a linear way is actually keeping you stuck exactly where you are.
It's also causing you to fail or have less success once you do get promoted, literally, up that ladder to the next level. So, you can get promoted without listening to my podcast. We can get promoted. We can physically climb that ladder. And some would say it's actually easier to climb the ladder because then the next step is so obvious. So, let's say, your next promotion cycle, you've started a role and you have to wait three years for the next promotion cycle. So, it's easy to just wait the three years out. And if enough people like you, you will get promoted - up until a certain point usually, it kind of falls flat around the VP level. You have to do something different, but let's say you didn't. Let's say you didn’t, and you could just kind of slowly, slowly, slowly keep climbing that corporate ladder. The problem is, is that you're still making decisions from that linear thinking. So, I've already spoken to this. I won't repeat it, but it's like, can you see how this makes you unsuccessful at that executive level? Can you see that?
So now I want to go back, and I want to unpack, if it's not a corporate ladder, then what is it? Because we need a step-by-step process to get promoted into the executive suite. So, I'm visualizing the front of my book cover right now with the stairs. You can still use a step-by-step process, but part of my step-by-step process is the basic understanding that there is no ladder. There is no corporate ladder. You're going to argue with me because you're seen as a subject matter expert. You are somebody that actually literally rose through the corporate ladder for the past 20 years to the place that you are in a linear structure.
So, what I want you to now contemplate is - in terms of individual contributors or subject matter experts - there is a corporate ladder. So, when you look at the careers - I'm just going to talk about engineering for a minute because I understand that field pretty deeply from an individual contributor perspective. But when you look at engineering, there is a ladder. You move up from principal to principal engineer to architect. And what is the qualification of those moves - its time and tenure. Knowledge being in that role for a long time. Understanding all of the nuances of the technical aspects of that role. And so even for you, as you continue to grow in your career and even transitioned into management, early management is a ladder. So, you go from manager to senior manager to director to senior director. It's pretty clear this ladder, because you just have to add on a little bit more skill sets.
But now let's start to look at the point where it transitions into leading teams of leaders. You have two hundred leaders in your group that you're going to be leading. You have to let go of your subject matter expert, your identity as a technical leader. So, in order to be able to do that - in order to effectively lead a team of leaders, you actually have to pretty much sever your old identity as a subject-matter expert. And that's when the ladder falls apart. That's when you can no longer rely on climbing the corporate ladder to get ahead. In fact, if you're continuing to climb the corporate ladder, it hinders your growth. So how are we going to use this dissolving of the corporate ladder to catapult our success? So that's what I'm going to teach you right now.
So, the first way that you're going to start to understand and use this is that if there is no ladder, then we don't do things in sequential order. So, there is no ladder. It's all broken apart. Imagine it falling onto the ground. So, you're not going to wait until your performance review to advocate for your promotion. You're not going to wait for the three-year cycle at your organization.
I had a conversation this week with a brilliant, brilliant woman who is nervous because she took a job and she's only been there two months, and it's very clear that it was the exact wrong position for her. She wants to leave. It's obvious to her who, her intuition, her boss, the structure, things that she was promised when she took this role are no longer true. And so, it's obvious to her that she needs to move on. But she's paralyzed with fear because what will people think if she job-skips after two months? What will people think? And I was like, 'Well, what will you think if you stay in this role for a year and you're miserable?' It doesn't actually matter, and when you transition into executive leadership, people see you as a leader. They see you for the qualities of your leadership and they understand, and you're able to communicate why that wasn't a good fit, why that was a mistake. We're not afraid of our failures and communicating our failures because we do it with executive level confidence. You hear executive leaders all the time talk about their screw ups. But they do it in a way that's like, this is what I learned from it, and this is what I'm never going to do again. So, we start to embrace that attitude. So, the first thing I want you to know is that if the corporate ladder doesn't exist, then we don't wait. So, you're not going to wait for your next performance review or an opportunity for somebody else to pluck you out and get promoted.
Now, if we're not waiting to get promoted and there is no corporate ladder, then what is that step by step process? So, the thing that I want you to remember is the 'and approach'. This is something in my core philosophy and everything that I teach inside my book, Executive Ahead of Time, everything that you hear from me on this podcast is all about ‘we do everything simultaneously’. So instead of waiting for the rungs of the ladder, we have eggs and many, many, many, many different baskets. We are building relationships all across our organization. We are having conversations outside of our organization. We are applying for jobs, we don't even want to leave our current company, but we're applying for jobs anyway. And you could listen to this, and it could feel exhausting, or it could feel exhilarating.
The first reaction - totally normal - might feel exhausting. And the reason that it feels exhausting to take this approach is because you've never done it before. So, when you're thinking of that lateral movement going up this ladder, then it's exhausting to apply for a job outside of your organization because you desperately need it. So, you're bringing all of this emotional angst to the interview process. But if you take my 'and' approach - 'AND' - if you're taking my 'and' approach and you're always interviewing and you're always building relationships and you're always advocating for what's next, and you know what your unique leadership style is, and other executives know what that unique leadership style is of yours, then you're just having conversations. So, applying for a job is just another conversation. It's more people to meet. It's more data. It's a better understanding of how you would apply at that executive level. You're building the opportunity for other people to pluck you out, for other people to tap you on the shoulder.
And so that leads me to the next thing, which is why I know it to be true - that there is no corporate ladder - is because when people reach this executive level of thinking and communicating and really just embodying executive leadership in this way, that's when opportunities come flying at them. That's when a really incredible CTO that I met many, many years ago - she had conversations on the regular with her CEO of her company about what was next for her as an executive leader. Now she's really at the top. Her CEO wasn't going to leave. So, you would think, how could she possibly have these conversations with her CEO about what's next for her because it means her leaving. But he didn't care. He loved having these conversations with her because what she was doing was being a powerful executive leader. She was talking about her succession plan. She was talking about how she was going to leave her role better than she found it. She was talking to him about all of the different ideas - she was creating a lifelong relationship with her CEO that lived far beyond her being the CTO. Do you see how this works? But she had to understand that it's not a corporate ladder. Because if she was looking at it as a corporate ladder, then she would say, 'Well, there is nothing else for me here. I can stay for 10 years and keep growing in my role.'.
And then maybe on the side, she's looking for opportunities, but she feels like she can't talk to anybody about it. But here's the funny thing - her CEO also knew that there was no such thing as a corporate ladder. He understood to let her go because it's more empowering for him to have these open conversations with her. And he also knew that she could come back. He knew that she could be on the board. There are so many possibilities when we don't think of our careers as a ladder. Yet instead, we look at what is that step by step process to get ourselves into executive leadership. And part of my step-by-step process is dissolving the corporate ladder.
So, I really want you to take this episode to heart and really understand that there are so many more opportunities at your organization that you have no idea are even there. And the only way you're going to find out is to let go of that ladder, to really embrace the process of doing all of the things, building relationships, taking your career in your own hands. Deliberately managing your career and your life does not involve going rung by rung in a corporate ladder. Thank you so much for listening today, 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.