Maximize your chances to get promoted to the executive level
As predictable career paths have become extinct in most organizations, managers aspiring to the C-level job are left to their own devices to determine how to advance their careers. Even in companies committed to talent development, guidance to aspiring executives is often vague and contradictory. This happens, executive coach John Beeson argues, because executive promotions are made based on the decision makers' intuitive sense of whether or not a manager can succeed at higher levels within the organization. Beeson decodes these leadership criteria--the unwritten rules--that companies use to make decisions about who gets promoted and who doesn't, and identifies the six core "selection factors" that are imperative for success at the executive level
- Demonstrating strategic skills
- Building a strong management team
- Managing implementation
- Exhibiting the capacity for innovation and change
- Working across organizational boundaries
- Projecting executive presence
Filled with stories of managers who successfully climbed up the executive ladder-and some who struggled-The Unwritten Rules is an invaluable resource for aspiring executives.
Amazon.com Exclusive: Q & A with Author John Beeson
Why did you write The Unwritten Rules?
In my thirty-plus years of succession planning and talent development work at top-tier companies, I’ve routinely observed two distressing phenomena. On one hand, virtually every company I work with bemoans its lack of talent to fill executive-level positions. On the other hand, I see talented managers who are frustrated by their inability to get ahead with their careers and confused about what they need to do to advance. I find this disconnect concerning. I’ve also observed that there is a short list of factors that companies actually use to decide whom to promote to the executive level. By revealing them in this book, I hope to enable aspiring managers to take greater ownership of their careers. When you know what skills to focus on, you can be much more targeted in your personal development efforts.
Why do so many talented managers and business people get stuck in careers or jobs that they find frustrating?
While talented managers get lots of feedback about how they are performing in their current jobs, they rarely get the feedback that really counts--feedback about how they are viewed by those who make executive placement decisions. Without knowing where you stand in terms of your company’s criteria for advancement to the executive level, you’re pretty much in the dark about the skills you need to develop and demonstrate. Meanwhile, companies are hesitant to provide constructive feedback to their top managers because they feel leadership skills required for executive success are somewhat subjective or they fear de-motivating or losing a strong performer.
Is The Unwritten Rules relevant in a downturn economy, when advancement in any career path is limited?
Although the pace of promotion in many organizations has slowed due to the recession, opportunities for advancement will rebound when the economy strengthens and Baby Boom-era executives retire. If you are a manager who aspires to the C-suite level, use this time to prepare to be “first off the bench” when the promotional landscape opens up. This is the perfect time to pay attention to messages about ways to improve your career prospects.
What, in a nutshell, are the unwritten rules?
The unwritten rules are the often poorly-articulated factors that companies use to decide who does and doesn’t get promoted to the executive or C-suite level. They include the “non-negotiables”--the capabilities you need to display to even be considered as a candidate, namely ethics, integrity, and a strong desire to lead. The unwritten rules also include the “de-selection” factors that prevent an otherwise high-performing manager from being a serious candidate--for example, putting one’s interests above that of the good of the company, or displaying a narrow perspective on the business. Finally, the unwritten rules include the “core selection” factors: the skills that, when all the discussion is over, are most critical in decisions about who advances to the executive level. The book describes in detail each of the six core skills I’ve identified.
Is there an "unspoken truth" about getting ahead in big corporations?
Your career planning needs to factor in what I call “demonstration opportunities”: jobs or assignments that allow you to display the required leadership skills. If you aspire to get ahead, the trick is finding ways to breed confidence on the part of those who make executive-level placement decisions. This means determining the promotional criteria these decision-makers use and also figuring out how to display your skills to those senior people so they feel comfortable putting you into an executive position. Having your boss vouch for your skills isn’t enough. You need to identify opportunities to demonstrate your skills directly to those more senior-level decision-makers or to people within the organization whose opinions they trust.
Do companies do the best job they can developing the leaders of tomorrow? If not, why?
Although most companies say they are interested in developing leadership strength for the future, I find that most focus on the wrong things to achieve that objective. Too many companies invest their leadership development dollars in splashy, one-size-fits-all training programs--although study after study indicates that management training in the narrow classroom sense is rarely an important development experience for executives. Also, most companies do a poor job of communicating the reasons why managers do and don’t get promoted to the executive level, so aspiring managers don’t know where to devote their developmental efforts. Finally, few companies encourage the breadth of career experiences--job assignments in different functions and business units, for instance--that broaden a manager’s perspective on the business and the organization.
Whose fault is it that so many people find that their career progress is lagging - employees themselves or managers?
I’ll point the finger at both. Companies need to do a better job of articulating those factors that really make a difference when it comes to deciding who does and doesn’t get placed in C-suite positions. They also need to ensure aspiring managers are given the space and opportunity to develop and display the required skills. At the same time, aspiring managers have to be proactive and skilled in seeking out feedback about how they are perceived in terms of their company’s unwritten rules of advancement. Assuming you’re successful at that, you need to be open to the feedback and respond accordingly. I see too many managers respond defensively. Whether the feedback is accurate or not is beside the point. How you are viewed by senior executives who make C-suite decisions will determine whether or not you advance to the executive level. So, if you’re successful in getting this feedback, the ball is in your court to respond to it.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to someone who yearns for a leadership position, but doesn't quite know how to get there?
First, understand that succeeding at the executive level calls for a set of skills very different from those that lead to success at the manager level. Work hard to tease out the skills that are most critical in making executive placement decisions in your organization and, most important, get a sense of how you are viewed by your company’s senior leaders in terms of those skills. Beyond developing those capabilities, find ways to demonstrate your skills to those who make executive-level promotional decisions so that they become confident about your ability to succeed at that level.