Three Things You Need to Know to Get To The Top

Jul 31, 2019


Whatever your gender, age or career discipline I'd love to share with you the three things you need to know to get to the top. From more than 20 years as an international recruiter and now as a leadership coach & career mentor these tips will serve you no matter where you are on the career ladder.  

  1. Ask for what you want and make clear your career intentions and aspirations.

Does your employer know what your career aspirations are ? There is plenty of evidence to show that there are significant differences in how men and women view their own capabilities when applying for a promotion. Men will often apply for a new role or promotion with somewhere between 50-70% of the actual skills and competencies required for the role. Women, on the other hand, don’t apply for promotions or move cross functionally as often and the reason is usually that they’re focusing on the skills gap. For many, they believe that having 70% of the skills on the job description is not good enough to apply for the role, so they don’t even put themselves forward. Many believe they need to have all of the skills and experience, and this simply isn’t true.

Ask for what you want and let people in your organisation know. They're not psychic ! 

If you show you’re interested in a role and go for a promotion, what happens if you’re not offered the position? Well the great news is that you have put yourself on the radar of the HR and Executive Team. You have shown you are ambitious and looking to progress. The most important learning will be the feedback you receive. What skills or competencies do you need to master so you’re better positioned next time? Be open to a move cross functionally too, as the next opportunity may not be in your current division.

Many have come to me frustrated that they were overlooked for a promotion and looking for help to transition out of their organisations. After discussing what’s happened and some honest self reflection it’s clear that they hadn’t showed any outward interest in the role. Some hadn’t even applied so no wonder they never got the job! They were waiting to be asked. I remember hearing Cathriona Hallahan, MD of Microsoft Ireland, speak at an event and tell how this had happened to her earlier in her career and I was delighted to hear her honesty and openness in bringing this issue to the audience.


  1. You must be able to demonstrate Business, Strategic and Financial Acumen.


A great YouTube video on this is The Career Advice you Probably Didn’t Get by Susan Colantuono which highlights the importance of financial, strategic and business expertise to progress to executive level. I find most men know this and focus on this when discussing their impact & contribution. While women often receive fantastic feedback from their teams and 360 peer reviews demonstrating great communication and interpersonal skills (both are very important to be a successful leader), however, most organisations make less clear the need for strategic and financial acumen. How can you use your knowledge of (i) the market, (ii) your customers and (iii) your business to impact strategically and financially on the direction and future success of the company? Take a look at the short video and reflect on your own skills. What do you need to improve or learn?

If you don’t already have a mentor either internally or externally, go get one. Look around and see who can help you? The right mentor can truly change your career so take the time to find the person who is right for you. In addition to a mentor, you may need to look at developing new skills. If you don’t have much free time in the evenings/weekends I suggest looking at an online course. These are a great way to gain the skills you need while working at a pace and time that suits your personal schedule. All of these will impact significantly on your competence.


  1. Be confident in the knowledge you have the ability, skills and motivation to do it.

How many times have you heard it before: have confidence; be confident; fake it till you make it and so on? I think many motivational speakers underestimate just how difficult it is to tap into your inner sense of self and find the confidence that lies within you. If you have been overlooked for promotion, lack a supporter in your business championing your success, or are just realising that you have a skills gap, your confidence could be very low.

I compare these statements to someone telling you to lose weight or exercise regularly and how you will feel much healthier and better about yourself afterwards. It’s stating the obvious and we all know it to be true, but how many of us are struggling to do it on a regular and consistent basis?  It’s going to require effort, new routines, finding a personal trainer, pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. It has to be an important goal we want to achieve and we have to be motivated to do it.

We have to know WHY it’s important to us otherwise we slack off, lose momentum and eventually give up. I believe building confidence falls into the same category. If we know what we want to achieve and why it’s important to us, we will make the effort to take the necessary steps to build on our skills.

Competence and confidence are strongly connected. If we have the skills to do something we feel good doing it. We increase our confidence by repeating and mastering a skill. But the mind is a funny thing. If we continuously repeat the same actions and behaviours our mind goes into autopilot. As humans, we need to give ourselves new challenges and goals. It stimulates us to be creative, find innovative solutions, it expands our awareness. So in fact trying new things also gives us great levels of confidence. So as we continuously take on new challenges and figure out how to work through or solve those challenges, we gain more confidence and we grow in an upward spiral.

When you work with a mentor or business coach they will be your personal cheerleading team. They will help you tap into the abundant resources you have at your disposal and help you see your potential. This can really help you to build more confidence and self belief. Surround yourself with positive people who encourage and support you. Avoid the naysayers. Celebrate the small wins and you will soon become more comfortable celebrating the big wins. You’ve got to develop the capacity to build up your self confidence reserves and keep that tank full of gas. Over the last 20 years I’ve seen far too many people being overly critical of themselves and it’s holding them back. Turn down that negative chatter in your head. You are not doing yourself any favours.

One final point on motivation and why I believe this is important? Why push yourself to learn new skills, get a mentor, work with a coach, take on new challenges, and focus on building up your reserves of confidence, and so on. My view is that you’re not doing this for yourself but for those who look up to you - your team, your kids, your family, your friends. If you can’t do it for yourself or keep making excuses that you’re stuck at a level and can’t seem to progress, then do it for them.

Be the inspiration to those around you. 



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