Four Characteristics to Help You Climb the Corporate Ladder

Kara Jones

July 06, 2017

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A successful career requires more than knowledge and raw talent. It also takes a commitment to teamwork and positive leadership skills. Want to climb to the next rung and go higher? Be willing to ask questions, acknowledge your weaknesses, and learn from others.

Curiosity: Be a Sponge, Not a Brick

A college degree represents only a piece of your professional education and let's face it, a four-year degree only recently became a standard requirement. Consider how technology, politics, and the global economy have all evolved in the past decade. Have your skills, experiences, and knowledge kept pace?

Too many people think focusing only on the deep dive into their area of expertise is the way to excel, but that often leads to an insular mindset focused on a single department or task group. As a manager responsible for the talent brought into the organization, I seek broad function degrees such as business or psychology. For my team specifically, a degree in Human Resources is typically dated and irrelevant within 2-4 years of graduation. Instead I seek those with collective relevant education. A college degree is the broad foundation of knowledge, while a PHR or SHPM-CP certification is the
relevant application of knowledge to the HR function.

In contrast to a lifelong college degree, HR certifications and licenses must be renewed every two years. Continuing education topics discuss recent events and provide real-life applicability and require interaction with peers in and outside of the profession.

Begin your skills upgrade by identifying the certifications and courses needed to update your skillset. Historical knowledge within an organization is valuable - unless it leads to a "we've always done it this way" mindset. New knowledge and technological skills can give you a fresh perspective when reviewing current processes and procedures.

Curiosity also helps you gain a broader view of your role within the organization. Talk with the people around you and volunteer for cross-functional teams. An outward focus empowers you to create more meaningful inputs and learn how your work ripples throughout the organization. The more value you bring, the more visibility you receive from leaders who can recommend your expertise for the next step up the ladder.

Resourcefulness: Create Your Own Opportunities

"Sometimes you have to go out on a limb because that's where the fruit is," Will Rogers said. An astute observer of American politics and culture, Rogers could also have been opining on modern career strategies.

Change can be stressful but it's also the only way to grow. In his book, "Drive," author Daniel Pink says that people are most productive when they move out of their personal comfort zones and into a state of "productive discomfort." Studies have shown that exposure to moderate, controllable stress increases performance.

Move outside your own comfort zone and find new ways to test your boundaries and learn new skills.

Volunteer outside the office: Meet and work with a diverse group of people in new situations. Consider joining a nonprofit board to learn new skills, grow your professional network, and serve the community.

Volunteer inside the office: Don't be afraid to volunteer for special project teams and committees where you can prove your value and highlight your willingness to learn new skills. When you truly embrace a new challenge, there is an inherent guarantee of success.

Even if you are not hugely successful in the new project, what you have learned through the research and experience of that project will set the stage for future successes. The only way to advance is to take on challenging work that scares you a bit.

Attentiveness: Make a Habit of Observing

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is by far one of the most critical soft skills required for upward mobility. Observe and take note of the interactions surrounding you, both inside and outside of the office. Whether it's the CEO, your manager, the cashier or supervisor at the grocery store, or even your own direct reports, pay attention to how coworkers react to events and interact with each other. A person's choice of words and reactions - particularly when under stress - reveals a lot about them. Keeping in mind, those with high EI are paying attention to your response to pressure as well.

People with higher levels of emotional maturity are more productive and bring value to their teams. Communication skills, empathy, and emotional control are often called "soft skills" but we all know how miserable a workplace can be if it's filled with people who don't have them. They're negative role models; learn how not to be like them.

Three-quarters of employers who responded to a survey said they'd promote an employee with a high EI score over one with a high IQ and poor people skills. Employers said that higher EI skills made employees more likely to stay calm in a crisis, effectively resolve conflicts, and make good business decisions.

Reflection: Take Time to Unwind

Driven, Type-A workaholics take note. Climbing the ladder and promotions are important career goals, but if that's your only focus, you're not reaching your full potential. By all means, go full throttle while you're at work: be present; be mindful; be ready. But in off-hours, use your time away from work to be away from work. Turn off the phone. Power down the computer. Take a vacation - a true break from the office.

Just over half of all American workers who receive paid vacation time don't use all of it. Many say they're afraid of falling behind on work, being viewed negatively by management, or losing their job. What a mistake! Relaxation time helps you fight burnout by encouraging a positive attitude, improving concentration, and boosting creativity. Still not convinced? At least one study found that employees who take time off are more likely to receive promotions.

Vacations make employees more productive, not less. Your brain needs the opportunity to process and create new synapses. Many artists and creative minds find their inspiration and ideas outside of their workspace - allow yourself the opportunity to get creative. You'll be surprised at how much more you can expand your mind when you give yourself permission to unwind and reflect.

None of these traits are guaranteed to rocket you to the top of the org chart, but they will make you more satisfied, creative, and productive at work -
characteristics that do increase opportunities for a promotion.

Kara Jones is Global Vice President, Human Resources, at Flash Global, which designs and implements service supply chain strategies for rapidly expanding companies. She has focused her HR career in the areas of M&A, risk mitigation, and HR infrastructure.

In her spare time, she is an avid philanthropist, dedicating her time and expertise to volunteer organizations such as W Girls, the American Cancer Society, and Domestic Violence Safe-Havens.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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