I was able to get to the top early on in my career because I chose to outwork my peers and focus on the outcome. There were plenty of software developers that were smarter, had a computer science degree, and were flat-out good.
So why did I succeed as an executive while many of them remain managers?
I have a theory about professional development in corporate America that I use to coach employees or young professionals. It comes back to the dignity of the worker and helping people excel in the area they’re called and made to excel in.
Early on in your career you’re rewarded for getting things done. You’re rewarded for productivity and for specific skills that you have. It’s a productivity mindset that we approach our jobs with and we are rewarded for it.
Get more done, get promoted. Do good work, get promoted.
You’re continually recognized, given more money, and patted on the back for simply doing things, either well or quickly. Sometimes we are rewarded for process improvements – in other words, optimizing standard performance and helping others produce more. There are unique traits that people look for, depending on the skill set, but it’s all about the end result, about production.
There seem to be two types of people within corporate America.
First, there are those who really excel at doing things. They’re skilled. They’re great at doing things. They are really able to navigate that sure and steady moving up the ladder in the early part of their career. They’re high performers in the onset of their career..
However, as high performing as they are, many of these people find themselves hitting a glass ceiling at the manager level. Sometimes they’re promoted one too many times and struggle as a director.
A manager is fairly tactical and production oriented, while a vice president must exemplify great leadership and strategic thinking in order to be successful. Later in our careers we are rewarded not for production but for strategy, thinking and leading. For driving towards much higher level outcomes and results.
Second, there are those who are naturally strategic, creative, and innovative thinkers. They are inspirational leaders.
The second group of people consist of two very diverse dynamics. The first have Type A personalities who are able to figure out how to get through the production period of their careers. They excel based on hard work and grit and creativity through their strategic thinking applied to themselves. Once they hit the director level, they accelerate and blow the doors open.
But then there’s the other subset of this second group who never get there. They can’t figure out how to produce in the first place.
If we step back and understand this dynamic of how corporate America tends to work, we’re able to optimize our own performance in our careers based upon this theory.
We can also—and this is the exciting part to me—help those people who are naturally gifted at production to become strategic thinkers, to help them to learn to think, teach them to connect the dots, and either continue their career advancement or settle into the role that’s perfect for them.
We can do the same with those who never make it that far, who struggle with the doing and yet have great creative or innovative skills or are strategic in nature. We can put them in roles where they excel at that, instead of just production.