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Ascending the corporate ladder

Nayana Prabhu
Nayana Prabhu
Corporate Human Resources Development, Wipro
The lead consultant at Wipro. She is the one responsible for engaging young leaders in finding th... more>>
A very long time ago I had read that it’s not about which ladder one climbs but it’s about aiming that ladder or propping it against the right wall- so this article is an invitation for you to explore your career map. It’s a big large world and the walls have crumbled. You may not find a wall to prop your ladder against, there are places to reach which may not have a path tracked yet and there are innumerable modes of movement.
I have therefore crafted the four “P”s that describe what I think help when we navigate our corporate journey.

Purpose- always have a Purpose. Where are you going? Why are you going? What are you going there for? By when do you think you will get there? How will you know you have arrived? There are some building blocks that you can leverage to define your purpose- your primary anchor is ‘self-awareness’- who you are, what defines you, what clearly are your strengths and your motivations.  Bill George in his book “the true north”- describes this as having a compass to point you to where you wish to go. Having anchored yourself in ‘self- awareness’, get clarity on your values and principles – what is non-negotiable in your life? If its freedom - to choose, to define, to design, to create, you will have to make choices to find or create an environment that helps you do all that- any other environment will cause a detour.  Clarify your motivations- when you are working on something that is fired by your primary motivations you will end up being energized and not sapped by what you do.  You cannot do this alone, as you traverse the terrain, you will need help and support however far you have travelled, create your team- you will need it at all times, begin doing this very very early- this team is a mix of family, friends- both personal and professional, mentor/s, coaches- who will see you through the highs and lows of your life, who will know and recognize you for who you are not only what you have become. Finally live an integrated life review from time to time if you are giving back as much as you got. Your Purpose will help you choose your ‘vocation’ your career. Your compass will help you stay on the path.

Passages- navigating the passages of growth in the corporate world. At each passage you have to unlearn something and learn something new. These passages are movements from being an individual contributor, to managing others, managing managers, managing a function, to managing a business and finally managing an enterprise. Prepare for this growth by design : at the individual contributor phase there is ample opportunity to establish yourself as an achiever and collaborative team player. Managing others is the passage which is a major threshold- your success now does not depend on you alone,  you learn how to delegate, at a personal level it means learning how to get things done- being able to set goals and targets for others, be available as coach and learn how to provide the required resources to your team. As a managers manager a large step is learning how to lead someone who may have been your peer, this step becomes easier if you have invested in your peers and are experienced by them as a fair and collaborative team player and they respect your capability. This passage is where you have to invest in learning how the business is managed, understand financial levers and start honing up your ability to take decisions that have an impact beyond your circle of control, while doing this you also start coaching others to become  managers.  The passages that come after this become more and more strategic and external focused. The most critical development step for you is to become ‘strategic’. The environment becomes complex and impact of your contributions critical. You have a responsibility towards both internal and external stakeholders. The functional manager phase is a passage that is a foundation for growing to business head and enterprise head roles. Navigate these passages with care and planning, constantly review your goals and achievements, invest in self development, build your team early on and ensure that you have a strong set of people who are going to support you.  The mantra here is ‘never stop learning’ followed by ‘successful performance’ cannot be replaced by anything else.

Presence- Is about making an impression and creating an impact and having your own personal brand. Always have a point of view. Presence transcends position, power, and support systems. Be an achiever, make things happen, set yourself stretch goals, and take up challenging assignments. In every passage that you travel leave your signature: the unique program, product, service that can be recognized as your contribution. Having done that, write about it, document it, create opportunities to speak about it. You have to be your own brand ambassador.  Learn to communicate early in your career and learn to handle the visibility that comes with success and sometimes failure as you traverse the corporate environment.  Aim to be an interesting person- be curious about a multitude of things, read, watch and listen. Read a variety of topics- not only those that are directly connected to the issue or task at hand, you never know where your mind will pick up an idea and it helps build your point of view.   Ask if you don’t know, people are always interested in sharing about themselves- listen when they speak. The more you are connected the more you will find out. Be authentic and be yourself- you may wish to model yourself like your mentor or role model- however, clearly craft your own brand- or you may just become another look alike. It’s the originals that get remembered. How will you recognize your brand value: employees will want to work with you, clients will want you representing them, you will get offered the important and critical assignments in the organization, you will get recognized as a high potential employee, you will get selected to represent the organization as a spokes-person.

Perseverance – it takes grit and determination to sustain performance and growth in the corporate environment. You really must be totally motivated to stay the course. Your Purpose will sustain you- only your persistence and perseverance will get it for you. How will you persevere – celebrate your successes both small and big. Give credit where it is deserved, share credit all the time. Solicit feedback on your actions- and work on the feedback that you get. Actively demonstrate the changes that are required of you. Take time to review your Purpose and intent – make the required changes in time- do it yourself don’t wait for someone else to tell you to do it. Stay ahead. Take time to rejuvenate and replenish yourself. Choose your personal method- whatever works for you- music, sports, gardening, meditation, travel, just not doing anything at all.  This rejuvenation time will give you the fresh perspective and energy that helps persevere and remain aligned to your Purpose. Always surround yourself with people who energize you especially in challenging times- they will help you persevere.

I wish to end by quoting a few lines of my one of my favorite poems of Oriaha Mountaindreamer - ‘The Invitation’:
It doesnt interest me what you do for a living
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your hearts longing…….
“I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand on the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
And urge you to respond to the invitation into the corporate world with a resounding “YES”

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