5 Ways To Accelerate Your Career And Advance To The Executive Ranks

Back in the day, when I was a college junior being pressed to choose a major, I didn’t have a clue about what type of job I wanted to do for the rest of my life. (Times were different back then kids. We thought we had to work at the same place until we died.)

After very little research, I pronounced to my friends, family and university advisor that I wanted to work in Human Resources.

Why? Because I thought that working in HR would provide me with an opportunity to work with all employees in the company, and I could be the boss of as many people as possible. See? I was a Millennial before being a Millennial was cool!

Of course, after starting my career in HR, I quickly realized how misguided my thinking was. I wasn’t actually the boss of anybody – except Paula in Payroll – which was fine, to start.

From there, I quickly learned that if I wanted to advance into the executive ranks, the best thing that I could do would be to focus not on being a “boss”, or managing the most people, but to learn how to work with, and influence others in order to get things done – regardless of my position on the organizational chart.

5 Areas To Focus On To Advance Your Career

Focus On Others

Build and collect relationships like precious gems.

The most effective leaders are those who are able to build strong and supportive relationships throughout their organization, their profession, their industry, and their communities.

Why? Because everyone needs help from others in order to succeed. Plus, bosses, peers, and colleagues tend to support (and recommend for appropriate opportunities) those who have helped them along the way.

You’ll add tremendous value in your organization through working with colleagues to find common ground, and by being a person whom people at all levels trust to provide authentic and constructive feedback and coaching where necessary.

Building positive relationships is a must – even with colleagues you don’t like.

Focus On You

The ability to influence others creates opportunity.

In one of my favorite evergreen blog posts – HR: A 10-Point Agenda For Change by Neil Morrison (Director, Strategy, Culture and Innovation at Penguin Random House UK) – Neil wrote:

“You don’t get influence through control. You get influence through other people’s positive experience of you.”

I couldn’t agree more! It’s a waste of time for any leader to be clamoring for a specific title, or a “seat at the table” in order to have influence in an organization.

Instead, you’ll gain more traction by focusing on being known for consistently sharing informed opinions and ideas that move the business forward, challenging the status quo in a non-threatening manner, and not taking disagreement or healthy conflict personally.

Executives want to hear from people in the organization who bring forward solid ideas, and ask smart questions that open up untapped potential. 

Focus On The Business

Think business opportunities first – not what’s best for your department or career.

The higher up you move in the organization, the more complex the problems are that leaders must deal with. If your eye is on the top spot in your area, or in the company, then focus on understanding the biggest problems that your business and industry face today – and in the future – and identify what needs to be done to solve those problems.

Always keep in mind that you’re first, and foremost, a business leader – not an accounting, marketing, or human resources leader.

Focus on the business objectives first, and the day-to-day requirements of your functional area second. Never make it about you or your team first, or getting others to recognize the importance of your function.

Focus On The Future

Make things happen, be bold, and be decisive.

I spent several years working as an retained search recruiter, partnering with executives to fill leadership roles in a variety of organizations. At the beginning of each search, I liked to ask the CEO, and other members of the executive team – “What do you want from the new ___ that you didn’t get with the last person who worked in this position?”

By far, the most common answer was something similar to: “I want him or her to make decisions, utilize their expertise and knowledge of their profession, and tell us what we need to do. If they can’t do that, then we don’t need them.”

Executives want to work with other leaders who utilize their education, expertise, and knowledge of external factors affecting the business to make decisions, and create plans for what needs to be done. 

Focus on Impact

Regardless of your profession, or department function, become an expert in talent acquisition and talent development.

There’s no doubt that maintaining a relentless focus on solving the most important problems of the business in order to create the most impact is required to advance your career. But more than likely, the most pressing challenges facing your business today center around acquiring, developing, and retaining the talent necessary to meet the organization’s strategic objectives.

Simply put, this means that you absolutely, positively have to understand how to attract, recruit, and develop the people that you need on your team in order to succeed.

Focus on becoming the best developer of people and talent in your company, and you’ll get a Fast Pass to the front of the success ladder line. 

Getting to the top spot in your organization will take time, and it won’t be easy. But, if you stay focused on the business needs, maintain strong relationships, build your influence, and become known as a builder of great teams – and you can definitely get there.

And that’s what it takes to be a Boss.

President & Chief Talent Strategist

Jennifer McClure is a Keynote Speaker, Talent Strategies Expert and Executive Coach who works with clients and companies in the areas of leadership development, communication and talent strategy. Jennifer McClure offers keynotes, workshops and training that inspire and empower business leaders to be more effective in their careers and as leaders of their organization’s most valuable resource – people.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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