I listened to a podcast interview with Jim Collins last week, and this quote stopped me in my tracks.
"Never let your ambition confuse you about what you really are."
The statement was made as he talked about a lesson that he learned while reading a Master of the Senate, a biography on Lyndon B. Johnson. After becoming Master of the Senate, the spark notes version, Johnson's ambition to be president, led him to the decision to leave the Senate to become Vice President. While in the Senate, he was highly effective and watching him was like "watching Michelangelo at work." At the end of the book, when Johnson leaves to become Vice President, the author of the book writes something along the lines of,
"He did not know it at the time, but in leaving the Senate, he was leaving the only home that he ever really had."
This got me thinking about the corporate climb that you have chosen to make if you are a member of the I Choose the Ladder Community. I started thinking about what are things that allow someone to be considered a master? How can we identify when we have found our corporate home? How do we ensure that we have clarity on if our ambitions may cause us to make decisions that may bring some outward envy but won't necessarily bring us inward joy?
In my reflection, I have identified four things that I think will help us make the most of the climb, ensure that we can find our corporate homes, and give you guideposts that allow you to check-in with yourself along the journey.
- Resilience: We know that as Black women climbing the corporate ladder often requires us to jump through hoops that our counterparts don't have to. There are many obstacles, both seen and unseen, that we have to deal with before we can even get to our jobs. From microaggressions to stereotypes and bias, we know that the climb is a journey. We have to build up the tools that will allow us to withstand all of that while continuing to pursue the careers that we want. While we are not superwomen, contrary to the current narrative used to make us carry more than our share, we are fully formed humans who can bounce back and thrive through so many challenges. Make sure that you are surrounded by people who can hold you and brush you off when things get rough.
- Reputation: All decisions about your career will be made when you are not in the room, and your reputation dictates what will be said. We should always be doing temperature checks on what the narrative about us in the marketplace is. The way that we do that is through feedback. Do you think you consistently do excellent work? Well, see if that's true by asking for feedback. Do you believe you have executive presence? Well, find out by asking for feedback. Do you believe that you are a value creator for your team and organization? Make sure that others believe the same by asking for feedback. Your professional reputation is built over time by consistently delivering on and exceeding, or not, expectations.
- Relationships: The strength of your relationships will determine the types of opportunities you have access to. Yup, I said it. Many people in Corporate America are brilliant. Some not so smart people too, but that's not the point. What sets the intelligent people who get fantastic opportunities apart from the intelligent people who have nice comfortable jobs are relationships. I have found that being intentional about creating deep, meaningful relationships, helps with opportunities and almost ensures that you end up in spaces that align with the work you want to do. It's always going the be the quality of the relationships over the quantity of relationships for me.
- Receipts: At I Choose the Ladder, we say that you have to be preparing, performing, and proving all year long if you want to climb the corporate ladder. Proof of performance through career receipts is a significant part of that. If you don't already have a systematic way to do that, check out the Review Planner. You need to know how your success at any point is being measured and then become obsessive with making sure that you are keeping proof of how you are delivering. This not also enables you and others to advocate for you. It also allows you to recognize patterns to not sit in a position for longer than you have to, hoping for something that may never come. People can argue with your opinions. People can argue with your feeling. What they can't do is argue with receipts. Get great at keeping receipts, and watch your climb change.
What I have decided is that there will be joy on the climb and that finding a corporate home is possible. Do your part and make sure that you are checking in with yourself often.