In a prior post I whined about the shortcomings of climbing the corporate ladder. What I neglected to mention is that, after years of horrific behavior modification that some call management training, I eventually became pretty good at it. In fact, I was a manager and an executive for more than 20 years.
During that time I developed a pretty good sense, from both sides of the equation, of the qualities that executives look for in up-and-comers. So, if you're one of those gluttons for punishment (and compensation) who seek a place in the esteemed ranks of corporate management, here's some free advice on how best to get there.
One caveat, though. Depending on how you interpret them, these qualities can have different meanings. They can even be watered down into almost meaningless, generic dribble. I've seen that done in dozens of corporate "core value" statements. So I tried to provide meaningful descriptions to for clarity's sake.
Ten qualities executives seek in up-and-comers:
Passion. Driven to get the job done and do it right; passion for one's function, the marketplace, the company's product, work in general; high energy level
Intelligence. There's no substitute for intelligence, with emphasis on insight, analysis of complex problems, deductive reasoning, out of the box thinking
Fearless. Willing to take risks, embrace new challenges, make mistakes, and say what's on one's mind without fear of consequences; opposite of CYA mentality
Leadership. Innate ability to motivate people to willingly do one's bidding, especially when there's no direct benefit for them to do so
Can-do attitude. Simply put, everything is "no problem;" somehow finds a way to make it happen with minimal supervision; respect for "the customer"
Work ethic. Committed to working long and hard for the fulfillment of a job well done; respect for business and work; clarity in knowing right from wrong
Integrity. Understanding the importance of meeting commitments, on schedule and on budget; plus following up and keeping one's word
Flexibility. Easy to work with, willing to take on new responsibilities without clear personal benefit and without whining about it; willing to take one for the team
Humility. Willing to do what it takes for the team and credit others; intuitive understanding of the value of Karma in the business world
Honesty. Honest, straightforward, strong moral fiber; tells the truth regardless of consequences; goes hand-in-hand with fearless and strong work ethic
If this sounds like a laundry list of unachievable qualities that describe the perfect worker, then you might be wasting your time seeking a management position. If, on the other hand, you've got a good handle on half these qualities and are willing to work on the rest, then you've got a good shot.
If you've been recognized for possessing most of these qualities and are actively working on your weaknesses, you'll be noticed as an up-and-comer and pegged for management early in your career.
If you also excel at one or more disciplines, such as product development, marketing, finance, or operations, then you'll likely achieve an executive position if that's your goal.
If you add to that a little luck, opportunism, and business acuity, then the sky's the limit.
Last bit of advice: This only answers the "what," not the "how." You may need to seek one-on-one coaching or mentoring to help you develop these qualities. Other than that, be open to opportunity, be willing to take risks, embrace change, and above all, do what you feel passionate about.
If you're lucky, you'll achieve things you never dreamed possible.