The traditional model of climbing the corporate ladder involves possessing a number of specific personal qualities combined with a staunch work ethic. The outgoing, charismatic “shark” will advance while others will stagnate. It’s a zero-sum game in which some people get power and others do not.
Of course, how to advance one’s career is somewhat specific to what industry you’re in. For example, in technology, those with innovative ideas and advanced skills will be highly valued. Nevertheless, hierarchy is in general less important it used to be. Yet those traditional myths of how to move up still persist.
Everyone’s heard the expression, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Traditionally, this has had some truth to it, with old boys’ clubs reigning in some businesses. But with companies embracing more objective standards for performance, this is becoming a thing of the past. Connections never hurt, and they could lead to a great new job. But make no mistake that even if this happens, you’ll still need to perform at a high level.
This is a very American idea. If you work hard enough, you’ll move up. If you want to impress upon those around you that you take work seriously, be the first to show up and the last to leave. This isn’t the case anymore. While there are plenty of people working well beyond full-time (or 40 hours a week), research continues to demonstrate that employees who maintain work-life balance are actually more productive than their workaholic counterparts. Not to mention healthier and happier!
Oddly, this flip side of the “it’s not what you know” is also traditional wisdom. This speaks to a specific kind of top-down leadership by a dominant personality. Once again, this no longer works. More companies are seeing the benefits of collaboration and teamwork. They want team leaders to be attuned to assigning roles and managing personalities. While possessing strong knowledge and skills is important, using an autocratic style of leadership is out of vogue.
If you fail all the time, there’s no shot you’re moving up. At the same time, if you never take any risks, you’re also unlikely to move up. Those with the best ideas who follow through on them sometimes fail. Innovation is valued in today’s economy. Those who take risks will be rewarded in the long run.
Again this speaks to the lack of hierarchy in the business world. No longer is it about impressing a single supervisor. Tammy Erikson writes in Harvard Business Review that impressing your peers is far more important in the flat organizational systems that are popular today. Growing your reputation happens organically, rather than focusing all your effort on changing your supervisor’s opinion.
Many of these changes are positive for workers: fewer hours, more work-life balance, and less hierarchy. There’s no doubt that the best methods of advancing your career will continue to evolve.