If you’re trying to climb the corporate ladder you will need to understand what it takes to get a management level job. This is entirely possible, even if you’ve never had one before.
This is not going to happen overnight and it’s not going to happen without persistence and hard work.
What you need is a plan.
Be willing to start at the absolute bottom
If you have never been a manager before then you need to be willing to be an individual contributor.
By doing so you will have an in-depth knowledge of company operations that can only be obtained through experience.
You’ll be able to identify problems and provide solutions that management has been unable to solve.
As an example, take a look at John Bolinder who went from a low level job to CEO of Nelson Labs. He used a similar technique that I did to get my first Director position.
How did he do it?
He found solutions to problems in the mail room by implementing bar codes. This increased efficiency and solved headaches over errors that were costing the company money.
Did he have to start in the mail room? No. But he had a goal in mind. He wanted to learn how the company operated and was willing to do whatever it took.
Now keep in mind you don’t have to start at the bottom but it may be your only opportunity with the company. The point is to be willing to take a seemingly “go nowhere” position when your aim is something much greater.
Each situation needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. I’m not suggesting that everybody who wants to be CEO should apply at the lunchroom so use common sense.
Study the behaviors of managers you admire
If you want to get a management level job, then you need to understand the skills required.
The first things you should think about is what you like about your current manager.
Does your manager dictate what you should do or does he/she set appropriate goals and expectations?
Do you feel comfortable approaching your manager when you need help?
Does your manager look out for you and protect you from an onslaught of corporate problems?
You will note that good managers have certain qualities in common.
- “Have your back” by protecting you at all times.
- Lead instead of dictate.
- Have the skills to set priorities and expectations to get the job done but don’t micromanage on every little thing.
- Are approachable and have excellent communication skills.
- Provide support for you and your colleagues so you are free to focus on your own objectives.
- Give you the tools you need to complete your tasks.
Once you understand the qualities of a good leader, you can learn the skills required to lead your own teams.
You can also become the leader that’s loved instead of hated. A friend of mind told me;
“The idea is to get people to want to follow you.”
Nobody is going to willingly follow someone they despise.
Outstanding managers have learned the fine art of being firm and getting things done with dignity and integrity.
Treat others with respect and be a problem solver
If you want to be a manager someday then you need to earn the respect of your colleagues right now.
Treating people poorly and trying to show them what a big shot you are will backfire every time. Instead of working your way up the ladder, you will only be known as a jerk and your career will go nowhere.
What you need to do instead it’s not only do your job but help others on your team do their jobs. This is the true essence of teamwork.
As Zig Ziglar once said,
“You can get everything you want out of life if you help enough other people get what they want.”
What will happen over time is you will get a reputation as the “go to” person. Over and over people will learn that for the really tough problems they can go to you for help.
You are learning an important skill to “have the back” of your team. Even though you don’t have a team now, you are learning how to be supportive.
This is one of the most important elements in your career strategy. You need to do this early and often.
Make your boss look good
Let’s say you found a way to improve efficiency.
The first thing to do is to write it down and work out the best way to put it in place. The goal is to develop a clear and easy to follow SOP.
Test your idea and make sure that it’s flawless. When you’re confident that what you have found is the best solution then present the SOP to your boss.
Your idea will not only help the team but also helps your manager look good. In turn, you will be recognized. Why?
Remember a point earlier about helping others get what they want. A manager has needs and desires too. They can’t come up with every great idea and so they rely team input.
Helping your manager look good builds your reputation as a problem solver. In turn, you will get recognized because word gets around quickly who came up with the idea.
Keep records of your accomplishments
Writing down your successes is crucial. How else will you be able to survive an interview without showing how you have succeeded?
Winging an interview is impossible. Instead prepare way ahead of time for that lead position.
Do so by logging how you have solved problems, drove projects forward, and led teams to success.
Hiring managers are on the lookout for good candidates with accomplishments. They don’t care so much about assignments; they want to know how a candidate added value.
They also have a keen BS radar. So to keep it real and come prepared with hard proof of your successes. It will go a long way towards a yes.
Find opportunities to lead
Even if someone is thinking about you for a lead position they will almost certainly have some doubts. The main reason is that you’ve never done this before.
Promoting someone and then having them fail causes more problems then just leaving them where they are.
Fortunately there are ways that you can get some experience leading a team when you are an individual contributor.
Look for ways to demonstrate your abilities.
Do you know how many managers get stressed out when they go on vacation? It happens a lot.
Their fear is that everything they’ve worked so hard to do will go to hell when they leave the office for 2 weeks.
This is an opportunity for you to show your developing leadership skills.
What you want to do is to be that person that your manager can lean on. Be their “right hand” person.
By helping out, you will not only gain the respect of your manager, but also from your colleagues. This is an import step towards your promotion.
I used this very technique to land a manager position less than a year after I was hired.
My boss was out of the office for a couple of weeks.
The team needed guidance so I went to my manager’s boss and asked how I could help. It was a simple offer. I wasn’t stomping on anybody’s toes. The goal was to fill a void.
I didn’t pretend to be the boss or be something that I wasn’t, I just helped the team move projects forward. My manager’s boss noticed how I handled the team. He appreciated that he didn’t have to do everything himself.
Later when a manager position opened up, I was able to get the job and eventually had over 55 people working for me.
You can do this too.
Be methodical about your career advancement.
Network with upper management
Being social with company leaders goes a long way towards opening up doors. If you consistently talk with influencers and excel at your job, you will be in the back of their minds when manager jobs opens up.
The point here is to be genuine and don’t suck up to people. They will see right through brown nosing and your efforts will fail.
What you should do instead is get to know people and allow them to know you better.
Everything you can do to build your reputation and expand your network is a step in the right direction.
So you’ve shown you are a team player and put in all the hard hours and over time. Now what should you do?
What you need to do now is to use every thing in your arsenal to get that first manager position.
The first one is the toughest, that’s for sure.
You will need to sell yourself by demonstrating all that you have accomplished. It’s like getting the first job or getting back to work after a lay off.
This is why it’s important to keep a record of your accomplishments from the day you start.
Take these accomplishments and constantly work on updating your resume. Focus on results instead of tasks and prove without a doubt that you are the best person for the job.
This technique works.
During the interview explain how you have increased efficiency and saved (or made) the company money. Talk about your strengths and be honest about your weaknesses.
Show them your successes when you had an opportunity to lead. Remind them of the times you helped out your boss and give them reasons to give you the job.
Explain that they can count on you to lead full time and then be sure to deliver that promise when promoted.
People are not born managers; they learn how to be managers. It’s true that some are naturally better at leading, but that does not guarantee a job. Getting a manager position takes knowledge, experience, and a plan to achieve the goal.
You too can get that first manager position, even if you have never done it before.
Plan to succeed from the moment you get your first job with the company.