Ca­reer – Get ahead with in­tegrity

Here’s how to reach the top of the ca­reer lad­der with­out step­ping on any­one’s toes


There are one of two ways to get ahead in your ca­reer. One is to take off your stilet­tos and stab your col­leagues in the back as you place your­self in line for a pro­mo­tion. Af­ter all, the cor­po­rate world is fraught with com­pe­ti­tion and it’s ‘sur­vival of the thick-skinned’.

Or, you could fo­cus on your per­sonal goals rather than see it as a com­pe­ti­tion, says Leone Fouche, HR man­ager at Media24. “See it as an in­di­vid­ual jour­ney. De­cide where you want to go with your ca­reer and what you need in or­der to get there. Don’t set your aim at a spe­cific job, rather pre­pare your­self for a role,” she says. It’s a fact that women are 15% less likely than men to get pro­moted, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by and McKin­sey & Com­pany.

So some peo­ple are com­fort­able with play­ing im­moral games to get no­ticed. Back­stab­bing your way to the top may work for now but will catch up with you in the long run, says Jan­ice Hanly, a Jo­han­nes­burg­based busi­ness and life coach. “Your words and deeds will al­ways come out. You may reach the top but it’s lonely up there when you have no sup­port and no one to back you. It’s not sus­tain­able, and the stress of this sit­u­a­tion will even­tu­ally lead to burn-out.” She con­tin­ues: “At the top, you’ll need loyal fol­low­ers who buy into your vi­sion and as­sist you with team ef­fort. With­out this, you’re likely to be­come iso­lated and over­whelmed with stress.”

Suc­cess is best-earned when you put peo­ple up, not down. In fact, the most in­spir­ing thing you can do is to pro­mote other women’s suc­cess and build re­la­tion­ships founded on men­tor­ship and sup­port.

Here’s how best to get ahead:


This goes with­out say­ing. Peo­ple who climb the lad­der higher and faster are usu­ally the ones who don’t think twice about rais­ing their hand to un­der­take new tasks. They vol­un­teer to com­plete the jobs no one else wants and al­ways make the ef­fort to get out of their com­fort zones. Lead­ers don’t wait to be told what to do, they take the ini­tia­tive. They also don’t take credit for some­one else’s work.

Nomvula Sibeko*, 32, was sab­o­taged by some­one she knew well and trusted. “I was work­ing on a pro­ject our boss asked us to take on. Af­ter two months, I fi­nally fin­ished. I was so proud and was sched­uled to present my data­base to the team the fol­low­ing week. As I was go­ing through it, my col­league asked if she could also take a look. I gave her the data­base but the next day, I heard peo­ple ap­plaud­ing her in the board­room. When I went to check, she was pre­sent­ing my data­base to the team. Even though she got that credit, she even­tu­ally lost her job,” she adds.

Hanly says, “Play­ing a clean game is al­ways a win­ner. Peo­ple no­tice your work ethic and how you con­duct your­self. Pro­fes­sion­al­ism is vi­tal when build­ing your ca­reer. Good habits such as be­ing punc­tual, an­swer­ing emails timeously, fol­low­ing up on re­quests and keep­ing prom­ises never go un­no­ticed.” Fouche agrees. “We should, at all times, act pro­fe­sion­ally and eth­i­cally in the work­place. If you’ve got the skills and work ethic to get ahead, sneak­i­ness and sab­o­tage won’t be nec­es­sary.” Hanly adds that, “be­sides the ob­vi­ous­ness of hard work and an im­pec­ca­ble work ethic, mov­ing up the lad­der re­quires a bit more. Con­stantly up-skilling your­self is very im­por­tant so you can be ready for the next op­por­tu­nity. Don’t rest on the lau­rels of your last qual­i­fi­ca­tion. Tech­nol­ogy changes rapidly and one has to keep up. Scan your work data­base or net­work for new courses.” You can also ap­proach your line man­ager about short courses you feel you need to do to get ahead.


Be­ing a team player means lend­ing your time to col­leagues in need and go­ing the ex­tra mile to com­plete tasks. Start with lit­tle things such as wish­ing some­one a happy birth­day even if you don’t know the per­son. Your ca­reer suc­cess also de­pends on how well you get on with oth­ers. If you’re not will­ing to pitch in, col­lab­o­rate and be a team player, it will re­flect badly on you.

“We’re all hu­man and suf­fer bad times, where per­sonal mat­ters may af­fect our work. At these times, be hon­est with your­self, your line man­ager and your team. Let them know what’s hap­pen­ing with­out be­ing a ‘drama’ queen. If we with­hold what’s go­ing on, co-work­ers and man­age­ment may get the wrong im­pres­sion and view it as poor per­for­mance. Ask for help when you know you need it. Don’t hide be­hind a mask of ef­fi­ciency when you’re feel­ing over­whelmed. This will lead to fail­ure and toxic stress lev­els,” Hanly says.


The best ex­am­ple of sis­ter­hood in the work­place is one where women build each other up in­stead of tear each other down. Of­fer­ing to men­tor an­other woman is an easy way to make a dif­fer­ence. Hanly says this is an op­por­tu­nity for you to lend your ear to, of­fer ad­vice, share your wis­dom and of­fer gen­eral sup­port. “Nel­son Man­dela gave us the beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple of ‘Ser­vant Leadership’ which is all about em­pow­er­ing and en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers. Be­come a men­tor to new em­ploy­ees by tak­ing them un­der your wing and show­ing them how things are done. Be friendly, cour­te­ous and hum­ble to all around you. Things change and be­fore you know it, your sub­or­di­nate could rise to a po­si­tion above yours. Lindiwe Ng­cobo*, 37, who’d re­cently been ap­pointed as a man­ager for a me­dia com­pany says, “As I was men­tor­ing other women, my su­pe­ri­ors no­ticed my leadership skills . I’m al­ways will­ing to lend a help­ing hand and share my knowl­edge.”

Your guid­ance and cour­tesy will be re­mem­bered and re­warded. “Em­pow­er­ing oth­ers is grat­i­fy­ing and shows great hu­mil­ity. Shar­ing in the joys of co-work­ers and show­ing em­pa­thy for those in dis­tress all shows high Emo­tional In­tel­li­gence and the qual­i­ties of a great leader,” Hanly ad­vises.

While some com­pa­nies may have men­tor­ship pro­grammes, don’t feel obliged to go through them. You can of­fer your ser­vices or find a men­tor through your old place of study or on the pro­fes­sional net­work LinkedIn.

At the top you will need loyal fol­low­ers who buy into your vi­sion and as­sist you with team ef­fort. With­out this you will be­come iso­lated and over­whelmed with stress.”


It’s im­por­tant to have a net­work of pro­fes­sional women, to share your chal­lenges in a safe and nur­tur­ing space. Be there for ech other, whether some­one is suc­ceed­ing or fail­ing, for more than just those big mo­ments. Take a col­league out to lunch. Be­ing friendly, gen­uine and in­ter­ested earns far more points than com­pli­ment­ing your man­ager ev­ery day. “Most im­por­tant of all are your in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships. Align your­self with pos­i­tive, am­bi­tious peo­ple who en­cour­age you and believe in the mis­sion and vi­sion of the com­pany. If you align your­self with the ‘Kitchen Mafia’ (the col­leagues who gather to gos­sip and plot to pull the com­pany down), this will be noted by the pow­ers-that-be. Look for op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth. Show up and speak up, when those op­por­tu­ni­ties present them­selves,” Hanly con­cludes.

It’s your choice – you can climb up to the corner of­fice by back­stab­bing oth­ers, or you can do it with poise and in­tegrity. The re­al­ity of climb­ing a cor­po­rate lad­der is, back­stab­bing is way played out and it will even­tu­ally catch up with you as com­pa­nies are look­ing for peo­ple who can ac­tu­ally do the job. So, if you want to get ahead, build a per­sonal brand that will keep you in de­mand, in­stead of fool­ing around with the pet­ti­ness of back­stab­bing oth­ers.

*Not their real names.■

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