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 LeanIn.org 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.
BE A TEAM PLAYER
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.
BE A MENTOR
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.”
BUILD A STRONG NETWORK OF WOMEN
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.■