Hollywood would like us to believe that everyone goes to school, works hard, and quickly winds up in their dream job. From pauper to Wall Street, shy guy to leading man, or mailroom clerk to CEO, it’s all about that fairytale ending. Now brush the popcorn from your lap and let your eyes readjust to the light, because the movie’s over and we’re heading back to reality.
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True, there are those who happen to step directly into management positions after graduating — but they’re definitely not the norm. Those hoping to take the fast track to the top tend to recognize that the people being hired for management positions are often already managers. Which is why one of the questions I get asked most often is, “How do I join the club?”
While you can’t just pay some dues and get a union card, you can take some steps to help make yourself look like management material in the eyes of the leadership. And no, I’m not talking about “faking it until you make it.” Rather, these are ways to get noticed and open up opportunities. Below are the six methods that I have found to be most effective.
1. Maintain Professionalism. You don’t need to dress to the nines every day, but you should be professional in your actions. Be punctual and stick to your commitments. As a manager, you’ll quickly find that every minute of your day is a commodity. And avoid the water cooler; gossip is a destructive force that creates daily problems for managers.
2. Look Beyond “You.” Your organization hired you to do a specific job. However, that isn’t to say that you can’t learn about areas outside of your own realm. Most managers oversee teams that provide multiple roles; being diverse is part of the job. You may not become a master of everything — my inability to understand SQL is proof of such — yet understanding how the moving parts fit together is an essential management skill. Being able to offer insight into how you can have an impact beyond your area of expertise demonstrates great moxie.
3. Make Your Manager Shine. That’s right, a great way to get noticed as someone who is ripe for a managerial position is to ensure that your own manager looks like gold! How, pray tell, does one accomplish such a feat? One way is to find out what they stress over and try to alleviate, or eliminate, the thorn in their side. This may help your manager accomplish more within the organization — and they’re more likely to remember you as they rise through the ranks.
4. Stretch. Your gym teacher was right: stretching is good for you! Rather than doubling over and straining to grab your toes, seek out assignments that are challenging, or a “stretch.”
5. Grow Relationships. Where any type of promotion or opportunity is found, you’re certain to find multiple layers of relationships. Many times it really is about who you know.
6. Communicate Well. Lee Iacocca said, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” How do you get your ideas across? Focus on being succinct. More words do not translate to better communication. Managers rely on clearly expressed messages to ensure their teams produce results. The other component of communication, and the one that is omitted most often, is listening. Listen with purpose. Hear what is being said and allow for full thoughts to be expressed before you impart your wisdom.
If your career aspirations include management, then by all means start looking like a manager today. Keep a close eye on your company’s managers who seem to be most respected, and find a way to incorporate their traits into your own job performance. When the time comes, you’ll have management written all over you.
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