Five Qualities for Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Last Updated Feb 17, 2009 8:01 PM EST

We all know executives who are completely clueless and employees who would make better managers than the CEO. Time and again, we see political players get promoted while smart, hardworking folks (like you) get passed over.

There's nothing more mysterious than the apparent randomness of promotions into the management and executive ranks. At least, that's the way it seems. The truth is that, while executives may not always know what they're looking for, they usually know it when they see it.

Of course, there are exceptions. Everyone makes mistakes. And of course, a significant percentage of executives are dysfunctional, which certainly bleeds into their hiring and promoting practices. That aside, there is more method than madness when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder.

Whether they know it or not, here are five qualities top executives look for in up-and-coming managers. They're not necessarily the obvious or most common traits, rather they're qualities that truly distinguish potential executives from their peers.
Five Qualities for Climbing the Ladder to Success
  1. Flexibility. Willingness to change direction, do what it takes, let go of personal agenda, and swallow pride, all for the greater good and the overall health of the business. Also being a team player when it counts most. There's a maturity factor, for sure. This is the trait that surprises people most.
  2. Honesty. Courage to look people - especially customers and authority figures - straight in the eye and tell them the genuine truth, regardless of consequences. Telling the story straight without sugar-coating bad news. "Yes men" are toxic to companies. Ethics and morality are related.
  3. Leadership. This is not as complex or subjective as you might think. Leadership is the ability to encourage people to follow you, especially when they don't have to. It also enables executives to drive consensus, or pull a diverse group together, united behind common goals, strategies and plans.
  4. Accountability. Willingness to take responsibility, own a problem, and be held accountable over the long haul, regardless of the risk. Maturity to take it on the chin without pointing fingers and wasting time on CYA activity. Stickwithitness and loyalty are related.
  5. Intelligence. Anybody who denies this is full of it. Everything else can be learned, but not this. Forget old notions of book smart versus street smart. You have to be both. Ability to rapidly digest and analyze information, reason, solve complex problems, and make critical decisions.
Can you climb the corporate ladder without possessing these traits? Sure, but it's a lot harder than if you do. If you think you've got these bases covered and are still being overlooked, try these lessons for crossing the middle management abyss. They work. Really.

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