Ten Myths About Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Last Updated Jun 11, 2009 4:42 PM EDT

For everything worth obtaining in life, people invent reasons why they can't have it or look for an easy way to get it.

First, nothing worth having is easy to obtain. Second, the only thing stopping you is you.

To help you on your way, I'm going to bust Ten Myths About Climbing the Corporate Ladder:
  1. It's not what you know, but who you know. I'd be lying if I said networking isn't a factor, but it's not the only factor. So are brains, experience, passion, drive, leadership ability, and a dozen other qualities.
  2. Executives are preordained in some way. I grew up in a tiny Brooklyn apartment and my father worked for the post office. Most top executives I've known had modest backgrounds and no "in."
  3. Play it safe and CYA. Taking risks will dramatically accelerate your climb. Period. You'll fail a few times, but what you learn from failure also works in your favor.
  4. CEOs have the best job. Actually, I think top-level VPs have the best job. They have loads of responsibility and get paid plenty, but don't have the huge risk and liability of today's CEO (and CFO).
  5. You need a PhD or an MBA. I didn't. It helps you get your foot in the door, as do degrees in general, but you don't need them. And yes, it's harder without, but that's the rub: there's no easy way to great things.
  6. It's a Catch 22 - you need to be there to get there. Most top executives climbed the ladder. A few started their own. The only Catch 22 is the one in your head, and that's the only thing stopping you.
  7. It's a good old boys club and I'm not in it. Sure, there are barriers to success, but that's part of capitalism, good or bad. If you have some mix of qualities like smarts, work ethic, passion, leadership skills, business acumen, articulate, etc., you'll get in the club.
  8. You don't get to have a balanced life. That depends on your priorities. Most top execs I know have well-balanced lives. Some don't, but that's their choice. Some retire young, some work until they drop. Again, personal choice.
  9. It takes brains, experience, and connections, and I have none of those. You can achieve the latter two in time if you're driven and aggressively pursue opportunities. I'd hesitate to say brains are overated, but I know plenty of successful executives who aren't geniuses.
  10. Once you "make it," you're on easy street. Few with the passion and drive to "make it," whatever that means, cruise once they do. They tend to always be looking to the horizon for the next big challenge.
Got any myths of your own you'd like to bust or any challenges to mine?

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