Taking the leap from middle management to executive management is harder than you think. It’s not like an athlete moving from the minors to the majors. It’s more like that athlete has changed their sport of choice entirely. In a business context, it can feel like you’re moving into a completely different industry, and one that you have little knowledge of. Know that you’re not alone. Moving up the corporate ladder comes with challenges but if you have the right tools and attitude, it’s achievable.
In my career, I’ve had many mentors. They all helped shape my career and provided me with the necessary insight to keep my career moving forward; keeping me out of the “danger zone” of plateauing. So, to answer the burning question, “how do I move to executive management,” I’m going to pull insights from my personal mentors that helped me make the jump.
What Most Mentors Will Tell You
The first thing everyone will say is: always listen. As a general rule, listen 80 percent of the time and talk the other 20 percent.
The second thing everyone will say is: get early wins.
The third thing they’ll say is: have a voice.
And finally, take chances: “You don’t make 100 pcenter of the shots you don’t take.” - Wayne Gretzky
What Most Mentors Will Not Always Tell You
The first 30 days
You’ve heard about “the first 90 days,” but what about the first 30 days?
In the first month, listen. Meet with as many senior executives and staff as you can. Learn about how the company works, the different processes each department implements, and the goals for each division. Ask what everyone sees as the vision for the company; likely, you’ll hear a wide variety of answers. Take in all this information and after one month, set up a meeting with your superior. Tell them your findings and what areas you think are best to focus on immediately based on what you know the CEO’s goals are. You’re on your way to an early win.
Take your seat at the table
Own the fact that you’re now an executive and take your seat at the table. Get comfortable, but more importantly act comfortable. Now that you’re at the table, have a voice.
Have your own perspective and don’t be afraid to vocalize it. It’s why you were invited to sit at the table—to be a part of the management team and guide the company forward. In order for your company to advance, there needs to be a diverse range of thought that includes your ideas. Don’t be silent. You’ve been chosen to provide your insight, and your opinion. You won’t always be on the right side of what’s ultimately decided, but you’ll be respected for providing your opinion.
You don’t have to master it all
When I think of the best leaders I’ve worked for, they all have one thing in common. They’re all comfortable in their leadership and executive management but aren’t too shy to admit that they aren’t masters of everything. Instead, they’ve build up their team with people who are experts in a variety of areas. Don’t stress yourself out about being perfect at everything; you likely won’t be, and that’s okay.
It’s not always necessary to re-invent the wheel
Most industries have been working with an established system for decades. Sometimes innovation feels like a complete changing of the tide but really, innovation is just a change (be it slight or significant) to what already exists. It’s not always necessary to go in and change everything that’s been done. Take in how the company works overall—the customers’ needs and wants, and the company’s goals to determine what might require a new perspective or procedure. Just remember that change doesn’t happen overnight.
Innovation is necessary for industries to keep their finger on the pulse of opportunities. Have the ability to pivot and move wisely with the times. One of the best examples for re-inventing the wheel is the original choose-your-own-adventure novel which is the basis for many programs today. In fact, Netflix is currently experimenting with this very concept.
Most innovation in entertainment involves finding new ways audiences can view or interact with a program. So, in regards to choose-your-own-adventure stories, the medium is essentially the same, but how audiences experience the medium has changed.
Make It Yours
A mentor of mine once said to change something in the common area, even if only slightly… whether it’s a meeting room, hallway, or your office (if you have one). This will signal to your staff that there’s been a change. You can also simply provide your perspective, take a deep dive into the current process and find ways to make efficiencies for your company.
“Make a Plan and Hold it Lightly”
Always allow yourself the ability to pivot. (If you have to, post a photo of ‘Ross’ from Friends up at your desk to remind you.)
Imposter Syndrome is a real. Don’t let your insecurities get the best of you. You were chosen for a reason. Listen. Plan. Initiate. Review. Make changes. Repeat. Nothing will be 100 perfect perfect and that’s okay. You’re not expected to be perfect, but you are expected to make decisions. And those decisions need to be backed up with research, data, insights, and your gut instinct. At some point you’ll think you made the wrong decision; maybe you did and maybe you didn’t. Either way, keep moving forward.
Your entire team and company is looking to you and your fellow executives to set the tone. If you’re having a bad day, your staff will react. Don’t forget you’re being compensated to manage and to provide a positive environment for your employees. Smile and support your staff or you’ll be in jeopardy of developing a negative work space and losing great colleagues.
Your Superior has Limited Time
If you think your agenda is busy, think again. Your superior doesn’t have time to deal with situations you are being paid to manage and will assume you’re taking care of everything. Make sure to come prepared to meetings so you don’t waste their time.
Figure it out as you go but make sure to inform your superior if you need support navigating any situation and then act knowing you have their support.
Find a mentor
If you don’t already have one, seek someone out. Someone you admire. Someone you want to learn from. Someone that emulates the executive you want to be. Everyone should have someone to lean on and bounce ideas off of.
Take a deep breath, jump in and enjoy the ride.
RELATED: PromaxBDA Mentorship Program
Kelsey Aikman is the director of marketing and communications for Marble Media and Distribution 360, and a participant of PromaxBDA’s Mentorship Program.