I arrive on time and order a coffee. But when my business appointment, who is very senior in her industry, finally turns up, she was too furious to even apologise. She tells me that she has just learnt she had been overlooked for the top job yet again. And she had no idea why.
“When I asked the bastards why I missed out for the third time, they just joked that I was too good at my job, offered me a small pay rise and told me to try again next time,” she fumed.
On she raged. She worked incredibly hard. She was busy all the time. Head down, bum up, she said.
So who did get the job? I asked.
Someone they got from a head hunter, a person who didn’t even know the industry because they had worked in a completely different sector.
How could they possibly do the job, she asked? They couldn’t even do her job!
And that may well be the point.
If there is one thing I have heard over the years that makes me cringe, it is this: “I have been overlooked for promotion for a very senior job and don’t know why. I am really good at my job and have practically killed myself being head down, bum up. I really want to progress my career and feel my ambition is being thwarted.”
These women often feel so frustrated that their hard work is going unnoticed, they then make a critical mistake. Feeling unappreciated, they move sideways often into a similar type of job but just at a different company.
And they do the same thing again! Stick their head down, bum up, go home every night proud of their performance when everyone around them is actually talking about why they can’t take the next step but a small pay rise should secure them for another few years because, well they are so indispensable.
So what’s the problem?
Well, if you are looking at the ground how the hell can you see where you are going?
There was a very interesting leadership study published by the Harvard Business Review that scored women more highly than men on about 16 key measures. But on one measure women were found to trail the blokes. And it was developing strategy and communicating it to the people that matter. And guess which measure people valued most when promoting into the top job?
So while my business contact was working furiously to do the best job she could today, she was not convincing anyone that she ever looked up and thought where the company was going.
So if senior roles require strategic thinking and communication skills and not just sticking your bum in the air, what should you do now?
Top tips to getting that top promotion
- Delegate. You say you have no time. But there is always someone whom you can convince to take on some of your work. That is going to free up your time. You need an hour a day.
- Read about the economy and business. Throw out your trashy magazines. You can’t complain about not having time to scratch yourself if you spend a second of your day reading soft porn or celebrity crap.
- Set up strategic meetings with the people who matter
- Get yourself some entrepreneurial mentors. Talk to them about how to develop strategy, what your next job looks like, the strategy you can develop around the role
- Learn to gossip about business not telly. See those groups of men down the corridor chatting away while you are working hard? Maybe they are chatting about the footy. But then again they may be exchanging very useful information about the marketplace. Many men in top positions are superb gossips about issues that matter. They know who has moved up where, the new strategy is or should be, what new products are being developed down the road and which networking functions to join to get access to power.
- Learn to talk big. I don’t just mean about yourself. Although of course you should practice big noting yourself at every opportunity. But also try this: visualise the future and use powerful metaphors to describe your strategy. Draw pictures with your words. Talk with passion and conviction.
- Swear. And I mean a lot. Use it to counter male bias that you are a good girl who can’t be tough. The F word used wisely is a favorite of mine.
- Learn to leak to the media. Many men at the top have great relationships with journalists. Very few senior women do. Learn how to play the game so you build your profile and company strategy with the media.
Now as I was trying to do some business with my fuming business associate, I didn’t share my tips with her. Instead I said: “Sooooo what do you think you need to do to get the job next time?”
She looked at me in complete exasperation. “I’m too busy to think about it!” she said.