Climbing The Ladder: Advice for Those at the Top and on the Rungs


Each month I collect updates from 75 mentors in the three corporate mentor programs I manage. I get apprised on the topics discussed in their conversations. The mentoring conversations are confidential, and my review of topics is to use a coach-approach to help the mentors be as effective as possible.  Invariably the mentor and protégé almost always cover, at some point, the topic of how to climb the corporate ladder. Here are some thoughts on that.

For the Bosses

Be clear in your conversations with your direct reports about what success looks like at your organization. Sometimes after you’ve been a manager for a while, you think the roadmap to success is transparent to all. It is not. Have conversations around the specifics. What exactly should an ambitious associate do (or not do)? What education, certifications, etc. does she need? How should she demonstrate taking the initiative? What else does she need to know about the process, the timing and the opportunities for promotion?

For the Climbers

Assess your internal network.

Have you built solid connections with a variety of people in different departments? Are you getting visibility through projects and committees? One of my mentors assigned a relationship-mapping exercise to her protégé. By looking at the visual representation of her relationships, the protege could see definite gaps. She has created a networking plan with the help of her mentor to close those gaps.

Remember that you drive the process.

Career development conversations should be two-way conversations, not just the boss talking. Declare your dreams and aspirations. Ask for specifics on how you get there. And then take the steps recommended. Circle back to your boss on what you’ve been learning.

Widen your view of your development.

Although many organizations in town provide fantastic training opportunities (internally and externally), this is not the only way to gain skills. Look for other places to learn. Volunteer on a community board. Start a book club at your organization to discuss the latest Harvard Business Review articles or the hot new business book. On your own initiative, set aside time to listen to podcasts, watch relevant TED talks, etc. Get involved in your professional association. There are myriad ways to increase your knowledge and skills outside of your own organization. Make it a point to be a lifelong learner.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are some reminders for both bosses and the people they lead. As organizations continue to focus on recruiting and retaining talent, it is important for career development conversations to happen and to happen often.



Susan Combs

Susan Combs, MBA and Professional Certified Coach, works with coaching clients to create fresh starts, enhance their leadership skills and increase their confidence. She is an authorized licensee of the Fit Leader's Program. Susan provides one-on-one coaching, DiSC team-building training and manages corporate mentor programs. She lives in Lansing with her son, Max, and their golden retriever puppy. Visit or for more information.

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