The Best Path to the Top Might Not Be a Straight Line

Path to the Top "Straight to the top" is an expression we've heard so often that conventional wisdom would lead you to believe there's no other way. After all, how often do you read about someone who has "spiraled" to the top? Or seesawed to the top? If career adviser Sarah Hathorn has her way, people will start trying a little non-linear thinking, and "zigzag" their way to the top.

Hathorn, an executive coach, author and leadership expert at Illustra Consulting, says, "The fast track used to be vertical. Now it's all about zigzagging your way to the top versus taking the elevator."

She offers five tips to explain what she means by that:

1. Volunteer - During mergers, acquisitions, and periods of downsizing and layoffs those who lend a hand to relieve their bosses of extra tasks, assist co-workers to meet deadlines, or pitch in to train newcomers become invaluable and indispensable assets worthy of greater responsibility.

2. Specialize, then generalize - Master one specialty, but then seize any opportunity to work in other departments of the organization or aspects of operations that are unfamiliar. Those with a panoramic view of the organization are more qualified to lead in a big way, so making lateral moves is often the fastest way to earn a vertical promotion.

3. Celebrate the competition - Those who showcase the accomplishments of teammates, co-workers, and employees indirectly promote themselves as selfless leaders who inspire performance and productivity.

4.Practice mentor management - Rather than simply giving orders, teach people value-adding skills to help accelerate their own careers while also being their go-to role model. Managing by mentoring is a great way to get more from employees while also gaining hands-on leadership experience to qualify for promotion to the next level.

5. To lead is to learn - A prerequisite to predictable promotions in this day and age is lifelong learning and continual skill acquisition. That ensures a sustainable career, and those who challenge themselves with new learning never burn out from boredom.

Hathorn says that those who understand the "zigzag to the top" phenomenon are currently thriving, despite layoffs and downsizing. In addition, they are enjoying more rewarding careers by negotiating personalized benefit packages or positions that provide a richer quality of life.

"The smart movers and shakers seek perks on their own terms, rather than just trying to fill a predecessor's shoes," she explains. "They define success and promotion based on fulfillment and satisfaction, not prestigious titles. When they experience both material and spiritual rewards then they know they have really arrived."

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