Climbing the Corporate Ladder

by | Resources, Visioning & Planning

From the moment I first read the passage in Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits…” I embraced his observation that “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” I have often used this quote to explain to others the importance of strategic planning and vision.

The business world is full of similar analogies. Up is good. Going up fast is better. We are all told that our ultimate career goal is to ‘climb the corporate ladder’. That businesses need to climb to the top of the pile. Yet too often, business owners and managers aren’t really sure where “up” is for them. Just that they perceive it to be “up”. And again… ‘up is good’. Right?

So you can see why I liked Covey’s use of the ladder metaphor. He challenges us to stop climbing and first take a look at the top of the ladder; then ask ourselves some very basic questions. Is that where we want to go? Is this even the right wall?

Having a vision for where we want our companies and ourselves to be in the future is the first step to knowing how to get there. You have to – as Covey’s second habit says – “Begin with the End in Mind”. Know and understand where you want to go. Pick out that point on the top of the right wall, lean your ladder against it, and begin your climb. Strategic planning in its simplest form.

Ah, but then the economy turns sour. Customers retract and limit or change their buying. Government changes the rules. Employees change their attitudes. All of a sudden you realize that even if you have a vision for the future – even if you can see it clearly at the top of the right wall – a ladder may no longer be a valid metaphor for reaching that vision. You come to the realization that the path between where you are today and your ultimate goal may not be a straight line, or as simple as taking one step after another on a linear path.

So let me propose a paradigm slightly different from Covey’s. I see the ‘wall’ not as a brick wall, but a wall of rock on the side of a tall mountain. I am OK with climbing up. Up is still good. Your goal should still be a point near the top of that rock face. You still need a vision of where you want to be at the end. And you still need to make sure you are on the right rock face.

But in my paradigm a ladder is not going to get you there. Because the outcroppings, the ledges, the lack of footholds and handholds, the length of the climb… all conspire to eliminate a short, direct route.

Unlike a ‘ladder climber’, a rock climber creates their path as they go. They stop often to analyze where they are at that point in time. And to reorient themselves to their goal. What obstacles lie immediately before them and which just beyond that? Which direction do they need to move to get around those obstacles so they can continue on their journey to the top? How stable are their footholds and handholds? And which can they rely on most to support them as they reach for the next one?

The entire path is not known to them. But then, it doesn’t really need to be. You simply need to know where you are going and where to start. It might sound a little scary, but you figure the rest out on the way. In fact, in today’s ever changing world, you almost have to figure it out along the way. You can see that as overwhelming. Or chose to see it as a challenge. But you will get nowhere standing on the ground.

With the right perspective, ‘climbing a rock’ can be a whole lot more fun and rewarding than ‘climbing a ladder’.  And within the reach of almost anyone. You just need three ‘pieces of equipment’: 1) an awareness of what you want to accomplish – your ultimate goal; 2) some basic ‘climbing skills’ to get you there; and 3) the desire to do so without fail. Vertical Performance can provide you with the first two. But for the greatest chance of success, the last one has to come from deep within your own self.

Vertical Performance, Inc.

15 N. 1st Street, Suite 202
Belleville, IL 62220
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