Making your way to place of leadership

Ability to motivate, communicate are key to joining executive ranks

February 01, 2006|By SUSAN BOWLES | SUSAN BOWLES,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Shortly after joining the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, Margot Amelia faced every new executive's nightmare.

A key manager left.

There Amelia was, new to BACVA and facing a vacancy - in this case the senior director of tourism marketing. But rather than rushing to action, she decided to get to know the association and her staff before filling the post.

It didn't take long for Amelia to spot Kenneth M. Hemsley Jr., BACVA's 41-year-old group tour and international sales manager. Having worked at the association for almost a decade, Hemsley had the institutional knowledge that Amelia, as vice president of marketing, desired. He adapted well to change. And he worked with a calm efficiency.

"Kenneth was the inspiration for me to write a completely new strategic plan," Amelia remembers.

And to create a brand-new position: Last June, Hemsley was promoted to director of tourism development - a move he credits largely to his passion for the industry in general, and Baltimore in particular.

As companies look more toward retaining talent by promoting from within, they look for people - like Hemsley - who can make the leap from worker bee to executive star.

But those qualities aren't always easy to discern. While you may have the skills for a senior executive post, your managers may not believe you're promotion-worthy. That's because the leadership traits necessary for executive positions are different from mere job skills, says John Dooney, manager of strategic research at the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va.

What, then, do executives want to see in the employees they promote to senior levels? According to a recent U.S. survey of 168 for-profit and not-for-profit companies by Right Management Consultants, the global career transition and organizational consulting firm, workers most likely to move into their businesses' upper ranks will be able to motivate others. They will be committed to developing others' talents. They will be able to guide employees through change, be it a reorganization, a merger, an acquisition ... even a scandal. And they will be star communicators.

"Communication is huge," says Sharon Keys Seal, an executive coach and founder of Baltimore-based Coaching Concepts Inc. "You can be a wonderful leader, but if you cannot communicate where we're going and why and how to the troops, you're not going to be effective."

What, though, do these somewhat ephemeral traits look like in the everyday working world? And perhaps most important, how do you show your employers that you have what it takes to move into the executive ranks?

First of all, understand that no one is going to make a promotion happen for you, experts say.

"Everyone needs to take ownership of their own careers," says Clay Parcells, regional managing principal of Right Management Consultants of Baltimore. "No one is going to speak up for them. They've got to do it themselves."

In other words, be vocal about your career ambitions. Ask what opportunities are available to you in the organization, Parcells says.

And be diligent about adding responsibilities to your current job that dovetail with the more senior post you want.

That's what BACVA's Hemsley did. Amelia remembers him as "very aggressive" in communicating his desire to move into a director's spot. The fact that he had already taken on much of the marketing he would need to do as a director added fuel to his words.

"It was an easy choice for me because I could see he was doing the job," Amelia says.

"You want not to be afraid to toot your own horn," adds Seal.

Employees who want to move up their company's career ladders need to talk honestly with their supervisors and managers, always framing the desire to move ahead within the context of how it will help the company.

"You want them to know that you're there for the company," Seal says. "And that's not hard to do. Because presumably, your successes are moving the company forward."

It's also a good idea to do some due diligence on current executives. Did your boss advance thanks to 15-hour days? Has everyone on the senior executive staff volunteered time to community organizations?

"That's going to tell you a lot about how they see people rising," Seal says.

But don't spend all your time doing internal research or staying inside your own department and comfort zone.

Rather, seek out projects that will get you noticed by a broad swath of decision-makers. Ask what critical things are going on in your organization, Parcells says. Then ask to get involved.

"The more leaders who know about your skill set, the better," he says.

And don't focus only on company business. You can make contacts and grab the attention of key executives by volunteering to arrange the company holiday party or by working on its United Way campaign, says Marcia Merrill, a Baltimore-based career and life transitions coach and owner of ECareerCorner.com.

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