Rising to the Top: Three Things you need to learn about your organization, and yourself

Bruce Dorland

March 20, 2023

If you’re an ambitious and motivated person, you’re likely developing a plan to move up into a leadership position, either within your current organization or in a new company. If you’re a manager already, read this article with your team in mind – not just yourself. You will be measured based on the success of your team and what you enable, not what you accomplish personally. If you’re an individual contributor, it will be more about what you accomplish, but in close collaboration with other teams as few goals are achieved by only you. Be empathetic and genuine.

It’s important to be focused and strategic about your growth plan. We want to help you do that. Here’s how to gain a deeper understanding of your company, how to navigate the challenging social requirements that might come with it, and why these things are critical to achieving your career goals.

Getting started: Understand your organization

To reach a leadership role and have impact, it’s essential to have a broad appreciation of your company. Ask yourself these three key questions, and prioritize finding their answers:

1. What are the mission, vision, values and goals of my organization?

  • Why it’s important
    • Everything a company does should be grounded in its mission, vision, values and goals. Having knowledge of what those are will support how you think about your roadmap, hiring, prioritization and communicating the ‘why’ to your team. 
    • In order to grow, you’ll need to contribute to each of these areas over time. While the mission, vision and values will typically evolve gradually, being able to tie your team objectives to the goals of the company is critical. 
    • As a leader, you’ll need your team to believe in you. So you’ll need to be a go-to person to share information with the team.
  • How to get there
    • Understand the markets your company targets and the problems you solve for your customers. Offer to silently sit in on sales presentations and customer success/service calls. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll learn! 
    • You’ve likely heard about your company’s mission before you started working there or at a recent town hall, but to truly understand them, spend some time with your manager or the CEO to discuss the mission & vision. Make sure you’ve done your research before meeting the CEO!

2. What is each group in my organization doing? Build empathy.

You’re familiar with your own group, which is great, but it’s not enough. Having a deeper knowledge, empathy and perspective of other teams is critically important to building your credibility within your company. 

  • Why it’s important:
    • It will help you generate more success for your own team by aligning goals across groups, while also building empathy for the challenges they face. 
    • Your growth into a leadership role hinges on your ability to build relationships with other group leaders and demonstrating that you can work in sync. The first step is understanding the leader and their group.
    • Take leadership in cross-functional meetings where it makes sense. Do lots of listening, but lean in and contribute where you can add value. Prep for these meetings by understanding the intention of the meeting and who’s attending. Write down your ideas ahead of time.
    • If you’ve started to build some new relationships in different groups and at different levels, start to leverage them. Set up one-on-ones to ask about goal-setting and how you can align on next steps.
  • How to get there:
    • It might seem intimidating, but as you’re building your roadmaps (e.g., product roadmap, tech roadmap, etc.) solicit feedback from other teams to understand how what your team is planning lines up with your plans. 
    • Start small and consider your questions. A good way in might be something like, “I’ve always wanted to understand your day-to-day activities. Can we meet for a quick coffee?” 

3. Are my contributions being seen or am I flying under the radar?

You believe in yourself and your team. So should your company’s leaders. Get to know your managers as individuals, and learn to appreciate their different leadership styles. This must be genuine though, not about climbing the corporate ladder. If you’re going to rise in the organization, you’re not only going to have to have impact – people are going to need to see the value in this impact.

  • Why it’s important:
    • If senior leaders understand what you can contribute and feel that they can work with you effectively, that can only build your confidence and help you grow into more impactful positions. Depending on the size of your company, you may need others to ‘put in a good word for you’ when it comes to promotion time.
    • It will benefit your team as a whole if you’ve established yourself as significant to the organization and with influence.
  • How to get there:
    • Pay close attention in team meetings where senior leaders are present, and take note of their style (Do they like to listen? Are they direct? Do they ask great questions?) and the problems they are trying to solve. Figure out what of their style you could make your own (as you won’t be a clone of anyone). Consider what you can do to support them. Send them some specific feedback in Slack after a great presentation, or offer your help. Think of these brief encounters as steps towards building your leadership profile. Just make sure they’re authentic and impactful.
    • Keep an eye out for work-related social events that you can attend, and strike up a light conversation. Your leaders are humans, too –  try to get to know them a bit better outside of the office.

If you know the big picture, you can figure out how to contribute to it, and excel within it. And when that senior role opens up, you’ll be top of mind.

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