There’s an elusive idea that “climbing up the corporate ladder” is the sign of career advancement and personal development. The idea of starting as an associate to senior and finally working all the way up to the management level seems to be the default definition of ‘career progression’. While there’s nothing wrong with that, we all know the issue very well. Not everyone born to be a leader or planning to do so. And most importantly, not everyone has the ability to manage people and bring out the best of others. Other than that, being a leader doesn’t mean that you have to ‘manage‘ people. Instead, being a leader is when you can inspire and influence others to believe in you and your ideas (apart from the authority you have).
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg quotes on Pattie Sellers’ metaphor that “careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder”. She said ladders are quite limiting because it creates a hierarchy where people can move only up and down. While jungle gym offers more rooms for exploration. Moreover, Sandberg pointed out that “there’s only one way to get to the top of a ladder, but there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym” (82). Among its other benefits, here’s why a jungle gym type has several unique advantages over the ladder type:
Flexibility in Starting and Switching Careers
Let’s face it, we all are in the middle of figuring out what we really want. Though some of us might have already set a specific goal in life, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s ALL we want in the future, right? A jungle gym type allows us to be more flexible and open in starting and switching careers. When we see careers as a jungle gym, we will push ourselves to develop and acquire different skill sets that are transferable across roles and industries as well.
Focus on What Really Matters
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming of starting your own company, being a C-level or a manager in an organization and even blaze your own trail as an individual contributor. What matters the most is that you contribute not because you want that title or promotion but you really care and you solve something. It’s not about hitting your own KPIs, but achieving company’s mission together is the one that matters. And a jungle gym will let you see everything in greater views, not just focus on our own so-called career path, but on an overall growth of the team or the company.
Prepare for the Workforce of Tomorrow
Last but not least, we all agree that workforce is diverse and ever-evolving. Whether it’s a major restructuring or your job is taken over by automation and robots, you should be ready.
While I’m not into figuring out my ultimate career goal in one night, I agree with Sandberg that what’s important the most is that we’re picking fast-growth jobs. And of course, it matters that we’re working for a company with a mission that we believe in deeply. Both are criteria that you should have in mind before thinking of climbing up the corporate career ladder.
Unfortunately, too often, today’s companies seems still prefer to offer a one-size-fits-all management track for their employees. Most of them haven’t yet had the urge to build a system where specialists or individual contributors are appreciated and rewarded as high as senior-level managers are.