How to climb the organisational ladder

Sir George Buckley, former 3M Chairman and CEO of other multinational firms, shares his lessons to help enhance your chances to climb to the top of the organisational ladder, in his fourth blog on leadership.

With a lot of luck and help from many people, I progressively climbed the corporate ladder through the usual supervisor position, manager, then VP, then divisional president, and so on until I became the CEO of a large public company, Brunswick Corporation in Chicago. Later I became Chairman and CEO of what is often regarded as the world’s most innovative company, 3M Co in Minnesota.

Over the years I have learned a few lessons as I’ve worked my way up the career ladder and I’m going to share my little cookbook of rules that will help enhance your chances to climb to the top of your organisational ladder:

  1. Hard work.

There is no substitute for hard work in climbing the corporate ladder, not even brains. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have brains as well, that will most certainly enhance your chances of success.

  1. There should never be a second chance to be ignorant.

We are all sometimes faced with terminology and topics in meetings that we don’t understand. The second rule says, keep quiet during that meeting, but make the first thing you do after the meeting is familiarising yourself with that unknown topic. There should never be a second chance to be ignorant.

  1. Always plan to overachieve.

If your boss gives you an assignment and asks you to deliver seven units of something by Friday, always ensure that you deliver nine units by Thursday.

  1. Make yourself a tool of the business.

This can be controversial with some people, but I’m not arguing here about morality, only the effectiveness. Organisations have problems, and they hire people to solve those problems for them. If your business says that they’d like you to take up an assignment in Timbuktu, don’t ask where it is, or make comments that it’s possibly hot there or maybe you don’t like the food. Your only question should be “when do I start?”

  1. Never do anything unethical, immoral, or illegal, no matter the price you have to pay to avoid it.

I once coined a phrase that “really smart people only do really stupid things for one of three reasons: power, sex or money.” Recognise that these are the three most potent temptations in life – except perhaps, a good bacon sandwich.

  1. Share the credit.

Sharing credit is like lighting one candle from another. Lighting the second candle does not diminish the light from the first.

Do you have any advice for aspiring leaders? Drop us a line @SGBLeadership on Twitter or on LinkedIn

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Leadership is hard to define, and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth you’re a great leader.

Indra Nooyi

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