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What Does It Really Take To Be Successful?

by Barbara Reinhold

DEAR COACH: I've finished my MBA. I've gone to lots of training sessions to help build my skills, and still, I feel royally stuck in my role as senior marketing manager for a large consumer products company. Every other year we have a special conference of worldwide women managers, where a parade of really successful women tell us how to make it big, but it never seems to help me much. Day in and day out, I still feel as if I'm missing something and not really going anywhere.

My performance review is coming up in three weeks, and I feel I should bring this up to my boss, but I don't want to seem to be whining. I like my boss, but he's not exactly a mover and shaker himself, and I'm not sure what he'll have to say. I suppose I could go to HR, but I don't know anybody there. What would you suggest?


DEAR DONNA: You're right to be thinking about using the performance review process as a time to ask your boss about your future with the organization, but first there's some preparation to do. And you're certainly correct in your wish not to come off as a whiner. You'll also probably want to talk with HR about some more training and, perhaps, some coaching. But in most organizations your manager is the gateway person for those referrals, so you'd be well-advised to start with him.

A resource you might want to consult is Carol Gallagher's book Going to the Top: A Road Map for Success From America's Leading Women Executives. Gallagher is a consultant with American Management Systems and conducted in-depth interviews with 200 of the country's top female executives for this book. Reading their stories is a little like taking all those women from your successful women seminars home with you for constant questioning.

From those interviews and from her own experience consulting with individuals and groups about organizational effectiveness, Gallagher has identified what she calls the CORE of success -- four essential ingredients for getting promoted. Gallagher points out that in 1997, one in 20 managers got to senior manager level; three years later, the number had dropped to one in 50. Clearly, there's work to do if you want to make that cut. Here are the factors the acronym stands for, the ones on which you should be taking your own measurements before you meet with your supervisor:
Competence: Of course you'll need to have the skills relevant to your current assignment in marketing. But you should also be thinking about developing competencies that you'd need in general management too, such as strategic thinking, finance, relationship management and diversity. Building your competence in an ongoing way, through courses, books, tapes, conferences, and seminars is part of what's required if you really do want to move on up that ladder.

Outcomes: Competence alone won't do it. So what great things have happened at your company because of your efforts? Remember these outcomes need to be specific and, whenever possible, measurable. Also remember that if you don't specify what outcomes you want in advance, then the chances of making the strategic moves necessary for their accomplishments are small. Plot your goal, and then carefully figure backwards from that goal what you'll need to do to make it happen.

Relationships: Here's another big one. Make a list of the people you know in three circles: the inner circle is for people you know well and can count on to help you whenever you need them; the second circle is for people you know and have at least a somewhat warm relationship with, but there is no guarantee they'll come through for you; the third circle is for people who have decision-making power or access to power that could affect your outcomes, but you don't have much going with them. Your success will increase dramatically as you find ways to move people out of the third circle and into the first and second ones, because that's where the action is. Without people inside and outside your company on your side, nothing much will happen in your career.

Endurance: Gallagher lists four different kinds of endurance:

  • Intellectual
  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Spiritual

Common to all four is keeping on with what needs to be done, whether it's convenient or not. That means staying on top of new trends, being resilient in the face of disappointments and defeats, paying attention to what your body needs and how it feels and being true to your essential values.

So, Donna, there's lots of work to do before your performance review in three weeks. I'd suggest that you complete your own CORE analysis and be prepared to share some of it with your manager, asking for his feedback about how he sees your performance and his help in growing your career. If you find that he's not that helpful, then ask for a referral to someone in executive development in HR to help you think about your career in larger terms. And if that doesn't work, look for an executive coach on your own, a savvy teacher to help you work out your own curriculum for self-development and keep you on task. Good luck!


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