5 Tips to Break Out of Middle Management and Into the C-Suite

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ClimbMiddle management is an important stepping stone on the road to becoming a senior vice president, executive vice president, or C-level executive — but it’s also an unforgiving and fairly precarious place to be, and you shouldn’t hang around there too long. Research shows that middle managers are not exactly held in the highest regard by senior managers, and, subsequently, it’s one of the first layers of the company to be culled when firms fall on hard times. Middle management is also extremely competitive, and you can easily be overtaken by others while on the route to the top.

If you are not careful, you can languish in middle management for years, being passed over for promotions and becoming more and more disengaged until your performance suffers and you are drummed out of the business. That’s why it’s vital for ambitious middle managers to have clear plans for breaking out of middle management and into the C-suite.

A key part of such a plan should be to position yourself as a first among equals — that is, you need to demonstrate that you have a bit more leadership potential than those around you. I have outlined some tips to help you do this below:

1. Volunteer to Lead Task Forces and/or Serve on Corporate Committees 

Most organizations will have problems that fall through the cracks, problems for which no one person is responsible. For example, your organization may be suffering quality problems and have no quality control department to address them; or the organization could be dealing with a lot of customer service complaints, but have no customer management process.

Resolving these kinds of problems may call for task forces or committees, and you can distinguish yourself from your peers by volunteering to lead — or at least serve on — one of these task forces or committees.

This will help you to gain the notice of senior leadership, as leading/serving on a task force or committee will show that you are prepared to go out on a limb and risk failure for the good of the business. Senior leadership will see that you have courage, dedication, and leadership potential.

If there are no task force or committee opportunities, you can suggest one yourself, or perhaps you can offer to serve as a deputy for your manager when they are away.

2. Create an Internal Network of Influential References Who Will Vouch for Your Potential

Research shows that job candidates who have been recommended by influential contacts  are twice as likely to be invited to interview and 40 percent more likely to be offered the job.

It’s crucial that you actively socialize and network with influential figures in the business to boost your network of powerful references. When a promotion opportunity arises, make sure that you talk to your contacts and ask them to vouch for your performance in specific areas, especially areas related to leadership. Don’t just drop names, as that can be viewed negatively.

3. Take Overseas Assignments

Overseas assignments aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they can be a great opportunity for you to break into the ranks of management. You may find there is less competition for overseas assignments in not-so-glamorous locales, so these could be easier opportunities for you to break into higher management roles and gain more management experience.

At the end of an overseas assignment, you’ll be primed to take on a higher role when you return home. Always be open to toughing it out on a less-than-desirable — but bearable –overseas assignment as a means of breaking into the senior ranks.

4. Find a Role Model

Look for a role model in the senior ranks of your organization. Find out what you can from them about how they progressed into a senior management position within the company. What steps did they take? How long did it take them? What training, qualifications, and experience did they possess or acquire during their career ascension?

Understand their pathway to success, and emulate it.

5. Get a Mentor

A five-year study of promotions at Sun Microsystems revealed that individuals who have mentors were promoted five times more often than people who did not have mentors.

Take some time to find a mentor for yourself, either from within the business or from the local business community. Being mentored is one of the most effective methods for grooming yourself for a future position in the C-suite.

By Kazim Ladimeji