"Clowns to left of me, jokers to the right, Here I am, stuck in the middle with you."
If you enjoy throwback radio stations, you might know this Stealers Wheel lyric from 1972.
One of the joys of my role is that I get to talk to many CEOs about what they look for from people in their leadership teams and also candidates who have achieved tremendous career success.
Allow me to share some thoughts on avoiding getting stuck as you try to work your way through the middle-management bottleneck.
Firstly, some don'ts:
x Don't view your competitors in a derogatory manner. It might be easy to see them as "clowns and jokers" but that's not going to help. Have respect for them - indeed, see what you can learn from them.
x Don't fall into the belief that time or length of service is the key. More and more, I am seeing executives promoted fast at a young age (even sometimes with the perception of 'before their time') because they display the skills and attitude.
x Don't ever stop developing your soft skills. To get to middle-management you have a proven level of technical skills in your field - but that's not enough, nowhere near enough. People who make it to senior management have the greatest artistry with communication, the strongest commercial nous and flair for teamwork.
✓ An oldie but a goodie - be the bearer of solutions not problems. It's not hard and not that useful to identify problems. It is, on the other hand, extremely useful for CEOs to have people coming to them with well thought-out solutions or business improvements. Look for a mess you can fix. Running things is good. Fixing things is better.
✓ Find a mentor. The outside, independent perspectives you receive from the right mentor can quite literally be career-changing. Many senior people in your field will be only too happy to help out at the cost of a coffee and a bagel once a month.
✓ Embrace ambiguity and change. Never before have we worked in a time when so many paradigms are being broken and rule books re-written. We are constantly receiving search briefs for executives who flourish in this environment; many say they do but few actually truly relish these dynamics.
What are your thoughts? What's worked for you? What's causing you problems at the moment?