Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Lynette Lewis's book, Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos: 10 Strategies for Stepping Up to Success and Satisfaction at Work, (Thomas Nelson, 2006).
Climbing a ladder is challenging enough when you’re wearing comfortable shoes, but it’s especially difficult to ascend in stiletto heels. That’s what climbing the corporate ladder often feels like to women pursuing success and satisfaction at work. The challenges that women uniquely face can make you frustrated enough to step off the ladder. But if you keep climbing as God leads you, you’ll find something valuable on every rung.
Here’s how you can climb the corporate ladder in high heels:
Understand why you’re working. Recognize that your job should be more than just a way to earn money and fulfill obligations. Know that the right job for you will align with your passions and give you opportunities to contribute your unique talents in meaningful ways. Ask yourself what is motivating you to go to work each day, and why you’ve chosen your current job. Pray for God to help you discover your purpose.
Make time to reflect well on the insights you receive, and write down a purpose statement for your life. Then use your purpose statement to make wise decisions about what type of work to choose. Focus on why you want to work instead of what you want to do, keeping in mind that you may have many jobs during various seasons of life that will help you accomplish your central purpose.
Become a whole person who brings hope to broken people. Acknowledge all the ways you need healing to become a whole person – complete, secure, and resilient in just about any circumstance. Be honest about your pain and admit your mistakes. Ask God to heal you and help you develop new, healthy patterns of thinking and relating to others. Whenever you encounter conflict in your workplace, recognize that it’s growth trying to happen. Consider what the higher good of the conflict is and use that knowledge to help solve the problem. View your workplace as a practice field for greatness.
Seek to become an agent of wholeness to broken coworkers. When they hurt you, don’t become easily offended. Instead, take time to understand them and give them the benefit of the doubt. Ask God to help you see beyond their difficult behaviors to their hearts, and to show them mercy rather than judgment. Speak only positive words about others. Affirm other people and celebrate their successes. Bring comfort and encouragement to them when they fail. As you pursue your goals, care more about people than about results. Cheer others on to become all they are meant to be. Be modest and honest about your own strengths and shortcomings. Be patient and trustworthy. Build a workplace environment that you and your coworkers can truly enjoy.
Be creative when you don’t feel appreciated. Understand that your desire to be recognized and rewarded for all you contribute at work is legitimate. Whenever you feel underutilized, either look beyond your job description to try something new, or find new ways to work within it. Ask God to give you a fresh perspective on your work. Don’t wait for formal permission to do what’s in your heart; go ahead and get started on an endeavor you feel passionate about, without neglecting your regular work. Think of innovative ways you can add to your job to make it more fulfilling for you. Volunteer to tackle challenging tasks that will broaden your skills, network with other people, join professional associations, or take classes to keep growing professionally.
Whenever you feel underpaid, remember that you’re not a victim of your circumstances and that you do have choices: look for another job, negotiate a pay raise, work toward a promotion, or add another job. Stay positive -- considering the value of the work experience you’re currently gaining, even though your paycheck isn’t as large as you’d like. Whenever you’re in a leadership position at work, be sure to generously show your appreciation to the people you’re in charge of leading.
Deal wisely with your longings. Realize that waiting – as difficult as it can be – is often a crucial time to reflect on your progress so far and consider what lies ahead. View seasons of waiting for something you desire as valuable gifts that will help you develop hope, patience, and faith you couldn’t develop without a struggle. Shift your focus off your currently unfulfilled desires to the many reasons you currently have to be grateful. Remember that there is a bigger plan at work in the midst of tough circumstances. Trust God to ultimately bring good out of any situation. Live to the fullest right now – not when your wait is over. Don’t miss all the gifts God has for you while you wait. Know that if you look for them, you will start to recognize them all around you.
Build your personal brand. Don’t be shy about promoting yourself to others in your workplace, to potentially open up more opportunities for you to contribute. Develop a personal brand to communicate clearly to other people – the sum total of what people think and feel about you. Carefully consider whether or not people perceive accurately and what you might change about the way you communicate to help them better understand you. Ask God to give you clear pictures of how He would like you to fulfill your purpose at work, and create a plan with specific steps to make those pictures a reality. Produce your best work, regularly evaluate yourself to see whether or not you’re on track, and patiently keep giving your best as you wait for more opportunities to open up to you.
Organize a personal board of directors. Consider who might help you turn your ideas into realities, identify resources, improve your performance, and broaden your influence. Think about people who inspire you and would be willing to invest some time into helping you succeed. When approaching them for help, be succinct and specific about the type of help you’re requesting. Let them know how much you admire them and why you would like their help. Offer them something in return, such as being willing to share your expertise in another area with them. Be sure to thank them for their help.
Lead well. Realize that everyone can be a leader because leadership skills are learned. Think of yourself as a leader, knowing that leadership isn’t about holding a certain position, but about inspiring others and making positive contributions. Aspire to be the best leader you can be at work by maximizing other people’s passion and potential. Schedule team-building days to get people away from their daily pressures and focus on how their individual purposes fit into broader corporate goals. Also schedule team meetings and one-on-one discussions to affirm each person with whom you work. Conduct employee evaluations regularly to help people keep doing their best. Celebrate the achievements of everyone you lead at work. Measure your impact as a leader not just by what your team has achieved, but how every team member has grown as an individual.
Become a strong public speaker. Don’t be afraid of speaking in public. Understand that public speaking is vital to communicating well on the job, and that the more you practice it, the more effective you’ll become. Make it your goal to communicate with influence in a memorable way. Get to know your audience so you can tailor your message to them and earn the right to keep them listening. Strive to answer their basic question: “What’s in it for me if I listen to this?”. As you begin your remarks, provide an overview and indicate the main message you hope they will take away from your speech. Let them know you will try to give them something specific and tangible as a return on their investment of time spent listening to you. As you finish each section of your comments, summarize its one key thought. Tell personal anecdotes that support your points, so people will be more likely to connect to your message. Provide examples of how your audience can apply your message in their own lives.
Find realistic mentoring. Be assured that it is realistic to soak up valuable wisdom from mentors, even when you can’t find people willing to commit to a formal mentoring relationship with you. Instead of expecting one or two people to meet with you one-on-one regularly, look for moments of exchange with people who offer nuggets of wisdom you can apply. Identify potential mentors by asking yourself two key questions: “Who do I admire?” and “Who do I need?”. Realize that people are often more accessible than you might think, do go ahead and approach them. Observe them at work. Ask lots of questions whenever opportunities arise. Thank people for whatever help they give you, and consider what you might offer them in return for a win-win relationship between you. Be creative about finding mentoring from sources beyond one-on-one interactions as well. For example, when you read a book or hear a lecture, take notes.
Find hope when your journey doesn’t look like you expected. Understand that unexpected difficulties can be gifts in disguise if you approach them as opportunities to grow. Fully embrace every surprise you encounter in your career and ask God what He wants you to learn from it. Realize that even though situations often turn out differently than you think they will, they often end up better than you expect. Invite God to transform even the worst circumstances into something good that will align with His purpose for you. Remember that your unique contributions are valuable to the world, and that any task you do following God’s calling will is significant. Do your best to use your time, talents, and treasures wisely so you’re directing these precious resources where they’ll do the most good. Remember that serving others is a vital part of fulfilling your purpose. Don’t give up during tough times; rely on God’s power to help you endure and complete your journey well.
Adapted from Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos: 10 Strategies for Stepping Up to Success and Satisfaction at Work, copyright 2006 by Lynette Lewis. Published by W Publishing Group, Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.
Lynette Lewis has been inspiring women on the topics of vision and purpose for more than 20 years. Her eclectic career has taken her from PR and fundraising at a major university to the senior marketing leader for the National Women's Initiative at Deloitte & Touche in New York City. Lynette maintains an active speaking schedule through Maxwell's Maximum Impact Speakers bureau, NCAA teams, and many national and international corporate women's forums.