The Corporate Jungle Gym

A favorite chapter of mine in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is titled: “It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder”.  While Pattie Sellers, an Editor at Fortune and Time coined the phrase, Sandberg capitalizes on the concept and explains there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym.  She’s right.  I often encourage individuals to step back and take a look at their resumes and identify gaps – not based on the traditional path for the role they are seeking, but rather where are they lacking in depth in understanding the business.  For example, wouldn’t I be a better Human Resources partner if I understood the needs of the business because I experienced them?  Most likely, yes!

If rotating through different areas of the business is beneficial, why aren’t some individuals willing to take the risk?  A rotation can mean a lateral move, at least in title, which to some may mean a lack of progress.  In particular, the millennial generation wants to move up NOW!  If they don’t, they quickly move on to other organizations.  Don’t fall into the career ladder trap.  Moving around on the jungle gym has its advantages including the fact that there is more room at the top of the jungle gym than on a traditional ladder.  Take a risk and create your own jungle gym, it will pay off. 

Sandberg also provides a few suggestions for career development, two of which I find appealing.  She advises having a long term dream and short term goal.  The short term is focused on learning a new skill or subject matter.  I agree that broadening the knowledge base is critical.  Often, I find that individuals are either not engaged in continuous learning or are focused exclusively on learning that can be applied primarily to their current role.  Branching out and learning something totally different can have its benefits.  I routinely ask interviewees what they read as a means to assess how broad of a perspective they will bring to their role. 

“Seek fast growth” is another recommendation which may seem at odds with the jungle gym concept but it isn’t really.  Sandberg shares that working in fast growing companies allows individuals to take on a broad range of responsibilities, helps them see the overarching system at play and move up fast.  This approach doesn’t have to be limited to start-up companies.  In a large organization, one or two business units may be experiencing significant growth which allows for new opportunities and competencies within a familiar culture, thereby decreasing the risk associated with the change.

Sandberg offers some practical ideas in this chapter.  I’d like to hear your experiences.  Please share with us whether you climbing a ladder or a jungle gym.

Speak loudly, step boldly!

Photo courtesy of Intercollegiate Review.August 15th, 2013 3:56pm Sheryl Sandberg lean in women in leadership