You might think there is little that could be wrong with saying that someday you would like a senior executive job three rungs further up the ladder, but as is true with a lot of other sensitive situations, such an expression of interest can be easily muffed.
What could go wrong?
You could sound impatient, giving people the impression that you expect to be promoted before they think you're ready.
You might sound wistful -- as if you were expressing a birthday wish that you didn't really expect to come true.
You might be completely unrealistic given your current position, experience, and recent performance, which could cause people to judge you're out of touch with reality.
You might be so ham-handed in your statement that you convince those higher up you are insensitive or can't read situations.
Your ambitions might even threaten other executives.
Yes, a lot can go wrong. But at the same time, if you don't express your interestin some way, how will anyone know you want to move up? The answer is, you express your ambitions with finess, and to do that, you follow some basic rules...
Work from strength, rather than weakness. You do this by expressing your interest on the wave of a big personal success.
Ask for advice. Asking what a senior executive thinks you need to do to reach a certain position is a lot more palatable than just stating it as an expectation.
Be realistic. If you're not sure, ask friends or peers before taking a risk with senior management.
Keep time frames indefinite, but not open ended. Too specific, and people will think you're on some kind of a timetable, too vague, and your ambition sounds more like a wish.
Point at positions out of your direct chain of command. Even if that's not ultimately what you want, it will be less threatening to all concerned.
Make the expression part of normal conversation, not an "event." Don't ever make an appointment with someone much higher in the company to "discuss what you can do to get ahead."
I once had a subordinate several levels down in the organization who broke most of these rules. He actually made an appointment to see me in my office to ask "what he could do to get ahead" and then proceeded to tell me he wanted my job sometime in the next 3-5 years (a totally unrealistic ambition). This very odd meeting was timed to co-incide with a particularly rough time in the project he was currently supervising. The entire encounter felt more than a little strange, and I concluded at the end of it, that there was no way I could ever accommodate his expectations.
Needless to say, I worked hard to become less dependent on him over the next six months, and ultimately let him go when a downturn gave me a good reason to do so. 11.1
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Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS