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How leaders rise: Do this to move up the ladder at work

 As companies begin to recognize diversity as an opportunity — and not just a problem to be solved — you might assume that your natural leadership ability will be obvious to those around and above you. It’s not an assumption you should make, says Columbia University’s Valerie Purdie Greenaway. As a member of an underrepresented group, it’s up to you to make sure that your talent and your potential are noticed. In “Fostering Mutual Understanding: Signal Your Capacity to Lead,” Purdie Greenaway explains how. It’s one of the videos in her Big Think+ expert class, Fostering Mutual Understanding.


Don’t assume that other people see you as “executive ready,” says Purdie Greenaway. She points out that one of the “seductions of diversity” is that people don’t realize that moving upward in a company continues to be “a case of ask, ask, ask.” In her video, Purdie Greenaway suggests a few ways of signaling your readiness.

Show that you belong in the company culture

You can get people used to thinking of you as leadership material in everyday conversations by sharing previous business experiences and mentioning your network of connections. Another good idea, says Purdie Greenaway, is to ask for “stretch” assignments, and consistently deliver high-quality, no-friction results to help others see you as solidly professional and thoroughly dependable.

Be assertive, appropriately

In your behavior, convey an image of strength by being assertive without being overbearing. This can be tricky, so carefully observe and respond to the reactions of those with whom you interact — Purdie Greenaway suggests becoming an “identity detective,” always keeping an eye on how others perceive you. You also want to be aware of your timing — don’t make the mistake of asserting yourself at an inappropriate moment.
You’ll also want to be always on the lookout for opportunities to exhibit leadership. If these aren’t organically presenting themselves, ask for chances to show what you can do.

Fostering Mutual Understanding videos

The videos in Valerie Purdie Greenaway’s expert class are:

  1. Fostering Mutual Understanding: Transform Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Initiatives
  2. Fostering Mutual Understanding: The Neurobiology of Intergroup Relations
  3. Fostering Mutual Understanding: Identify Biased Filters in Hiring
  4. Fostering Mutual Understanding: Rethink Performance Evaluations
  5. Fostering Mutual Understanding: African-American Women and The C-Suite
  6. Fostering Mutual Understanding: Signal Your Capacity to Lead
  7. Fostering Mutual Understanding: The Diversity Life Cycle – Striving for Growth, Change, and Rejuvenation Over Time
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