Forget Climbing the Ladder and Grab Onto the Jungle Gym

Since we were young women in the work force we were familiar with the phrase “climbing the corporate ladder.” We knew that this meant moving in our career from entry level to a position of power and leadership. Like a ladder, the trip was supposed to be ever upwardly mobile. And since we believed up was the only direction, we may have missed out on a few sideways opportunities along the way.

Times have changed and the ladder may not be the best route to take. In fact Sheryl Sandberg believes we should consider the value of the jungle gym. In a Forbes article, Kerry Hannon shares her favorite tips that she learned from Sandberg, this being one:

“Visualize your career as a jungle gym, not a ladder. This is my favorite of Sandberg’s tips. (Maybe that’s because when I was growing up I loved playing on the jungle gym in our backyard.) She attributes the analogy to Fortune editor-at-large Patricia Sellers, who heads up the magazine’s Most Powerful Women franchise.

To me, it’s a great image of the 21st-century career path. “Ladders are limiting,” Sandberg writes. “Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment.””

Your career trajectory is more like climbing the side of a mountain; you must look for the small crevices and gain a finger or toe hold in order to reach the top. Some of those opening will be clear promotions while others may be side projects, mentoring opportunities, or cross departmental training.

Resist the urge to refuse or not seek a new opportunity because it isn’t a promotion from your current role. Rather, examine what you might be able to contribute and learn from a lateral move.

In the Next Avenue’s article, “Your Next Job Could Be a Lateral Move – on Your Way to the Top” we learn more about the value of lateral moves.

Laurie Nordholt, of Time Warner Cable shares her own experience. When Time Warner Cable condensed its traditional, multilevel management structure into fewer, more powerful positions, she catapulted from a regional sales vice president in charge of one state to a regional sales vice president heading up several. Nordholt’s title didn’t change, but her responsibilities certainly did.

That was her lightbulb moment. “I realized that to continue to be successful, you have to be extremely nimble and help lead change,” she says. So from then on, Nordholt determined that her success would be marked not by her title, but by her personal reputation and influence. offers 14 reasons to consider a lateral move including:

  • Visibility
  • Challenge
  • Benefits
  • Marketability
  • Knowledge
  • More advancement opportunities
  • Work/life balance
  • Corporate culture

If you feel stuck in your current position, consider the possibility of looking for a lateral move. Moving sideways just may be the quickest way to the top!