Enabling Others to Ascend: The Elevator Principle

December 13, 2023

Empowerment for Your Colleagues

Those who have made it to the top should send the elevator back down to enable others to ascend. Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, knows what this smart management philosophy specifically entails and how empowerment changes not only your career but also those of your colleagues.

Some people get the elevator themselves, but there's nothing wrong with sending the elevator down yourself. Image: shutterstock, Axstokes
Some people get the elevator themselves, but there's nothing wrong with sending the elevator down yourself. Image: shutterstock, Axstokes

Imagine you're standing on the top floor of a massive skyscraper – you've just achieved your greatest professional success. But instead of just sitting back and enjoying the view, you press the “down” button in the elevator.

Why? Because you believe that the lift is there not just for you, but also for those who aspire to the same upward journey. “When you reach the top, you should remember to send the elevator back down for the others.” – This quote, often used today in the context of female empowerment, originally comes from the French singer Édith Piaf. The message is clear: Those who have already made it to upper management levels should be ready to help those who are behind them.

"Especially as a female leader, I see it as my duty to send the oft-quoted elevator down to bring other qualified women up. We know about networks and mentoring programs, but it is also essential to consciously press the button so that on the second floor the door opens for someone,” says Barbara Stöttinger. She emphasizes the importance of finding a mentor who champions you with an example: "Jobs, tasks, or positions are usually assigned when you are not in the room. You owe your career path of course to your own abilities, but not only. It also takes someone to advocate for you."

The Leaders of Tomorrow

Women who are active and confident in their professional lives must realize that they are role models for others. "I wouldn't call myself such, I'm too unassuming for that. There are so many great colleagues who have achieved more than I have," says Stöttinger. "But it's not always just the federal minister or company boss who can pass on her knowledge, but generally women who confidently take on leadership positions. I've noticed this with my students, who are always interested in how I've achieved this or that. When you share your own life story, you show others ways and possibilities on how they can shape their future."

This includes failures: "I'm not a fan of polished resumes. There are CVs that read like a straight path, where you see nothing of the difficulties, crossroads, or things one had to give up."

Every woman in a leadership position can be a role model. Image: Shutterstock – Khakimullin Aleksandr
Every woman in a leadership position can be a role model. Image: Shutterstock – Khakimullin Aleksandr

Reflecting and Sharing Experiences

A major topic for young talents is always balancing family and career: Can you manage both? "As a mother of two, I've also gathered many experiences." The most important question one should ask at the beginning of their career in this regard, according to Stöttinger, is: Do I have a partner who supports my career unconditionally? Because: "If both are alpha personalities and want to prioritize their job, it gets difficult," says Stöttinger. Nevertheless, the head of the WU Executive Academy is familiar with Mom Guilt. "What helped me is a change of perspective. Not focusing on what my children don't get because I'm not a full-time mom, but instead focusing on what I can enable for them because I work."

Can I Do This? - Stop Asking Yourself This Question

It's the first consideration women have when they get a job offer. Erase this questioning from your mind forever. "You don't have to ask yourself this question, because if someone makes you a job offer, that person has already answered the question, otherwise, they wouldn't have contacted you," emphasizes Stöttinger. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, in the second half of 2022, only 21.2 percent of all top management positions in the largest publicly traded companies in the EU were occupied by women. With a female share of 8.3 percent on the boards of the 20 ATX companies, Austria ranks second to last in Europe.

Quotas for women are much discussed – are they a good solution or just unfair preference? Image: Shutterstock – Devenorr
Quotas for women are much discussed – are they a good solution or just unfair preference? Image: Shutterstock – Devenorr

Why haven't we progressed further? "In countries that rely on the quota, this is no longer an issue. I don't see it as favoritism. You have to prove yourself in the job anyway, and obviously, women otherwise don't get the chance. There's a good saying: Equality is only achieved when it doesn't matter what gender the incompetent person in the leadership position has."

Lifelong Development

Time is on our side, Stöttinger is optimistic: "Look at the shortage of skilled workers – in a few years, we won't be able to afford not to consider female workers." Lifelong learning will also be part of our professional and private lives. "We will have to reinvent ourselves over and over," says the university professor. The job you aimed for in your mid-20s may no longer suit you in your mid-40s. Reflecting on your own talents and skills is essential, according to Stöttinger: "This brings the opportunity to try different things and continually develop."

8 Strategies: How to Elevate Others

Even if you only have five minutes – this is how you can support your colleagues in their ascent:

Highlight Colleagues Positively in Meetings:
Express gratitude in meetings for colleagues who have performed well in past projects. Especially with home office and remote work, the performance of some employees becomes invisible. It is all the more important to highlight this in the team and as a leader to show that their expertise is seen and valued.
Personal Feedback:
Regular feedback on the performance of employees motivates and strengthens cohesion. Particularly with new colleagues, it is important to sit down with them regularly and assess in a status meeting what the mutual expectations are.
Open Up Opportunities & Allow Failure:
Young people are often overlooked. Create opportunities for them to prove themselves and make mistakes. This gives them experience and confidence. And if it goes wrong, help with constructive criticism on how it can go better next time.
Networking & Sharing Knowledge:
Think about who in your network could be a valuable contact and introduce your mentee to this person. Plus: You probably know the latest work and recruiting trends from business and conversations with colleagues, which you can pass on with valuable tips.
Support:
Write a recommendation on LinkedIn and confirm the skills and talents of your employees.
Coaching:
Take the time to sit down with young talents from your company or industry and share your experiences: What was difficult? What helped you?

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