Your Career: Living on 3 Levels

Unless you are an entrepreneur and/or self-employed, regardless of where you work and what you do, you are living out your career on three levels. Although this is common sense, it's not consistently practiced. In fact, the higher in the organization you are, the less you see it practiced. What are the three levels? Up, At, and Below.


These are positions senior to you. Managing at this level is about adaptation and what some would call 'politics'. Some of the things we do to successfully manage at this level could be are:

  • Compromise. We will need to make compromises. Sometimes this includes principals and personal morals and values. Important, I'm not talking about activities or issues that are illegal or unethical. The lines need to be drawn there!

  • Supplement Skill Development. It's always a best practice to diplomatically cover skill set holes in our senior's core competencies in areas where we have strengths. You need to compliment not take charge. This could commonly be referred to as 'making your boss look good'.

  • Supportive. This is critical in most organizations because of visibility and can be the most difficult. Being supportive when your principals or values don't align can be very difficult. In the end, if you can't be supportive, you may need to evaluate whether it's time to leave the organization.

Peer/At Level:

These are the positions equal to yours. This is where you make investments that are likely to be relevant to near term moves. Remember that average tenure in most organizations is only 24-36 months in duration.

  • If you are upwardly mobile in the organization, you need to be building collaborative relationships, not competitive ones. Remember, one day a peer, the next a subordinate or even a manager. You do not burn the bridges you cross!


Individuals at this might include our direct reports or those in junior roles across the organization. It's at this level we need to make long term investments. Just think, the future CEO might be in working at this level today! You have a number of responsibility at this level.

  • Role Model. You are visible and you are an example of the right organizational behavior. Whether you like it or not, you are being watched!

  • Skill Development. The future of the organization is dependent upon the success of this group. You need to be an enabler from both a skill level as well as providing resources to be successful and achieve their personal and professional goals.

  • Create Boundaries. This is critical to organizational health and as well as personal development. Managerial boundaries need to be clear and maintained. When boundaries break down bad things happen. We've all seen/heard stories of inter-office relationships right? How do those end?

  • Support Management. Supporting management and company direction is critical. Your behavior will be emulated and modeled and ultimately you will lose support and respect of the organization at a subordinate level if you aren't demonstrating the right behavior.

In summary, your ability to successful navigate organizations will require you to be proficient at working on all three levels. If you can't manage up because of principals/values or you have crossed important organizational boundaries as a leader, it might be time to look beyond the current organization and carefully evaluate if the time has come for change.

You can find this article and much more from The MBAR Group and TalentBlvd founder at: Mike McNamara or TalentBlvd

About Mike McNamara:

Mike has held C-Suite, Executive and Senior Sales, Marketing, Business Development, and General Management roles with Equifax, Cox Enterprises, WW Grainger, and Federal-Mogul Corporation. Mike has led sales, service and operations organizations of over 1,500 associates and accountable for P&L responsibility in excess of $250M.

Dedicated to giving back, Mike formed The MBAR Group in 2009 with the sole intent of providing pro bono career and business consulting services to the underprivileged and underserved. Today as founder and CEO of TalentBlvd, he coaches a number of high profile business and media personalities as well as holding advisory board positions guiding a number of multimedia and small business startups.

Mike earned his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University and holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Michigan State University. He is a past chapter President of the American Marketing Association. Mike and family split time between their adopted state of Missouri and family home in NW Michigan where their philanthropic causes include The Kingdom House – St Louis, BACN in Benzonia, MI., and Samaritan’s Purse, Boone NC.

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