Ask an Exec: 4 Ways to Advance Your Career

“What are those gaps between expectation and performance, and how can women overcome them to advance their careers?”

That’s the question I put to Kieth Cockrell, Divestiture Executive with Bank of America, when we spoke candidly about the steps that rising women of influence can take to advance and become business leaders.

1. Great performance is “hormone blind”

The good news, according to Cockrell, is that success is apparently hormone blind. “When I’m thinking about filling a key role in the organization,” he explains, “I don’t really see differences between men and women. For me, it comes down to great performance. That’s just table stakes. There are plenty of people who do good work. What I’m looking for is superior results and a commitment to doing exceptional work.”

Despite the benefits of taking on a high-profile project and knocking it out of the park, you’ll still need to deliver high caliber results in all facets of your role. So ask your manager to clearly define what constitutes exceptional performance, versus merely meeting expectations.

2. Performance without relationships goes nowhere

Keep in mind, though, that even a star performer’s progress will stall if they try to go it alone. For those wanting to transition from individual performer to leader, Cockrell relates his own realization of just how much more can be achieved through rallying a team. “There’s so much more that an army of people can do versus what I could do alone.”

But how will you know when it’s time to transition from high performer to leader? According to Cockrell, it’s a personal evolution every leader comes to on his or her own time. He explains, “Eventually you realize that you don’t have all the answers. There are other people who have different perspectives, experiences, and intelligence. Over time, I have learned to listen a little more versus always thinking that I had the right answers.”

Why are relationships so important? According to Cockrell, even top leaders need to stay grounded with a core group of intense, strong and powerful connections. He explained, “I’m a big believer that you have to work hard and perform but you also have to develop relationships. Performance plus relationships lead to advancement.”

3. Stay in your sweet spot

Trusting yourself, according to Cockrell, is a universal trait, and one particularly inherent in future leaders. “A lot of people focus on the feedback that they’ve received on the things that they need to do to be better. I encourage you to listen to that feedback but also know who you are and the things that make you special.”

Cockrell refers to this innate self-confidence – while still being open-minded to performance feedback – as the leadership “sweet spot”.

Once you find that “sweet spot”, Cockrell insists, own it: “Do your best to stay in your leadership sweet spot because it’s not work. It just comes very naturally and you have the opportunity to be impactful.”

4. Articulate your interests

Finally, don’t relinquish control of your career path. Don’t be too shy about letting your leadership know your ambitions.

Cockrell explains, “If there’s one piece of advice that I would give, in general, it is to not allow people, including your boss, to assume what’s in your best interest. If anything, it’s your obligation to ensure that the people who are in your direct chain of command have an understanding of what your interests really are, your willingness to relocate, and your readiness to take on greater responsibilities.”

He concludes, “You may not be able to articulate exactly what you want, but make sure that people don’t make assumptions about what the best career choices are for you.”

To hear my conversation with Kieth Cockrell watch “Ask an Executive,” available immediately when you register for the Emerging Women Leaders Webinar Series.

Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership. She’s dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Based on her work with hundreds of thousands of women, she developed a pragmatic and powerful roadmap that guides women to become the leaders they aspire to be. Jo shares this proven process in her book Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw Hill, 2019.)

Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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