I have this habit of over-analyzing things, trying to figure out the formula which connects the underlying dots to put a structure to my thoughts. At Microsoft I spent countless hours thinking about skills I need to acquire and qualities I need to build to move ahead in my career. Two most important activities I frequently did was deducing what skills my managers had which made them effective and second experimenting with my own ideas. After all the thinking, below is how I deciphered career levels in Microsoft to single most important quality people need to develop to get there.
Base = Intelligence and Hard work
These are two core qualities people need to get anywhere in life. You need to have a fresh mind which can think and you should be hard working. There is no escape from these.
Senior = Self Critical
Person who is self critical and is able to evaluate what skills he/she needs to acquire constantly (and then acquire those) should definitely make to Senior in Microsoft. Self critical people are able to see goodness in others and able to pick the right skills they need. Without continuous self improvement, your career is going to stagnate quickly.
Principal = Courage
Now this is where things get hard. As you climb up, you will be required to take many decisions everyday and those decisions are going to be very crucial for your team and product. Your level of courage will define if you are going to target big challenges or not. Courage will help you open up to take risks and experiment more which in turn will help you learn more. Without courage leaders won’t be able to pursue big dreams and take calculated risks. Courage is what pretty much separates men from boys, leaders from managers.
Partner = Good Intuition
Everyone in the world has some level of intuition on everything but depending on how good your intuition is, you are going to succeed less or more. Are you able to predict needs of others, market, customers better than others. Can you tell which team composition will work better, which market strategy will work, which features customers are going to love. Can you just feel what are the next steps team should take? Intuition helps with these kind of things and good intuition makes you extremely effective. You can term it as experience too but experience can build good intuition or bad intuition. People with bad intuition has view of the world which might not be right and actually will make them take bad decisions. As building deep intuition takes time, you cannot really fast forward in building this. IMO more you travel, experiment in previous years, better intuition you are going to have.
Vice President = Out of box thinking
Now out of box thinking is the hardest as most of the people will struggle their whole life to even understand what it means to be inside a box. Even ones which can tell when they are inside, its very hard to get outside the box. As per my own understanding, you are inside the box when you accept an outcome without rationalizing it completely, when you stop questioning processes/directions etc. just because that’s how you have seen them but can’t really justify it. People who are able to keep their awareness and perspective fresh and able to question their knowledge and principles all over again as required stay out of the box. These leaders can guide through their emotions and that of the team successfully and gets to fulfill the biggest responsibilities in corporate world.
Of course people have lot more qualities than these and there are many other things you need but these form the basic ones in my mind. Yes there are people who get to these levels without these qualities too but this is what separated majority of the people at these levels from ones below them. I would love to hear from readers what skills/qualities you might put higher than these.