Career Ladder or Jungle Gym?

What does your career path look like? Are you climbing a ladder, or has your career taken you through a zig-zag of moves, with the end goal in mind?

Globalisation and technology have transformed organisations over the past two decades. Professionals now navigate flatter structures, which may offer limited and less visible pathways to career progression. With a few exceptions, well sign-posted careers are so very last century.

In her book Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg refers to her own career path as being more like scrambling a jungle gym, than climbing a ladder. Where a career ladder offers just one way to get to the top, she writes there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym.

“The jungle gym model benefits everyone, but especially women who might be starting careers, switching careers, getting blocked by external barriers, or reentering the workforce after taking time off. The ability to forge a unique path, with occasional dips, detours, and even dead ends presents a better chance of fulfilment. Plus a jungle gym provides great views for many people, not just those at the top.”


While it’s easy to think Sheryl has enjoyed a charmed career, every step has been carefully researched and executed. And in doing her due diligence, Sheryl has engaged the following:

  • A clear understanding of her values, strengths & expertise
  • An ability to network, and nurture her relationship with mentors and sponsors
  • Being prepared to challenge assumptions, and embrace uncertainty
  • Openness to diverse experiences, and opportunities offering growth
  • An orientation to ongoing learning, and acquisition of new skills
“The reason I don’t have a plan, is if I have a plan, I’m limited to today’s options.”  Sheryl Sandberg

What can you learn from Sheryl Sandberg’s career progression? Are you limiting yourself to the traditional or more obvious choices? Do you need to challenge your approach?

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