The elusive promotion and how to get there


So you've been looking at the boss and thinking to yourself "I could do a better job" (sometimes you may even be thinking a chant leader from the Hitler youth would be an improvement...), and feel it's about time to take that step up? Read on my friend, hopefully this article will assist your quest.

Firstly, I'd like to define the difference between management and leadership as I see it; this may be useful in determining which one you want and best applies:

  • Management is the act of having someone set some objectives for you and then keep you accountable to those objectives (there is of course much more complexity here, for brevity's sake I'm oversimplifying it).
  • Leadership is the art - yes I have cast the differences intentionally - of casting a vision for others and then taking them on a journey towards achieving that vision ("he who thinks he leadeth but has no followers is merely taking a walk" I once read).
    For these purposes I'm going to focus on the latter; I believe it's more enduring, will consume less of your time, and ultimately take your career further.

Now I don't believe that all success is derived through a series of magic 3 step formulas but, as I'm not writing the book yet, I'll keep it simple and use 3 steps. To be clear, this is not an exercise to help you apply for that mid-level management role and get it, but rather a guide to establishing yourself as the person that your leaders want in charge. Lastly, I'm also assuming that you're doing at least a good - ideally great - job in your current role.

1. Find something and take ownership for it.

The easiest way to do this is to find something in the organization that either isn't working, could be done better, or an area that shows a growth opportunity. Simple examples:

  • A languishing project that needs a re-focus or new life breathed into it
  • A process/workflow that isn't working - communication is stilted, money is being wasted or productivity woeful
  • New products or services that could go into testing (or even the market)

To achieve this, you'll want the support of others - the sponsor, stakeholders and management. If it is going to cost money (and you don't want it to be yours) get approval. Enlist the help of colleagues along the way; people tend to favour positive change these days, more so if they've been involved in creating that change. Plan it, execute it, and stand back and watch the accolades (and additional responsibility/money/better life partner) roll in. For best results, ensure that you do this in conjunction with step 2.

2. Develop a great relationship with the people further up the organization structure.

By that I mean your boss's boss - if he doesn't have one then how about his peers? There are two key reasons to do this: Firstly, people are more likely to offer you step-up roles if they know you, and secondly, you don't want your boss getting all the credit for your great work! The opportunities to connect are multiple: work social occasions, foster a shared interest together, or just request some business time to discuss some ideas (not issues!) - if you think this is smarmy or disingenuous then go back to the machine, you're probably best suited to that game. Not only will you get to know the business and those leaders that are hopefully going to expand your mind, they'll also be able to see the good stuff you're doing in steps 1 and 3. Remarkably some of the people that go the furthest in business are those that can manage upwards far better than downwards. I'm not suggesting organisational success happens this way, but this discussion is about your future, not that of the business! Still don't believe me? Think of the last rubbish boss you had (e.g. the person that everyone quit because of), you know the one. If everyone knew they were so bad why weren't they fired? Surely someone must have thought they were doing a good job!!

3. Make your peers lives easier.

Start finding ways that you can help them. Ask where they're having challenges or issues and then contribute positively to resolve them or take it off their desk (unless they're having issues with you eyeing up the bosses chair - but they probably won't tell you that). Opportunities to look out for? Deadlines, working long hours, general dissatisfaction with progress, STRESS!

One of the key roles of a good manager or leader is the ability to make things easier for their staff, all while gradually ratcheting up the teams output. So how do you do this? Just ask, "Whatcha doing there fella? I see that proposal is taking some time - how can I help?" Share your experience or knowledge authentically with people and others will notice.

These aren't mere theories; I've coached many people in applying them to their environment and seen folk successfully do them in others. Individually they'll work, but put them together and if you're not promoted in 6-12 months then come and talk to me - I'll hire you myself or we'll get you another job!