Accelerate to Higher Leadership

Overlooked for Promotion: Three Mistakes that Great Performers Make


Three Mistakes Keeping You From a Promotion

It happens all too frequently. You have worked long hours, been given greater responsibility, and know you are capable but still someone else got the promotion.  Was your boss playing favorites?  Is it because you made some mistake five years ago? Was it politics?

Usually these are not the culprits. Most often the problem is within the individual. Here are three common mistakes high potential employees make that lose them the promotion opportunity:

1. Thinking your work and results speak for themselves.

You may think your boss should notice how much effort you put into that project, but they have other priorities weighing on their mind.  They may not notice that for two weeks you came in early and stayed late to meet an unrealistic deadline.

We expect our bosses to be all knowing, but they are running fast themselves. Think of it this way: Do you know the effort and results each of your peers has made in the last week? Probably not. You’ve been focused on your work, in meetings, on the phone.  Same for your boss.

So guess who gets promoted? The person who tells his or her boss what accomplishments they’ve had in their one-on-one meetings. To do this you may need to stop thinking about it as bragging. It’s not bragging; it’s providing an update on the status of your project. If you’re an individual contributor tell your boss about your accomplishments. If you are a leader, tell your boss about your team’s accomplishment. Talk about the obstacles you overcame to reach those results.

Another problem for great performers is they make the work look easy. Make certain your boss knows the effort it took. During those meetings with your boss, let them know a bit of detail about the effort it took. Talk about who you had to influence, how you had to reframe the problem to think about it differently to come up with the creative solution, how you created a work-around to a problem that could have stalled your progress.

Bosses love it when you share this information. It gives them great information to share at their next level staff meeting of the accomplishments their team is making. Likewise, this makes their leader know that your boss is also performing.

2. Eating lunch at your desk.

You may think those extra hours spent eating your lunch at your desk are serving you well but they may be stalling your career. When discussing promotional candidates the selection team usually wants to know about the relationships the candidate has with their peers and key stakeholders. You can’t build relationships at work without spending quality time with people and one of the best ways to really get to know someone is to eat a meal with them.

Think about dating and what builds a stronger relationship – going to a movie where your focus is on sharing a common experience or going out to dinner and having a 90-minute conversation?  The same dynamic is true at work.  Which is going to build a stronger relationship?  Going to a meeting where your focus is on sharing a common topic, or spending lunch in a 60-minute dialogue.

You don’t have to do it everyday, but set a goal of two times a month having lunch with a peer, client or key stakeholder.  You’ll be surprised at how much valuable information you learn about the organization as well.

3. Keeping your ambitions to yourself.

Have you let your boss know you are interested in the next level of leadership at work?  If not, say something. You can bet someone else has let his or her desire be known.

I’ve been in too many succession planning discussions where a leader provides the names of their nominations, and a peer says “What about Beth? She’s done some amazing work and seems really capable.” The leader responds, “I don’t think she’s interested. She’s never said anything and she seems happy being the senior specialist.” This where I ask – “Have you asked her?” and the response is “No, not exactly.”

If you are interested speak up!  Don’t let someone else assume your career path for you. When you do speak up, be clear that you have a reasonable timeline in mind for the promotion and that you would appreciate direct feedback on how to improve to be considered a future candidate.

If your next step is your boss’s job, don’t say “I’d like your job one day.”  This can be seen as threatening to even the best boss.  Instead try “When you get promoted to the next level, I’d like to be considered a viable candidate to replace you.  Would you be willing to help me advance my skills and decision making to be closer to yours?”

Doing great work, working through lunch everyday and being overly humble will make you an outstanding performer and get your work appreciated, but if you want more rethink some of your strategies.