Salary negotiation

Why you're not getting promoted

Hard work has very little to do with getting promoted.

Let me tell you a secret: Hard work has very little to do with getting promoted.

I wish someone had told me that earlier in my career when I was working 100 hour weeks, sleeping under my desk, and surviving on coffee and freshly dry-cleaned suits.

Honestly, some of the hardest working people I know will NEVER get promoted. Unfair? Meh - it happens in every office, we just don't talk about it openly.

This article goes beyond how to ask for a promotion. If you make these 5 tweaks to your behavior, a promotion discussion and a new job will come sooner than you think.

1. Draw Hard Boundaries

I worked with two senior executives, both gunning for the C-suite and competing for the same team. Additionally, they both had families with young children. That's where the similarities end:

  • Executive 1 - Left at 5 PM sharp, didn't take work calls on weekends, said "no" a lot
  • Executive 2 - Worked 20 hour days/7 days per week, brought his kids to the office to he could see them, took every assignment higher ups had

Who do you think does better at work? The first one! He commands the respect of the entire C-suite and board of directors. He's also been promoted rapidly (multiple times!), has unlimited access to resources, and great morale on his side.

Here's the bottom line: If you want to take your current job to the next level, you need to command respect. You won't get a leadership opportunity if you let people walk all over you. Start by (a) creating clear expectations that you consistently meet, and (b) confidently and respectfully reinforcing your boundaries.

2. Stop Trying to Make Friends

A common misconception around promotions is that everyone has to like you. That couldn't be further from the truth (it's also impossible to achieve).

The most successful people I've worked with are deeply controversial and honestly, pretty disliked. Brilliant people don't need permission to be brilliant.

If you want some serious career growth: instead of making everyone like you, work on getting political leverage.

Getting your ideas implemented, and furthering business goals, will largely depend on who your supporters at work are. Focus on quality of supporters over quantity. Here are two places to start:

  • Centers of Influence: People with a lot of political power of their own. They may be formal leaders because of their job title, or informal leaders that people look up to and respect.
  • Mentors and Advisors: Mentorship can come from anyone in the organization, regardless of their current position. The right person will excel in mentorship roles and have helped others succeed. 

3. Find the Right Mentors

When you hear the word "mentor," do you think of a senior person? If so, you're limiting yourself: someone's seniority and job description don't determine their mentorship ability. 

Often the best teachers are not the people with the most years of experience, but people with the most access.

Here's an example: You want to get closer to the CEO, but she isn't easy to access. However, her assistant has access every day, getting insider information about how to impress her. Getting advice from that assistant will help you learn a ton about the CEO, likely more than she would've told you firsthand.

If you want a new role in an organization, you have to access senior members. If I can get senior sponsors for my projects, I can essentially be my own boss. Which brings me to my next point...

4. Stop Relying on Your Boss

If you're waiting for your boss to tell you what project to work on, I have news for you: you won't make it out of your current role.

60% of the time you should be working on projects you came up with on your own and sourced exec sponsors for. You can do this even if you're junior, if your ideas are good enough and you learn how to gather peer support.

In my last 3 positions, my boss was my partner and friend - not my overlord. I came up with my own projects, hired and led my own teams, and led my own initiatives. We could both work on what we loved and we were an incredible team because of it.

By taking on new responsibilities and building new skills independently, you prove that you're ready for a more difficult position. It will showcase your initiative, drive, and problem solving abilities, all of which are necessary for most promotions.

5. Take Care of Your Team

If you're a people manager, the best thing you can do to get promoted is to take damn good care of your team. Give them all the mentorship, freedom, and resources no one gave you. Follow up with them regularly to ensure that they (a) are in a good headspace, and (b) have everything they need to do their job well. Then, watch them flourish. 

People do magical things when you nurture them, and a rising tide lifts all boats. My recommendation: spend more time with your team than you do with your boss!

👉 If you're struggling: Start by taking control of the performance review cycle first- read this

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