The Unwritten Way to Get Promoted

By Jennifer Eggers, Andersen Alumnus and Founder & President of LeaderShift Insights®

As a senior executive coach, I work with high performing executives at a variety of companies across many different industries. Admittedly, most are large companies with a few exceptions. One of the most rewarding things about this job is the ability to see patterns and help clients see around “corners” so they are better prepared to navigate hurdles before they get there. One of those patterns is about how to get promoted and frankly, while I primarily focus on senior leaders, this one is valid at any level.

If your goal is to get promoted, obviously you know you need the skills and competency to do the job you aspire to, but that is more often than not, not all you need. In addition to the obvious, today the people getting the top jobs are extremely proactive in understanding and managing their career stakeholders and in building sponsors and advocates strategically along the way. For some, this comes naturally, but for the rest of us mere mortals, it requires a bit of foresight.

First, book some dedicated time to think about this. It won’t happen while you are putting out fires. Put it on your calendar, turn off your phone or go to a quiet conference room. Or make it your airplane project the next time you take a long flight (before you turn on the wifi). Think about the next 3-6 years of your career. Try to think two roles from where you are now. What do you want to do? Where in the company (or outside of it) are those roles? What kind of skills do they require (think about the skills you need to build and demonstrate)? How do people need to perceive you? And most importantly, who are those people?

Once you are sort of clear (it might still be a bit fuzzy – that’s OK) on what you want to do/where you want to go, make a list of stakeholders. Ask yourself:

  • Who are the people today that have a say in your advancement (your boss, their boss, your boss’s peers, etc.)?
  • Who is likely to be in the room when your boss is asked about the talent on their team?
  • Who is doing those roles today?
  • Who has a say in who gets those roles?
  • Who can advocate for you when you’re not in the room with that audience?
  • Who do you not know that needs to know you?
  • Who can introduce you to them?
  • Who could derail you from the role you want?

You should end up with a list of 10-15 stakeholders you can cultivate to build advocacy and sponsorship.

Now, your job is to start finding reasons to connect with these people on a regular basis. These aren’t just casual meet and greets, although that’s a good place to start. These meetings should have an agenda, so things don’t get awkward, and no one is wondering why you’re there. Think of them as a chance to:

  • Learn more about their business
  • Understand their role and what they are working on
  • Ask for their help in understanding what you need to do to get the role you want
  • Showcase work you are doing that relates to their area
  • Demonstrate interest and competency
  • Ask for their coaching and support – be direct about this, but don’t lead with it, develop rapport first

Many of my clients, even at the highest levels, struggle with this. It can feel like something you just shouldn’t have to do or like a waste of time when your calendar is otherwise jam packed with “real” work. For some, it never occurred to them to do it. If you are introverted, this won’t be easy, but it is necessary. If you have higher aspirations, particularly in a larger organization, this needs to be as much a part of your job as the results you are required to deliver.

If you want help strategizing about how to get your next senior leadership role, call us. It’s what we do.

Jennifer Eggers is the Founder and President of LeaderShift Insights®, a firm with deep expertise aligning structure, people, and investments to drive strategy and increase leaders and organization capacity to adapt in the face of disruption. She is a former Partner with Cambridge Leadership Group, Vice-President, Leadership Development & Learning for Bank of America, and has held several other senior roles in Learning, Organization & Leadership Development at AutoZone and Coca-Cola Enterprises. She started her career with Arthur Andersen’s Business Consulting Practice in Metro New York.