What’s the #1 Way to Get Promoted? (It’s Not What You Think)

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I am going to share a little secret with you on how to get promoted ... Peers promote you – your boss fires you.

Treat your peers with great respect because they are the ones that promote you.

I have been part of countless succession planning meetings. I have seen many consultants describe very elaborate processes for talent development. I have had multiple discussions with leaders in other organizations about how they develop and promote talent.

The bottom line is that peer support is the number one factor in getting promoted.

Here’s how it happens:

Why Your Peers are the Ones to Promote You

In the meetings where leadership teams discuss talent development, staffing, and long-range human resource strategy, each leader in the room has a short list of 2-3 people they want to advance.  If you have more people than this on your lists, the discussion get watered down. (In fact, 1 or 2 per list is actually the best plan to get someone discussed).

As each leader describes the skills and accomplishments of the person they want promoted and what they think they should do next, the other leaders are recalling what they have heard and observed about this person over the past year from their peers in their organization. They quickly develop an opinion and begin to share what they have heard or seen.

One of two things happens next:

First, the good news. Leaders around the table start giving examples of when the person worked great with their teams. They say things like they were highly responsive, finished work on time or ahead of schedule, that they were great collaborators, took the high road on tough issues, or they were a team player.  When you hear these accolades from 2-3 people around the table, then—and only then—does that person’s name gets put on “The list” of people who need to be promoted.

Or the opposite happens. As soon as a leader begins to describe the person they want to promote you can see the disapproval on the faces of other leaders. You hear comments like, they never get work done on time, they leave a mess of unfinished work in their path, can’t get along with others, has their own agenda. They might be high performing in their existing work group, but no one is going to take a risk on them. They get put on another list: “developmental needs.”

The Time I Missed my PromotionBecause of How I Treated my Peers

I had an experience where I was ready and waiting for what I thought was my “ultimate job.” I thought my boss was going to promote me, and I was ready for the challenge.

The actuality was that my boss was going to fire me. I had stirred up such a hornet’s nest with my peer group and how I handled those relationships. Ultimately, I was not picked for the job because I didn’t have the organizational support, even though I thought my strategy and ideas were spot on.

I looked back and realized my mistakes: I did not take the time to on-board my peer group with the facts, the path and the thinking to get us to a new place. I cut corners in my progression, gave some shallow answers to questions to save time, and simply did not include some people along the way and get them on board.   

Getting people on board takes time and preparation.  You do not have to get everyone to agree with you but, as I learned, you can’t recover if you fail to include the right people along the way. They shoot you down—and should—when it comes down to actually getting to a decision. I actually thought playing to the top of the house and managing up was going to get me promoted.  

It did not, it never did, and never will.

As individuals, people must understand that how they work with other people ultimately decides when and how far they will advance.

What’s interesting—and a little frustrating—is that in my early years I was great at this. However, in my early leadership roles I was bad at it but thankfully recovered and finished strong at the end.  As you progress in your career and rise in leadership, I think ego comes into play and knocks you off course, which is why you need a leadership philosophy.  Stick around, because that’s another topic for another day.