Even if you do you current job well–say, you’ve run the sales department for two years and attained the stated goals consistently–that won’t necessarily put you in line to move up in the ranks at your company. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? You work hard, produce good results and make your boss happy, but no one’s seriously considering you for the next available promotion. At any time, you’re likely to find that kind of situation frustrating, but it’s especially so if you’re trying to break into senior management.
It’s important to build a team that functions well under your direction. However, that doesn’t automatically result in a promotion. What are some of the factors you need to consider if you’re trying to move into the upper echelon? Start by thinking about what would set you apart from your competition, both internal and external. What do you do that they don’t or do better than they do? How does that benefit the company, not just now but from a long-range standpoint?
While good results are important to a point, they don’t present you in the way you need to be presented in order to achieve senior-level career advancement. An article I just read, called “Are you caught in the results trap?,” makes that point clear. Author Dana Theus says you need to realize that “producing good results is the ticket to the leadership shortlist, not the draft pick.” She goes on to point out that “recruiters say that while they look for work ethic and results to promote people into middle management, they screen for strategic perspective and business acumen to promote people.”
I’ve talked before about being able to influence people that don’t report to you so you can achieve a desired outcome. In addition, it’s critical that you’re able to see beyond the near-term situation and also look past the perceived boundaries of your current responsibilities. By doing that, you can often extend your reach within the organization, acquire important people as supporters and create the kind of impact that not only gets you noticed but also makes you memorable when promotional opportunities come along.
An important part of being an influential and visionary leader is the ability to think and act strategically (vision alone isn’t enough). It also involves being able to put yourself mentally into the place of people above you to gain an understanding of what they have to deal with and what they do or don’t do that makes them successful in their roles.
You can then take this a step further and look for ways to contribute that will allow you to demonstrate the capabilities that make you a good candidate for promotion to senior management. (Tip: Even if senior management isn’t your goal, demonstrating your growth and career advancement potential is a good idea.)
Along these lines, I particularly like one of Theus’ comments in the above-mentioned article: “Here’s a tip on how to manage up and position yourself for leadership at the same time: Help the folks at the top think about their leadership challenges differently (and more constructively), and they’re more likely to want you up there doing some of the leadership thinking.”
To put it another way, running-in-place won’t bring you the career advancement you’re looking for. You need to watch for and seize opportunities to prove to those who matter that you’re ready for the big leap. It’s wise to start working on that now, before the next promotion opens up. You might get a jump on your competition if you do.