We all want to get ahead and forge a successful and satisfying (and, yes, lucrative) career. Promotion to a higher level not only gives us this but also the formal recognition that we are indeed valuable and worthwhile individuals.
That’s why it’s gut-wrenching to see ambitious people work hard, thinking they’re doing all the right things, only to be overlooked for promotion again and again. What are they doing wrong?
To avoid falling into this trap, this is what would you need to do to make yourself promotable and to be the stand-out candidate for any job.
HARD WORK IS NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT
Lots of people work hard. You see them every day. They wear it like a badge of honor. “Look how many hours I work!” As if somehow that, by itself, creates value. It doesn’t.
Yes, you have to work hard, but what if you were to work 60-70 hours per week, every week, and still fail to deliver on your core objectives? The hard work quickly becomes irrelevant in the shadow of underperformance and failure.
To stand out, you have to show that you can produce incredible results, and deliver extraordinary value for your company. This means focusing your energy on the right things so that your hard work has the biggest impact.
WORK AT THE RIGHT LEVEL
One of the most common mistakes leaders at all levels make is to over-function for their people. When someone doesn’t do their job the way they should, the leader steps in and does it for them. Why? Because they can. Because they’re comfortable in the detail. Because it’s easier than managing the performance of an underperforming individual. Because it’s faster just to do it yourself.
Whatever the reason, we convince ourselves that we’re leading by example, and we always get the job done. That is rubbish.
If you don’t enforce a minimum acceptable standard for behavior and performance, your team will be weak, and its performance patchy. Even worse, it will become increasingly dependent on you in order to function.
You must demand that your people step up and fill the vacuum you leave when you refuse to do their jobs for them.
“DRESS” FOR THE JOB YOU WANT
Obviously, this is metaphorical. To show the people above you that you’re promotable, they need to believe that you’ll be able to cope with the demands and rigors of the next level.
This means you need to think about what the next level actually entails. Stop looking in and down, and start looking up and out. If you only demonstrate your capability for the job you’re currently doing, promoting you will appear risky. Perhaps it may be better to bring someone in from outside who has already demonstrated success at that level.
Once you start to think and talk the language of the next level, you’ll be able to do something that many people can’t—add value for your boss in their role. This is the shift that occurs when you move from being a workhorse to a trusted advisor. Everyone loves a good workhorse, but workhorses tend to become typecast in their current role with their existing skillset.
Adding value to your boss by discussing the issues that are important to them, rather than just your own narrow remit sends a signal. It says: “I understand the business, and I’m ready and willing to take on more accountability for its performance.”
MAKE YOURSELF REDUNDANT, NOT INDISPENSABLE
We intuitively think that job security comes from making ourselves indispensable. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you rely on knowledge hoarding for job security, it may backfire.
Any decent leader knows that knowledge can be acquired, but the real competitive advantage comes from ingenuity, insight, and judgment. They will see you as a risk they need to mitigate, not a high-value asset to grow and develop.
If your knowledge makes you essential to the functioning of your team, and the team relies on you in order to produce results, you can’t be moved anywhere else—and you certainly won’t be promoted.
Making yourself effectively redundant demonstrates that:
– You can build team capability (it performs whether you’re there or not)
– You’re growing and developing yourself, regardless of the plans your manager might have for you
Any company worth its salt will find ways to keep someone like you, often creating purpose-built roles that they think may suit your unique skillset and capabilities. They won’t want you to leave, only to lend your talents to one of their competitors.
Ambition and drive are incredibly useful if they’re applied the right way. Using these attributes to create value for your company, and to build capable, highly functional teams, will be an emphatic statement to those above you that you’re ready to take on more.
But there’s no potential without performance. Your primary focus is to lead your team to deliver exceptional outcomes—just make sure you have one eye on what you need to do today so that you end up where you want to be tomorrow.
Martin G. Moore is the founder of Your CEO Mentor, author of No Bullsh!t Leadership, and host of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast.