The Promotion Conundrum

Do you remember your first promotion?


Arden Executive Coaching | The Promotion Conundrum

Chances are you were recognized in that entry level job for your initiative, your hard work, your excellent performance, maybe even your attitude and energy.

As a reward, you may have been given additional responsibilities, perhaps a bump up in salary, or a new title. You were excited – you knew that you were on your way and being recognized for all the potential you possess.

Now you’re a Vice President seeking your next promotion. The game is now different.

The mistake many senior leaders make in seeking their next level of promotion is thinking that the game still works the same way as when you worked at Dairy Queen or the local car wash.

It doesn’t. It’s different in two main ways:

1. At your current level, doing a good job in your current role is not enough reason to be promoted. There are fewer and fewer spots at higher levels; there may be four, or ten, or thirty people at your level, all of whom have the same “next step” up the ladder. The truth is that simply performing well, even excellently, in your current role is not enough to warrant being promoted. At your level, all those things that got you that first promotion years ago are now expected of you: your commitment, hard work, brilliance and talent, professionalism and expertise are the low bar, the expectations for performing at your current level. In order to be promoted, you need to show that you are ALREADY the Senior Vice President, they just haven’t recognized you with the appropriate title yet. If you’re respectful in how you do it, you can be seen as the natural next choice for the promotion. Remember, it’s not about showing you can be good in the role you’ve done – you have to show you’ll be good in the next role because you’re already thinking at that level. Those making the choice on that promotion want to know they’re making a good selection since a poor choice will be costly – make sure you’re the obvious and wisest choice.

Now I’m not talking about taking over meetings or trying to pry projects out of your boss’s hands that are theirs, or skipping over your boss to communicate with the EVP – I’m not talking about acting like the SVP in those ways. What I am talking about is how you are BEING. Other than the responsibilities given to the SVP, what are some of their distinguishing characteristics? This list will vary with your specific role, but let’s say it probably includes an enhanced level of strategic thinking, a greater executive presence, ways of thinking and networking that incorporate global positioning, etc. It’s those things that you can push yourself to incorporate into your current role. Take the opportunity to attend the nationwide conference and represent your department. Seek out the speaking gig that positions you as the expert. Take on the project that exposes your long term strategy into the presentation to the Board.Arden Executive Coaching | The Promotion Conundrum

2. The second way that your next promotion is not like your first is that functional skills not enough. You likely got your first promotion because you were good at doing something: making the calls or doing the tasks you were assigned. However, as we move up through an organization, our job is less and less about working with the widgets, and more and more about leading others.  Just being the expert in your field, whether that’s corporate branding or investment banking, is not enough. You need to be a leader. You need to be effective at creating a vision and effectively bringing it about through others. Daniel Goleman, the Emotional Intelligence expert, cites that 90% of the advantage at the highest levels is in how leaders interact with people: how they are able to influence, motivate, etc. So if you’re looking to advance your career, consider focusing on these skills the next time you have a training budget: rather than attend an industry conference, attend a leadership summit, or hire a coach. Advance your interpersonal skills to increase your effectiveness and advance your career.


Being great at your current role is wonderful and something to be proud of. Look at how far you’ve come and give yourself a hearty pat on the back!

Then look ahead and ask yourself what you need to reach that next level… it’s different that that first job you had, but still doable, if you’re willing to put in a different type of effort.

To work with one of our expert coaches, contact us to discuss getting your next promotion!