The Missing Piece to Your Career Advancement?
Updated: Feb 22
Lily (an alias name) came to me with a story of work frustration seeking guidance.
She's well over five years into her professional work. She's talented at her area of practice/expertise. She delivers high quality work for which she receives praise.
But she got passed over for the raise and promotion she believes she deserves.
What's the problem?
Lily is not alone. What she described is a scenario I feel like I've seen and heard a hundred times now.
With the women I've watched and mentored, it usually comes down to some combination of the following challenges:
She still believes in meritocracy.
She has not made her ambitions clear to her superior(s).
She hasn't developed relationships with the right stakeholders.
She is performing exceptionally well at her current level, but has not taken proactive steps to show her potential for performing at the next, higher levels.
Without strong advocacy from someone early in your career or a mentor providing the guiding insights, I fear many women who are taught the meritocracy myth will simply have to learn the hard way.
Here are some things you can do. And just as important, if you know a professional struggling with this, please share this or another quality resource with them. As we like to say in A Career that Soars!...
A rising tide lifts all boats.
Meritocracy vs. Ambitions
Doing good work is, of course, important. But it's not the only thing that's important.
Break free of the idea that all you have to do is work hard and, eventually, the right someone will notice you, pick you, and move you up the ladder. The chances of this happening are very small indeed.
The important thing to remember here is that managers are human. They are just another busy person with their own dreams, family problems, complex relationships, worries...
I'm not saying this is "right". I am saying that the reality is that many managers have too much on their plates both professionally and personally; this means that they are giving your career advancement very little of their headspace.
That means that you have to push it in front of them.
It doesn't mean you have to be an a**hole about it.
It does mean you have to get really clear about your goals and intentions, and then make it very clear in concerted conversations you initiate with your boss.
What might that look like?
You need to schedule a conversation with your boss. This discussion should not be your annual review time (hear more about that on episode 14 of the Lead to Soar podcast). In this meeting, you need to clearly articulate that you have set the goal to earn a promotion to the next level.
Then, and this is critical, you need to enlist your boss on your journey. Every individual receives communication differently. One way to approach it could go something like this...
"I could really use your help. Can we have a conversation about how our team/department contributes to the business's strategic and financial goals? What type of initiatives does a team member at my level need to prioritize to contribute to those higher level goals? Could you help me understand exactly what I need to do to earn a step up to the next level? OK - within what timeframe do I need to demonstrate X, Y, and Z?"
It is important to ask questions, but remember that you are not asking for permission. This is your career journey that you are enlisting your superior to join you on.
If the only person you interact with enough to open a conversation about advancing within the company is your boss, then you have not done the work to develop relationships with important stakeholders.
The further you move up a professional ladder, the more important your relationships, both internal and external, become. Initiating and fostering relationships with internal and external stakeholders is itself a demonstration of your leadership.
So, stop what you're doing and look up.
Look "above" you on the org chart and watch. As you're watching, think about things like: what kind of behavior is rewarded in the higher ranks? How are leaders creating camaraderie together, and for staff? What types of strategic initiatives do various leaders focus on? Why? How does it contribute to the bottom line? Who has a large influence, perhaps even without a lofty title? How does that person behave at work?
Identify - who (leaders) might I initiate a relationship with?
And then, do it.
This might seem overly calculating. I assure you, it is not.
If you care about the outcome, and I mean a bigger outcome than your one promotion... if you care about the outcomes you are meant to contribute to the business, to your industry, it is absolutely -
... to develop the relationships needed to make those outcomes a reality.
Just like romantic relationships, professional relationships cannot be one-way. I'll cover how to begin fostering your strategic network in a future post. In the meantime, think about the person you want to approach. What do they care about? How can you bring more of that to them?