Early in my career, I worked for a national healthcare company. I started at an entry level position and received three promotions very quickly. I was on the fast track and recognized for my great performance. Once I reached an AVP position, I reported directly to the SVP and had no opportunity for further advancement, that is, until the company reorganized. With that reorganization, a VP position opened up in my territory. I immediately threw my hat in the ring. I thought I was a shoe-in. There was no one else more qualified in my division.
But the reorganization also resulted in me having a new boss, a buddy of the CEO who came from outside the company. I didn’t like him. He was a bully and a chauvinist and he intimidated me. So I avoided him. I spent much of my time out in the field with my 18 direct reports. I was confident the VP job was mine.
Well, it didn’t happen that way. They brought in a man from another territory to assume the role and though they offered me a lateral position, I was devastated. In fact, I was so devastated that it took me a while to realize that there were some valuable lessons to learn from this experience.
Here’s what I learned.
First and foremost, never assume that your work alone will get you ahead. It takes both great performance and political savvy to get promoted. Think about it. How does your performance help you if no one knows about it and if you don’t have the visibility and credibility across the organization?
In my case, I had received many awards for my performance, but I assumed that that was all I needed to get the VP position. Obviously, there were other factors involved that I was blind to.
These factors can make or break your chances for advancement. Do your homework. Gather as much information as you can about the type of person they are looking for, the qualifications and experience necessary. You also need to know who decision maker is and who influences their decisions. In other words, who is in their circle of influence? Who do they turn to when making decisions? Who is in their inner circle?
This is where the political savvy comes in because you need to know the politics involved in the decision as well as who has power and influence over your career. It’s imperative that you build and nurture relationships with all the people who can affect your advancement.
The third lesson is to build an expansive network of allies and champions — people who can advocate for you when you’re not in the room. These people need to know your value proposition and how your work benefits the organization. You need consistent visibility with these people.
In my case, I had a toxic boss and though I certainly could have been more assertive and attempted to have a better relationship with him, I sincerely believe that would not have helped me based on his personality. What could have helped me was a network of advocates who he respected.
I stayed in my comfort zone and spent all my time out in the field, not in the corporate headquarters building these important relationships. And because I believed my work alone would get the promotion, I lost the promotion.
Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed, is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker focused on women's advancement in the workplace. A former corporate executive and CEO, Bonnie is the author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead, and co-author of Lost Leaders in the Pipeline: Capitalizing on Women's Ambition to Offset the Future Leadership Shortage.
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