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Promotions Aren’t Just About Your Skills – They’re About Your Relationships


Here is an excerpt from an article written by Amii Barnard-Bahn for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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Have you ever been told, despite hitting or even succeeding at your performance goals, that you “just aren’t ready” for a promotion?

I remember hearing those same words early in my career. It’s vague, frustrating feedback — and it isn’t actionable.

Most of us hit a point in our careers where the emphasis we’ve placed on accomplishing goals doesn’t return the same rewards. We’ve crossed an invisible line, and we usually don’t know it until there are repercussions.

After more than 20 years as a Fortune Global 50 executive and coach to the C-Suite, I can tell you that this type of feedback often means that you’ve spent too much time building your skills — and not enough time building relationships.

What can you do to set yourself up for success? Here are five actions you can take right now and throughout your career to strengthen your relationships and put you on the path to promotion.

[Here are Barnard-Bahn’s first two key points.]

1) Know what makes you great at your job — and share your gift with others.

To be considered for promotion, senior management needs to see you’re able to work well with others. After all, companies don’t succeed through individual effort; they achieve results through collective leadership.

Chances are there’s something special about the way you go about your work. Perhaps you think more strategically than others on your team, seeing trends and connecting seemingly unrelated pieces of information. Or maybe you’re a clear communicator, saying what needs to be said in a way that ensures everyone will hear it and take action.

To identify what sets you apart, ask yourself: What you are known for? What types of problems do people frequently come to you to help solve? Take that skill and find a friendly way to share your gift with others to build relationships and add value to the team. For example, if you’re good at presentations, offer to provide feedback on a colleague’s dry run before their next big meeting. Or host a brown bag roundtable on best tips for presenting to executive management, where your team members can share their top recommendations.

If you can start demonstrating this capability now, management will more easily think of you in a role with additional responsibility.

2) Understand how others see you — and shift your perspective from “me” to “we.”

As you grow in your career, find opportunities to get feedback on how you show up to others. This will help you become aware of behaviors that may be decreasing your effectiveness and avoid blind spots in self-awareness that can slow your career progress.

Let’s review a previous client of mine, Aaron, who was told by his boss that he “just wasn’t ready” for promotion despite consistently exceeding his goals.

When I interviewed his colleagues, I discovered that Aaron was being blocked for a promotion two levels up in his organization by an executive who believed Aaron “wasn’t a team player” due to the way he’d led a turnaround. Aaron had been handed the leadership of a highly tenured and underperforming team with a mandate to “fix it,” and he went to work like a steamroller, reengineering operations and successfully hitting goals. But his success came at the expense of several long-time employees leaving and slamming Aaron’s reputation on their way out. The executive with the power to promote Aaron now viewed him as a “lone wolf” achiever.

After Aaron and I worked together on how he achieves goals, he is now involving his team on strategy planning, listening more, and talking less — and the senior executive is noticing his shift from “me” to “we.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Amii Barnard-Bahn, a former Fortune Global 50 executive, is a consultant and speaker who specializes in accelerating the success of leaders and their teams. Her clients include Gap, Adobe, Chegg, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Bank of the West. Download her free Promotability Index® career assessment. 



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