In China, Portugal, France, Denmark and Slovakia, people have asked me the same question: “What does it take to get ahead?” I think the answer to this question is the same everywhere. There’s one very important “do” and one “don’t” to getting promoted.
• Do deliver sensational performance, far beyond expectations, and at every opportunity expand your job beyond its official boundaries.
When most people think about delivering sensational performance, they imagine beating set performance goals. But an even more effective way to get promoted is to expand your job’s horizons to include bold and unexpected activities.
Come up with a new concept or process that doesn’t improve just your results, but your unit’s results and the company’s overall performance.
• Don’t make your boss use political capital in order to champion you.
If exceeding expectations is the most reliable way to get ahead, the most reliable way to sabotage yourself is to force your boss to use his political capital in order to defend you.
First, you can have the greatest results in the world, but you cannot transgress your company’s values and behaviours.
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Another way to shoot yourself in the foot involves character—that is, the kind of behaviour that can make people ask, “Hold on, can I really trust this person?”
Take lack of candour. I’m not talking about boldface lying, but a tendency to withhold information. That behaviour is far more common, and it frustrates teams and bosses to no end.
Wearing your career goals on your sleeve will also force your boss to use political capital because it really alienates others. With most people, ambition is positive—it pushes you and the organization forward so that everyone wins.
Career lust looks different. It shows itself in tearing down the people around you or trying to blame your mistakes on someone else. It’s very hard to champion someone over the clamour of objecting co-workers.
These are the two biggest factors to getting promoted, but there are four other dos that certainly help too, and one don’t. Let’s start with the dos first.
• Do manage down
The boss-subordinate relationship can easily fall into two career-damaging traps. The first, and more common, occurs when you spend too much time managing up. As a result, you become so remote from your subordinates that you lose their support and affection.
The second occurs when you blur employee boundaries and end up acting more like a buddy than a boss.
Try to walk the line between the two extremes. When the time comes for your promotion, the best thing employees can say about you is that you were fair, you cared and that you showed them tough love.
• Do get on the radar screen
You can raise your visibility by putting up your hand when the call comes for people to lead major projects and initiatives, in particular ones that aren’t popular at the outset.
• Do amass mentors
In my experience, there is no one right mentor.
I had dozens of informal mentors over the course of my career, and each one taught me something important. My mentor ranged from the classic older and wiser executive to co-workers who were often younger than I was.
Another mentor that works for everyone: the business media. Because I read every financial newspaper and magazine I could get my hands on, I learned a lot about business, especially which deals worked and which failed, and why. And I used what I read. While you shouldn’t always take what you read at face value, the business media can be a good teacher.
Ultimately, mentors are everywhere, and the best ones help you in unplanned, unscripted ways. Learn everything you can from them.
• Do have a positive attitude—and spread it around.
Obviously, being a congenial, upbeat person will not get you ahead by itself. However, it’s extremely difficult to get ahead if you’re very negative—no one likes to work with someone who is perpetually under a dark cloud, no matter how smart that person is.
• Don’t let setbacks break your stride.
You will not always get every promotion you seek. And of course, the natural reaction is to feel terrible, maybe even bitter and angry.
Go back to work. Let those feelings go.
Turning your career setback into the office cause celebre will only alienate everyone. If you want to complain about your career, do it elsewhere.
More important, even if you are thinking about leaving your company, try to accept your setback as gracefully as possible, and even to see it as a challenge to prove yourself anew. This approach will serve you well whether you stay or go.
To get ahead, you have to want to get ahead.
Some promotions are due to luck, but only very few. Ultimately, when it comes to careers, you make your own luck.
Along the journey, you won’t get every promotion you want when you want it. But if you take the “long way,” eventually—and sometimes sooner than you expect—you’ll reach your destination.
Write to Jack & Suzy
Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Their latest book is Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today. Mint readers can email them questions at firstname.lastname@example.org Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.
©2009/The NYT Syndicate
Adapted from Winning (HarperBusiness Publishers, 2005) by Jack Welch with Suzy Welch.)