Ever been passed up for a much coveted promotion?
I have. I assure you, at that age it feels like apocalypse has happened. At the time, I honestly thought a giant elephant had blocked me on my highway to Success.
Here’s what happened.
Very early in my career as a trainee chartered accountant, I missed a promotion that meant a lot to me, in terms of opportunities, pay increment and peer competition. All because my Group Managers thought I was ‘too nice’ and needed some tough skin. Rather, the newly Paris-returned Lady Manager who didn’t know me had her reservations. To be fair, the male Managers thought I was ready but this lady had influence and charm and persuaded the Partners to go with her decision. Such is the way of office politics!
I was a top performer, had done 2 prestigious industrial secondments, one of which was the 1988 Big Bang in London. Clients commended my work and considering that I was also studying towards my professional qualifications which I passed with flying colors each time, how on earth did my being nice get in the way of a promotion that carried a solid pay rise along with the coveted chance to lead an audit?
My Group Manager mumbled away and when I asked him how we would rectify this, the solution was a 6 month transfer to the Insolvency Department to toughen me up.
I guess his idea was that if I heard screaming creditors baying for blood on the telephone demanding money from companies that didn’t have any, I’d overcome this deficiency which I did.
6 months later, I got the promotion, pay rise and yes, led audits and even trained new aspiring chartered accountants. A year later I qualified and set off to trail blaze in the deserts of Qatar as the first lady auditor in the profession and that too during the Gulf War. Many more firsts and career achievements would follow in the years to come and I never looked back.
In hindsight, reflecting on an event that took place more than 25 years ago, I realize that my Managers were unable to actually tell me the exact deficiency in explicit terms but am grateful for the transfer to Insolvency where I learned a lot. It was also the event that triggered my interest in Transcendental Meditation (a suggestion courtesy my parents) and a passion for all things metaphysical.
They weren’t trying to demoralize an otherwise good employee but didn’t know how to give effective feedback and tell me that I needed more Gravitas and Executive Presence.
Gravitas is that undefined quality that is often difficult to define but you just know it’s there or not. The simplest example I can give is when heads turn when you walk into a room or people go ‘Wow’. You’ve got the look and the aura around you.
I’m not sure if the concept even existed at the time but I do know that a youngster at the beginning of her career felt confusion.
My case isn’t really unique. The majority of my coaching clients and consults have a similar issue where they don’t know why they aren’t getting promoted. That’s why I’ve written tons of posts on Executive Presence from different angles and even a Kindle book with strategies that are tried and tested to help readers and visitors to my website who aren’t quite ready to engage a coach who can fast track things with them.
Sometimes there are more specific concerns like confidence, delegation, project management or even ability to manage stress (based on a one-off assignment) that are being masked by trite industrial jargon like leadership or wow factor or even personal attributes that have nothing to do with their overall performance.
The point is that the person at the receiving end is clueless about how they can acquire this elusive quality which resembles a unicorn. Even Human Resources can have a challenge in explaining it.
The biggest problem is that even if you manage to find out the real reason for the overlook, people do form their own perceptions and you have to take proactive measures to change their view about you.
More often than not, you update your CV, deluge LinkedIn contacts and Executive Search firms with it and exit the company using explanations like better job opportunity or work life balance. Sometimes, you might decide to start your own business simply because you couldn’t decode the real message and feel you can do better flying solo – which isn’t such a bad thing provided you do it right.
How to Break through the Promotion Glass Ceiling
There are unwritten rules when it comes to advancing beyond a certain point in your career.
For sure, you need to be competent and good at your work and consistently ace those Key Performance Indices. You need to have the right ethics, character and integrity and demonstrate that you have the desire, ambition and drive to assume greater levels of responsibility.
But there is more to it. These are only core requirements. You also need to have Gravitas. Luckily, this is something you can develop and improve on.
Qualities that create awesome Gravitas include Confidence, Poise under Pressure, Decisiveness, Integrity, Emotional Intelligence, Reputation, Charisma to name a few. It’s not just Appearance although this plays a role in exuding Gravitas.
So far I’ve only mentioned the required characteristics. Even if you have all of them, you can still be knocked out of the game if you have weak interpersonal skills or if your core values are perceived to be misaligned with those of the organization.
You have to promote yourself to the Influencers but not at the risk of being too self-centered. It can feel like you are walking on egg shells sometimes but if you want your goal badly enough, you have to do whatever it takes to get there.
Ultimately it boils down to whether your seniors have confidence in your abilities to perform at the new position and it is up to you to demonstrate that you can do it. I go into 15 doable strategies in my Kindle book Get Noticed!. The simplest tip that I can give is to zero in on your professional needs at each stage of your career and take proactive action after getting feedback from your boss and others who can give you an unbiased perspective.
Did you ever get bypassed for a promotion? How did you take course correcting action?
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