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Want that promotion? Better raise your Executive Presence

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Elephant blocking you on highway of promotion success


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!

Excuse me?

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.


Gravitas being a part for the promotion


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


How do you break the glass ceiling and get promoted?


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!.


Get Noticed with these 15 insider tips that raise your Executive Presence at work


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?



Learn more about how I can help you enhance your Executive Presence and Fast Track your next career move in 90 days here.

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20 Responses to “Want that promotion? Better raise your Executive Presence”

  1. Reba Linker says:

    Such a valuable post, Vatsala. As I read I was busy ‘transposing’ your comments from a corporate setting to explore how they might apply to my solo-entrepreneur setting. I would love to hear your thoughts on that topic.

    For me, so far, the biggest resonance is that the elusive ‘gravitas’ occurs as we become more and more confidence in ourselves. We gain conviction in what we do and believe. We conform less to what others are doing, and get more comfortable putting it our true selves there. Maybe this is analogous to the young company gal who excels when a task is set before her, yet still needed to be tested in regards to holding her ground in a less supported, perhaps less structured setting?

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      The post applies equally to a solo-entrepreneur too, Reba, spot on! Gravitas does occur as we show confidence in our actions and body language as well as our grace to handle pressure and demonstrate integrity. You are absolutely right with the analogy too. Being able to hold one’s own without a safety net was required to help the young company gal come into her own authentic brand. Baptism by fire in the ultimate sense of the word. Pity it was camouflaged as being ‘too nice’ which is such a generic word. 🙂

  2. Julia says:

    Wow, I think your clients must have a really amazing experience working with you Vatsala. You are both exceptionally well-qualifed and totally passionate about what you do.

  3. I too read this through the lens of a solopreneur. And I love your use of “gravitas,” which I mean when I talk about “standing sovereign” and “majesty.”

    Women have a big need to open the door to their own sovereign majesty; we’re countering a cultural perception that we must be meek and reactive instead of proactive.

    I love the stand you take here, very empowering. Will share.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      The points in this post apply to self-employed professionals too, Sue. Spot on!

      In studies about Executive Presence and Gravitas, the women professional have often come short of their male colleagues. It’s time for us to stand and shine in our own sovereign right!

  4. Tamuria says:

    You have had such an amazing life Vatsala. I love reading about your work experiences and your advice is spot on. I actually know a few people who are feeling the confusion and uncertainty that comes with being overlooked for a promotion when they seem to be excelling in their chosen careers. I’m going to share the link to this post with them.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks Tamuria. I hope your friends benefit from this post. There is nothing more frustrating than doing the work and keeping up your end of the bargain and yet not getting the promotion or being given obtuse explanations.

  5. I think some people do have ‘gravitas’, that ‘it’ factor, just naturally by virtue of who they are, who they arrived on the planet in this lifetime to be. I love that you say that others can ‘learn’ it too. When I was young I was very shy and that came off as being aloof. I wasn’t. I was also very attractive and never wanted my beauty to come first above my brains. As I’ve grown and matured, my personality has changed dramatically. When we learn to come from a place of authenticity and other people see or feel that, I believe that goes a long way in being a person of ‘gravitas’. I believe that the world can use more whole-hearted perspective when we look at others. Each person has their own way to shine. I just saw the movie “Snowden” and in spite of his awkward, shy persona, he somehow proved himself to be a person of ‘gravitas’ by his work. I see him as a man who is a very moral and principled and to me, that is ‘gravitas’. Thanks for sharing so much of your own experiences and your own expertise with us all the time, Vatsala!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Gravitas can take different forms, Beverley, and is unique to each person. The key indicator whether we have it or need to develop it is dependent on the perception of others and how we appear to them. I often try an experiment when I go to a restaurant of walking in with confidence and straight posture. The result? Other diners stop to look at me and the waiters pay us more attention. Another time,I’ll just quietly walk in and the scenario is different. That’s applying gravitas. 🙂

  6. Outstanding post and it addresses issues ignored by many traditional career coaches. Ahh Gravitas- A musical sounding word and when it is in front of you, doors do open. When we are just starting out be it in the corporate world or as solopreneur we lack the confidence and extra pzazz. WE can fake it but sharper eyes are watching. In time if conscious or present to what is needed, we can exude skills +. Sharing on LinkedIn in hopes others see how great a coach you are.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks Roslyn. Most career coaches and coaches in general want a 6 to 12 month commitment completely ignoring the fact that the client needs help like yesterday and progress has to be fast tracked to help them. That’s why I keep my engagement for only 90 days with the client having the option to continue when new challenges post success arise. Gravitas and having that charisma are important at the next level of the game when Leadership qualities are important.

  7. Wonderful story and advice. I really had to think about your question Vatsala, and honestly can’t come up with a time I was passed over for a promotion. But there’s a disclaimer – I never set my eyes on a promotion because (and it took years before I realized this) in the back of my mind each job was just a stepping stone to another.

    In Hawaii, particularly on the neighbor islands where I lived, most companies are very small which means promotional opportunities are few and far between so if you want to increase your pay and or status, you have to be willing to move around, that’s just the way it is. I was never a job hopper, but I was always on the look out for the next step up and eventually out of working for other people altogether.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      I love the disclaimer preface, Marquita. 🙂

      Yet, you exude Gravitas and Executive Presence in your writings and work and I’m sure these elements helped with the career progression job changes and now with your own business. The path of career progression that you described happens in smaller countries and regions because of the lack of organic growth. Even then, Gravitas is important for successful moves.

  8. Julie Gorges says:

    Although I am a freelance writer and work alone – I enjoyed your thoughts on the importance of gravitas. No matter if we are in the corporate world or have our own business, we all need to maintain our dignity, confidence, integrity, and ‘wow factor’ to accomplish our goals. It’s also so important to learn from our failures (like getting overlooked for a promotion) to move forward and succeed.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Absolutely, Julie, exuding confidence and all the core qualities that go into our clients and employers perceiving gravitas is essential for progressive success. Thanks for sharing your perspective, it is a precious contribution to the discussion.

  9. Vanita says:

    Hi Vatsala, I’ve actually experienced what you describe – being passed by for a promotion I worked very hard for and not getting a proper explanation. My lesson was not to let disappointment turn into despair and defeat, which is actually much harder said than done. It took some time before I mentally let go and moved on. Painful as it was, the experience made me consider what I really wanted, so I could pursue a position which ultimately would be more fulfilling than the one I “lost”. Thanks for sharing and some great coaching, I know several who have benefited from your corporate experience and coaching!☺

    • Karmic Ally says:

      The pain and disappointment at losing out when we’ve done all the right things cannot be described, Vanita. Only those who’ve been through it fully understand what it does to our confidence and sense of alignment of values with our organization. I’m delighted you used your situation to reassess what you really wanted and pursued a position which will be more fulfilling for your career aspirations. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  10. Joyce Hansen says:

    In today’s competitive job market most graduates are not thinking in terms of “gravitas.”
    I liked that you included emotional intelligence as a quality. A necessary element where businesses seem to be overly focused on data rather than the human element. I’m sure that those who take your training will be well rewarded.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Your observation is on the mark, Joyce. Sometime back I was talking to someone from one of the Chambers of Commerce about the issues that young graduates were having finding jobs and she mentioned that most graduates were not skilled for the market place not because of the quality of their education but the lack of presence and other skills that weren’t taught at an individual level. For sure training companies make a killing in workshops for middle to senior executives but the entry level workforce needs it as well. Another reason to invest in a good coach or mentor who’s equally invested in their success.

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Meet your coach

I believe the world would be a better place if high achieving professionals accepted setbacks and challenges to their careers as Wake Up Calls to embark on a Journey where their empowered course correcting actions create a New World Order that encompasses achieving their career aspirations & potential with authentic life balance.

I work with driven, passionate, talented and ambitious professionals who’ve hit a speed breaker in their business or career create their desired breakthrough reclaiming control of their situation with customized strategies and tactics that deliver results.

When my clients first reach out to me, they are not in a very happy place, needing clarity about themselves, their desires, chosen vocation and what will give them peace of mind. They are drawn to me for the very reasons that I highlight in Who Is Karmic Ally Coaching.

Their professional problems are playing havoc with other areas of their life. They know they need to take radical steps to change the status quo but they also know they need support and accountability to get them their desired result.

I really get it, because I’ve experienced that dark night of the Soul. I know firsthand the outcome of getting lost in my work rationalizing decisions that were detrimental to other aspects of my life.

I’ve struggled with and won battles of stress management, corporate politics, life balance and career decisions to emerge in a place where I can confidently say that I live my desired life according to my personal Manifesto and have created a business that provides me with a platform for my desired lifestyle and self-expression for myself. I want that for you too!

I adhere to the Certified Coaches Alliance Code of Ethics and Standards. A copy is available on request.
1st place BCB 2012
Email: Vatsala(at)karmicallycoaching(dot)com Phone:91 9818517664
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