How Promotable Are You?

How Promotable Are You?
January 27 18:55 2016 Print This Article

Personal growth within an existing company really comes from doing two things all the time.

The first is over-delivering on results within the values criteria that your boss sets for the team. If you can consistently deliver on performance and you have the behaviors to go with it, your boss will know that you can always be counted on — you will hit the numbers.

But you can’t stop there. The other quality that makes you promotable is constantly working to make your boss smarter. So when your boss asks you to do something, don’t only do that, but expand your responsibilities and lay out a much bigger picture. Present a deeper, broader understanding of where your organization stands in relation to the other players and the playing field, so that he or she gains a whole new, wider perspective on the business.

One time, when I was a young process engineer on a new plastic, running a small 10×10 chemical pilot plant, my boss said to me, “Oh, the boss from New York is coming up. We want to show him the pipes you put in place in the new pilot plant you’ve got.”

When the New York boss came up to see us, I gave him the requisite update on the plastic and my little project. But I also painted him a bigger picture of how the plastic we had fit into the entire plastics industry and where the industry was headed.

Now, I had only been there a year and I was not a genius by any means. But I had done a hell of a lot of research to show how our product fit into the larger scheme of things. It was enough to give a clear view of what he was investing in, where we were in it, and how our plastic compared to our top three competitors — what our strengths were, compared to what their strengths were.

He left that meeting with an impression of me.

A year later, promotions came up. The New York boss remembered that presentation and I ended up getting a big promotion because I made him smarter about something he never expected that day.

And if you want to move up in your career, that has to be your number one job too — over-delivering on the numbers and the behaviors, but also gunning for the bigger perspective.

Your boss wins on all three.

At the same time, becoming promoted should also scare you. Getting promoted is a double-edged sword: thrilling, yes, but terrifying. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your first managerial stint or the culmination of your career, with a seat in the corner office. You are the only one who understands how little you actually know about the new job, especially when compared with those big, bold expectations your bosses keep mentioning. Whatever happened, you want to scream, to the perfectly logical idea of a grace period?

You don’t scream, of course. After all, you’ve been told that leaders need to appear calm and in control, and that’s true. Leaders should look and act like leaders for the sake of their people’s respect and confidence and the organization’s momentum.

But being a leader doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions; good leaders are, by definition, voracious learners, relentlessly probing the people around them for ideas and insight. They are voracious relationship builders, too, really getting to know everyone in the business who can open their eyes to the “who, what, and when” of the job. Obviously, you don’t want to seem clueless. But you do want to appear deeply inquisitive about every aspect of your business and passionate about what your people think it will take to win. Those traits won’t undermine your authority. They’ll enlarge it.


Jack is Executive Chairman of the Jack Welch Management Institute. Through its online MBA program, the Jack Welch Management Institute transforms the lives of its students by providing them with the tools to become better leaders, build great teams, and help their organizations win. He is co-author, with Suzy Welch, of the new book, The Real-Life MBA — Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career, which debuted as a #1 Wall Street Journal and Washington Post best-seller.

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