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Are you "too good" to move ahead?

Have you ever been passed up for a promotion? Executive leadership coach John M. McKee says that it may have more to do with perceptions than reality.

“I was broadsided! I need some help to figure out where I go from here.”

The caller was a guy who’d just been passed over for a promotion. He said that, seemingly out of the blue, a new individual was hired into the company to be his department head. Right up until that announcement, he'd been certain that he was going to replace his boss, who had been promoted.

It wasn’t just his opinion, he said. “It was obvious to everyone” that he was going to be promoted. By way of background, he told me that he’d gone through the usual discussions with the individuals involved in the decision, including the CIO and a couple of people who were peers to the role his boss had held. He felt he’d done well and made a solid case for being promoted.

But then…

The HR head called to say they would also be interviewing some outside candidates. She said he shouldn’t be concerned because everyone felt he had the technical skills to do the job. He relaxed and waited. Then, two months later they hired an individual from another industry to be his boss.

“I’m still shell-shocked.”

So he came to me. I suggested he talk to the new boss as soon as possible.

My client asked him what happened. The new boss was forthcoming, said that although the hiring team agreed my client had the requisite skill set, they also thought he needed a little “seasoning” before the next step up the ladder. He couldn’t provide a lot of detail beyond that bare-bones answer. I added some meat to the skeleton:

This issue’s pretty common with experts in many fields. Many run in to it without knowing.

In many cases, people who move ahead quickly in the early levels of senior management get stalled. Usually what gets them promoted earlier is their technical expertise and/or understanding that's beyond the grasp of others. They’re recognized for having insight or skills that warrant promotion and recognition from lower levels.

But if you want ongoing career advancement, you need to adapt. Move away from being considered the expert. You want to be seen as one who’s able to help others become experts as well. 

If you don’t, you’ll get pigeonholed. The company bosses may get concerned about taking you out of such an important role with no one else able to fill it afterward. You’ll be held back because you’re too good at what you do.

If you think you may be in this situation, here are four tips to help you get back onto the promotional ladder:

1. Start developing your replacement. Make a point of showcasing him/her whenever you can. Let everyone see that you can move up with little disruption. And this also shows that you're good at developing others to move up as well. Bosses like that in an executive.

2. Change your communication style and method. What works for the specialists may confuse the rest of the organization. Worse: company leaders may not even understand your point. If your comments seem too technical, eyes will glaze over. You don’t want to be “the geek” -– you want to be the one who “gets it."

3. KISS still applies. The “keep it simple stupid” approach, in speaking or email, ensures that you aren’t regarded as a show-off. Help those in other departments or specialties to see what the point is by using general examples and everyday language that they can relate to.

4. Vision is still good. The ones who move up the ladder most quickly are those who are seen as having vision and are able to get others enthusiastic about projects. In almost every department and every organization, there are those who seem to have a perspective that goes beyond the immediate and day-to-day hassles. The decision makers see that.

Here’s to your future!

John

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

10 comments
ITsupportCOC
ITsupportCOC

This can back fire on you as well...you can be so good you get stuck in a rut OR you train someone to be as good as you and YOU get laid off and/or by passed yet again.

mickeyk
mickeyk

I had done all the steps at the end of the article. I was the "Go To" person. I was very good at my job. I had proven that and as a result I became the Director of a very large and busy medical department. I set into action a training program for my supervisors that went company wide and received high commendations by the CEO. It was so successful that when the CEO needed to save money on the budget, he cut 60 department directors and managers. Mine was one of those positions. I ended up being "overqualified" without a chance for advancement in my career.

sygrar0a
sygrar0a

It seems to me that it is the "Dead Wood" who get promoted, as this has happened to me on numerous occasions. I was once told by my boss that I would not be promoted as I was too valuable to the company in my present position, and this has been the case throughout my career. I am now at retirement age and the story is the same, I cannot get work because I am now deemed as "over qualified" for the positions I apply for.

sysadmin
sysadmin

I did that and shortly after I was fired for a trivial reason. I think my boss was just waitng for an opportunity.

Old-Timer
Old-Timer

DUH! That is the Dilbert Principle.

waltjohnson35
waltjohnson35

I was a programmer in the '60s and was held back because I was more productive at writing code (my opinion) than the person who was promoted to a better paying, more administrative position. When there was no indication of my imminent promotion I immediately verbally resigned. My boss thought that I was blowing off steam. Two weeks later I gave a written two week notice and moved to a much better company with an 18% increase in take-home pay. You must know your value and insist you be paid accordingly.

Greg_D
Greg_D

This is a double edge sword, I've seen that the person you trained gtet promoted ahead of you. There must and just be something but people can't put there finger on it. A lot of times you have to kove to anothr company for that promotion.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

I was a sysadmin at a Fortune 500, and had specialized in the communications end of the business. I was the "go to guy" for everything from VPN to a telecommuting employee's home, the 18 T1s connecting the other offices, modem banks for customer dial in, to the mainframe multiplexers. I was next in line for a promotion to mid management, but was turned down because "I was already utilized in a mission critical capacity". In the ensuing conversation, I threatened to walk is I was going to spend the next 12 years until my retirement in the same position and at the same pay grade. I immediately walked out of the conference with a substantial raise (highest paid sysadmin in the company) and marching orders to train my replacement. The following year I received the promotion to operations director, a double jump with a solid raise. The takeaway is that the 4 points in the end of the article are critical, and sometimes you just have to be frank with the bosses. If you are as valuable as they claim, they will make sure you are happy, as it will be for the best interest of the company.

Greg_D
Greg_D

Its a 50/50 chance that someone else will get the same result. Anyone can be replaced, but don't get me wrong. I also did what you describe, but many years ago. I wouldn't try it in today enviroment.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

You have to know when to stand pat on a pair of 10s. Today what I did would be disingenuous, but in 1999, it was the golden bullet. When the economy gets back on track you can try that tack again.