Leadership

Pigeonholing can kill your chances for promotion


Do you feel like you should have been promoted by now?  It hasn't happened, but no one is telling you why?  Perhaps this major promotion killer is holding you back. A while back I was retained by a client who was recently passed over for a promotion.  He told me that it had appeared “obvious” that he was going to be moved up to replace his boss who had left the company for a bigger job elsewhere.  He’d gone through the usual discussions with those individuals involved in the decision, including the person who would be the direct boss of the new role, the CEO, 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.  And then… The HR head told him that, “just to be fair," they intended to interview some outside candidates.  He was told that he shouldn’t be concerned because everyone liked him and thought he could probably do the job.  So he calmed down and waited.  Two months later they hired a woman (from another industry) to be his boss.  When the new boss started, my client asked her what happened.  She told him that she’d been told that while the CEO and others agreed my client would be a good fit, they also thought he needed a little “seasoning” before the next step up the ladder.  My client now feels anger toward his new boss and is looking outside of the company to move forward elsewhere.  During the time since, we’ve uncovered a critical issue affecting his move up on the ladder.  This issue’s pretty common with experts in many fields.  It’s likely that some of you reading this may be facing similar hassles without knowing it. If you’re intelligent but don’t seem to win inter-office debates or arguments as often as you should, give this some consideration.  It affects a lot of people who have tracked quickly into the early levels of senior management but then stalled.  In my experience; usually what got them promoted earlier was their technical expertise and/or understanding of things which were beyond the grasp of others.  They were recognized as having insight or skills which warranted promotion and recognition from lower levels. But at some point, they (or let’s say, you) need to adapt and move away from being regarded as “the” expert to one who is able to help others to become experts as well.  If you don’t, you’ll get pigeonholed.   The company bosses will be 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.  So start developing your replacement and make a point of showcasing him/her whenever you can.  Let everyone see that you can move up with little disruption.  And it shows that you good at developing others to move up as well.  Bosses like that in an executive. Additionally, it’s important that you learn to change your communication style and method.  What works for the techies and insiders may serve to confuse, or worse, concern the company leaders when they can’t understand you.  In my client’s case, he was able to explain things very clearly to his team because he talked their lingo.  But when called on to update senior management, he wasn’t successful.  He seemed too technical and unable to make his points. That made him talk more.  Eyes glazed over.  Text messages were sent about the “geek” who lived in his own world and didn’t understand the big picture issues surrounding the company.  He was regarded as a showoff.  Worse, he was destined to stay at lower levels because he didn’t know how to keep it short and sweet.  He lost his audience.  He was seen as someone with no vision, unable to get others enthusiastic about his projects.  Never good for someone with career ambitions. Bottom line: To move up the ladder, you need to be able to rally people behind your vision and state your case crisply.  This applies to those below you and those above you.  And the ones above you are the decision makers.  If you really want that promotion, learn to match your communication style to that of the decision makers.  Trying to show them “a better style” will only result in frustration.
John Success Coach

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...

44 comments
Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

I have been told I am too valuable in my role to move. I am currently training my successor, and flagging up how well suited he is in this role (true). I used to be an IT trainer, so I am very good at explaining technical concepts simply and succinctly. I have a wide and growing range of skills. I maintain good relationships with the customers and at all levels throughout my own company. I had a grade promotion one year ago "because we don't want to lose you". I have indicated my interest in moving to the next level in the company, which is a hands-on management position that is becoming vacant due to the relocating of an office. I even suggested that as the company is going through hard times, they put me in the position for a 6 month trial without an increase in pay. The position is, apparently, being left vacant for now. I want to stay in the same company. What is the next thing I should do?

val1stsea
val1stsea

The bottom line is not what you know, but whom you know. Which means speaking the words of your boss is because he knows you well you're closely related not considering your field of specialization. Come to think of it. UHUH!

robert.kowalke
robert.kowalke

I think familiarity breeds contempt and folks know your weaknesses after awhile and so they go for the "hope" of a newbie rather than do the difficult leadership piece and teach/train/develop. So for the person who wasn't promoted - get out and move up somewhere else.

ddmcp2000
ddmcp2000

Like my grandfather used to tell me: "Don't make yourself irreplaceable, because you make yourself unpromotable." I always try to remember that, and I think it sums this article up quite succinctly.

angry_white_male
angry_white_male

Take my boss for example... good technical skills, but poor people / leadership / communication skills. He got promoted via attrition when his boss retired. Since then, he's never done anything to sharpen the leadership skills needed to do his job, other than mastering the art of managing upward. The result, people who report to him, if they haven't left, they're planning on it (myself included). Point being that if he were to work anywhere else, odds are he'd still be a network administrator. The execs here adore him - so he won't be going anywhere anytime soon. You don't need to be a techical wizard to be an IT Director. You need to have a firm understanding of what's going on in your IT shop and an ear on emerging technologies... which means fostering teamwork, having frequent open and frank discussions, and consulting with your team when decisions need to be made. Of course, there needs to be some upward management... but the bulk of your time needs to be spent leading your team... grooming your successor... and making it an overall decent place for them to work. O More often than not we see the most senior IT person promoted to run the department only to fail miserably at it. Not just in IT... I've seen blue collar types promoted to management only to fail or hate it and to return back to the rank-n-file shortly thereafter. There's an innate set of leadership skills that not all of us are born with. So if you are lacking in leadership skills and are turned down for a promotion - don't take it personally.

dtecmeister
dtecmeister

It is my experience that the ones that golf with the boss and/or drink, party, and hang out with the boss after work are the ones to get looked at first for promotion. I know there are exceptions but it hasn't been that way for me.

g01d4
g01d4

"Seasoning" derives from the good-manager-can-manage-anything attitude that seems to increase in popularity the higher up the ladder one goes. Vision, communication &c are mere props. Large companies can season managers from within - otherwise it's off you go.

rob.easton
rob.easton

I was looking for the ONE promotion killer, but I guess it's a little more complicated than that?

robert.johnson2
robert.johnson2

having worked in the federal govt, i have seen this scenerio multiple times. has nothing to do with qualifications - HR needed to "round out" some positions, especially mangager level with some minorities. the fact that this individual came from another industry says volumes. management skills can be taught and learned. that line about needing some seasoning is BS. Next time the job comes open, the current mangager will already have hand-picked her successor and this poor guys will be put out to pasture.

ibsteve2u
ibsteve2u

I've heard this entire article rephrased variously as: "[He or she] is technical" - with its implied non-promotability, and "You have to dumb it down for the C-level execs."; the view from the other side. Not coincidentally, there have been some media stories of late about the Republican reluctance to sieze on the Web as a tool to reach the public. It is all related; a lot of C-level execs are Republicans and technology makes them uncomfortable, so its better to outsource it and keep techies out of the boardroom. Out of sight, out of mind...while the rest of the world zooms by them.

Spaedie
Spaedie

When talking to managers (and yes, most of them are way to stupid to find a car when sitting in it), the best way to go for a techie is to prepare himself for a management discussion. Write down everything that can be interesting to make your point, but do so in a clear way. Let's just say, when you can totally explain what you're doing to your parents, it shouldn't be too hard to tell managers (that probably have some insight into the matter) what you're capable of. And indeed. You can't be the expert when moving up the ladder. You need to be a library of expertise to everyone around you. And you need to keep friends with people who can be most devastating to your complete career. If you can't make that switch, then don't go thinking about moving up the ladder. Because unless you're really that good, showing 'a better way' is the biggest chance of ruining everything.

deICERAY
deICERAY

Nice idea if you work in a company that big, but most of us don't so I found this article all but irrelevant to my situation - there are 10 people in my current work, there were 100 in my previous work, and I was THE department, no one knew what I did, or was remotely qualified to do it, so any advice here was and is useless for me. Well written though.

jcstandley2
jcstandley2

I agree that techies sometimes have a hard time communicating with others. One solution would be try explaining technical information in a simple maner using a coach or take communication classes. Once you change your style of communication then move to another company, because the your present company will not notice that you have changed.

suhaif
suhaif

Well it happend with me. I had started and established the complete IT Operation in the Kingdom (Saudi Arabia) but when the job was completed and the company wanted to build a Hierachy where an IT Manager fits i was totally ignored. When i raised a question of not been selected as the IT Manager i was told that the company is looking for an Native Arabic Speaking! (Which I not). Even though the boss which i have right now is not even worth being a manager. My Staff (Non Arabic speaker) has better communication skills than him.

g01d4
g01d4

They're managing technical people. Otherwise they're not going "to have a firm understanding of what's going on in [their] IT shop". No way 'round it. Of course they've also got to be motivated to manage but the two are not mutually exclusive.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

There are some techies that seem to be able to move into management, but for the most part, we're horrible at it. Why? 1) Bad at seeing the forest for the trees or vice versa. Techies are typically detail oriented or high level, but not usually able to do both. 2) We're horrible with politics. We don't play the political game well because we're mostly too directed and would rather get to the solution than save feelings. Personally, I think this is a far more efficient way to run businesses, but it seems the rest of the non-techie work disagrees with me. 3) We're too ready to move to the next technology. 4) The bottom line isn't as important as the employee(s). I've noticed IT workers typically care about their peers more than the average manager. What does this mean? We'd rather hang on to the deadwood than fire them (unless they are grossly incompetent.) We're usually helpers (although a little rough around the edges) and like to HELP people rather than hurt people (or what we think is hurting people). What's your take?

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

.. especially in Aerospace in my experience. Once you have reached the most senior engineering position the only place to go next is to management. Promoting your best engineers to management acheives 2 things: - a drop in the level of engineering skills. - an increase in the incompetance of company management. I never got the whole promotion game. If I'm doing a good job, keep me doing the same good job and give me more money. Les.

drdosus
drdosus

is the way it happens in the real world. No matter what you have been told or think that you know, those who suck up to the boss get the gravy. Everywhere. Every time.

devin.fessler
devin.fessler

A former boss of mine once said ; If you make yourself irreplaceable, you are making yourself unpromotable!

meryllogue
meryllogue

Why do so many posters on these sites rail on about how stupid managers are? It's too bad you don't have the skillset to take a walk in their shoes for a while. Most of them have pressures and issues you can't even imagine. Just because a decision isn't right for you does NOT mean it was also wrong for the entire division/company. There are a hundred-and-one different angles to every decision that anyone who is NOT in management will never know or even suspect. Have some respect, you guys!

guyvii
guyvii

yes, but one day you (or others reading this article)may want to work for a larger company. To move up, you have to plan now. IMHO

professordnm
professordnm

Excellent observation and, unfortunately, woefully true. To paraphrase Jesus, 'A changed techie will no longer be welcome in his home company.'

terrybaughman
terrybaughman

You may very well be correct as to why the company did not promote you. However, may I point out a few "promotion killers" you (and many other IT Pro's may not be aware off)? Let me explain that I do not mean to be critical in a destructive way; rather, it should be viewed as constructive criticism. First, did you actually read what you had written before posting it? Had you done so it would have been quickly apparent that: 1) Your usage of English grammar is poor; 2) There were run-on sentences; 3) More than one sentence was not a correct statement and had no meaning, and fourth; Your spelling needs improvement. These weaknesses are not so much with you as they are with us "technical people." Before coming to IT, I worked as a chemist and had a poor grasp of composition. In that capacity I had to write many reports that, in all honesty were grammatically horrendous. Some of those reports were read by senior management and I was passed up for promotion more than once. After obtaining a second degree in Secondary Education, my communication skills improved greatly. It was at that point I realized "why" no promotion had ever come to me: My communications skills were not only poor but were an embarrassment to management. I write this out of no desire to insult you, but rather to suggest another perspective. You may indeed have been passed over for the reasons stated, but give yourself an "advantage" over others by learning good verbal & written skills - and that includes grammar and style in writing. Good luck!

woomyse
woomyse

What the tribe wants... I too have experienced the language issue in Quebec Canada.

wolf_47
wolf_47

Has anyone considered the possibility that this experience could have happened to anyone regardless of skill or capability. I have the suspicion that more often than not Saudi Arabia is rife with nepotism.

Axotls
Axotls

Managers are not always dumb, they are where they are for some reason. Once you reach a certain level of expertise you need to either have some excellent people skills / finesse, plans on learning them (acquired skill over time, not something learned overnight) or realize you will be tucked away in a support role hole forever. People are not promoted because they are the best at what they do, they are promoted because they are well liked and they have no spine when it comes to OT.

professordnm
professordnm

Your comment as to the reality of the article, and specifically your comments about your present boss, upon reflection should tell you why you were passed over for promotion. You are too immature.

meryllogue
meryllogue

You really describe it well. I would add to your good points that the "save feelings" is crucial to business because ultimately, business is about relationships. And relationships are driven by the pyschological makeup of those in them. And that is simply unavoidable. So learning enough to save feelings in business generates exactly the same rewards it does in your marriages, with siblings, etc.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I am the boss, at least of a fair size group. I've got some people who I consider friends on my team. and some who aren't - some are painfully introverted and shy, others, a bit hostile. I can't, and I don't play favorites. I have to justify every promotion, every raise and every bonus check, to my boss and to HR. I have to justify with facts and numbers. James

wrlang
wrlang

A person who is irreplaceable is a single point of failure for a company (depending on their job duties). Eventually everyone leaves, retires, or dies. So if someone is truly irreplaceable, then the business managers have not done their due diligence in protecting the company. I don't know anyone who is truly irreplaceable.

ddmcp2000
ddmcp2000

Sorry, Devin... I just said the same thing at the end... Must be true, then?

michael.brodock
michael.brodock

First off, I don't care to move into management since I have had to manage over 100 people before albeit in the military, which has its own vices. However, having worked in the civilian world for almost 20 years now in IT and at a few companies, the Peter Principle seems to be in effect. That is, the incompetent get promoted so that they don't do as much damage, whereas in the military, the incompetent get expelled. Having said that, it is extremely frustrating to see technical decisions being made by people who are not qualified to make them (e.g.: managers) and honestly I don't care about the 100 other angles they have to consider because 99 of them are based on someone else's ego (of course at this point you will probably think the last 1 is my ego). :) There is a best way to do things in almost every case. There are other ways to do things besides. The point is when it seems that decisions are made in a vacuum of knowledge, but the decision makers need to explain why they went that way. It is not sufficient to say 'because I am the boss'. That doesn't really work even in the military where you need to explain before and afterwards why things are done. In the heat of the moment, people need to trust you to make the right decisions and obey them quickly. Projects and implementations are not like that. You have plenty of time to discuss and explain the direction, yet it seems that management doesn't communicate and doesn't think they need to explain. My take on that is because they can't and if you can't explain why you made a decision, then you have no place in making it. That is where techies and management usually diverge. Management are deal makers and hand shakers, but that doesn't fly in the trenches. You live or die by your design (strategy and tactics).

PsiFiScout
PsiFiScout

I have been in management, but currently work as a techie (by choice). I retired from the management position and do tech work to keep busy. As a casual observer, of sorts, I see things others do not. I work for a major technology company, and while not all is amiss here, there is a fair amount of nepotism present as well as people being "promoted into incompetence" because of who (not what) they know. I am also amazed at how businesses cover up the incompetence of some by changing the standards to meet the skills (or lack thereof) of the people who work on projects. I am out of management and happy about it, since lowering my moral standards is not worth the extra pay.

domiller0550
domiller0550

If the person would have read the article he would have seen that the meat of the article says you need to win friends and influence people. A lot of techie's do and will talk in the negative about partners and then wonder why the promotions don't come.

meryllogue
meryllogue

Why so derogatory? I have people skills, I have technical skills, AND I only work OT where it is actually going to HELP get us to where we need to go. That would be "crunch time" in Projectlandia. Nearing a deadline, milestone, budget review, boss controling the purse asked for a special delivery, etc. But normally, I have plenty of "spine" and work my 40, and I don't turn that laptop on until 6 a.m. My time is my time, and it is how I stay fresh and happy at my job. This constant slamming managers just amazes me. Is this a spite thing? A feeling of inferiority masked by an air of superiority? I was a techie for a long time. I never got moved into the positions I wanted. It turned out to be a good thing; I started studying training, and between being a sharp techie AND a good trainer/developer, I got to travel the world. But when I finally started to see the bigger picture of our division (and predict the day of being laid off to the very week from 13 months in advance!), I started thinking like a manager. And then I became easier to work with, and more in demand by upper management on teams. And that was when my career finally started to grow. So look again within. Your current position hsa far more to do with you than it does with anyone else in this world. (That applies to both the professional and personal realms, by the way.) And ask yourself--before you hit that Post button--what kind of image you want us to have of you. Because that, dear subscriber, is 100% in YOUR control.

meryllogue
meryllogue

Not to mention his writing is a mess. It is "about communication" in this world. Clean it up!!!

michael.brodock
michael.brodock

1) I totally agree with this, however if you as a manager cannot give me a good rationale, then I am not going to accept your decision. That doesn't mean I won't implement it they way you want, nor will I say I told you so since you will learn or not learn on your own. As far as the 100 other angles, if you cannot come to grasp with the idea that there is a better way then you will be stuck in mediocrity and I can't help you. 2) while I would agree to this on a realistic level, I can't on a philosophical one. However, I do agree that one should propose multiple solutions if available. I will stress though that one of those solutions is best. The real problem is when the proposed solution is flawed at the start and management refuses to see that or can't. See point #1 3) I disagree. This to me is the used car salesman archtype. Stewardship (that is if everyone is actually interested in the company and not themselves) should preclude this and the final solution needs to be in the best interest of the company, and not because your neighbor or friend has something to sell the business you work for even if it isn't what is best. Sure, everyone has multiple motives but if you honestly assess them, I think you will agree that there is a best solution for the organization as a whole and not Mr. Dept Head who thinks that we should do this project totally on the merits that his golfing buddy will be able to pay his country club dues. 4) I can justify whatever I propose. That isn't the problem from my perspective but when others can't justify their proposal and we go ahead with it anyway. See #1. last comments: see #3, if everything is a people problem then you need to find the right people. Technical issues can kill a project quicker than the worst employee because replacing a several million dollar system is a lot harder than reorganizing your department, or worse being stuck with a system that doesn't do what you need it too because someone high up said to do it anyway. I do however totally agree that you need the end user to buy in to whatever system you are trying to feed them and the best way to do that is to make them a part of the process in determining what that better system is. Matter of fact, I don't even want to work on a system that the end users are not an authoritative entity in that project. Why? Because in the end, they are the ones using day in and day out and because I am the guy that will be looking them in the eye when things aren't as they should be. I really don't care what the Cxx's, VP's, Manager's and Supervisor's (unless of course they use that system daily as well) think about it as long as it gives them the reports they want and productivity is gained. I guess that is the difference between someone who wants to get things done right and someone who trys to make everyone happy. Sorry but the latter does no good except if you like to play golf, which I do not.

gnauschutz
gnauschutz

Interesting comment from our dear friend but I do disagree with some of your comments. Having also been in the military for over almost 9 years, both as a non-comm and then an officer, with people responsibility, department and responsibility of technical and non-technical projects, you could not be more wrong in some of your observations. I served as a paratrooper, and then transferred to the Air Force to undergo engineering studies. Through this it was very clear to me that I lacked an understanding of other aspects to enable me personally to operate more efficiently as an overall business and technology enabler, and would always remain a techie, and therefore undertook some further post graduate business skills training. I have worked in the commercial sector for almost 17 years and would encourage you to consider this. Often techies don?t communicate effectively to support their peers or their organisation?s internal and external stakeholders. They are often too driven in protecting their patch and possibly stroking their own egos as the specialists. These principals are prevalent anywhere, i.e. this may also impact an accountant who cannot understand why he/she was overlooked for a CFO position. Would you trust a bank clerk to run a bank or mutual fund? Finally, organisations need to operate as a team to be successful to harness everyone?s skills, and by you not wanting to move into management is also admirable as you certainly have a role to play as a technical specialist.

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

There are some simple truths that can lead to a better working relationship with one's boss. 1) If one wants a decision explained, one must accept the rationale behind the decision. One cannot ask the reason and then say "I don't care about the 100 other angles they have to consider..." 2) Recognize that there is more than one "best" way to do things. I expect my senior technical people to be able to present alternatives and speak intelligently concerning trade-offs. Accept alternative solutions. 3) In the end, all issues are people issues. People need to buy into whatever change or solution is suggested. So, yes, people's "egos" play a part in decision making. 4) If one wants a change or a new purchase, be prepared to justify it. It does not help me as a manager to push something if the requester goes off on a tizzy when I ask for a reason. I am not questioning his judgment, but I do need to present some rationale to get things approved. Remember most issues are people related. As a manager, I need to balance concerns and egos and often that takes time. Decisions rarely happen as quickly as I would like, and often times it is more important to get people to buy into a change than any of the technical details regarding the change.

Spaedie
Spaedie

I've been a projectmanager for years, so I do know what I'm talking about, since that does require the skills to get general management in line with your ideas. And stress. So overrated. But really, sometimes managers need to look at themselves as well. Because there is a lot of kissing up the chain and kicking down it. And I'm not talking about those who actually have company interest in mind. But a lot of managers are out there just to give themselves a hand on doing a fine job, but they don't have a clue. And yes, I can see the reverse point as well. People screaming blue murder that they didn't get a specific part of the project and then try to frustrate the same project or another. But in the end we need to work together. And really. When need be, I will make sure myself that the project finishes succesfully. Just to add my cents to the discussion. I've been on both ends of the chain and both have advantages and disadvantages. To start off, I'd say that people should start to actually communicate. Maybe that would help........

Axotls
Axotls

Let me state first that I worked my up from an hourly paid techie to a salaried IT Manager (staff of 9 techs, admins, and analysts) for a major corporation in the US, traveled the world and gained a lot of enterprise experience. I worked a lot of OT (at home and at work) which you must do if you are a manager and especially if you want to remain a strong technical manager. I was promoted for my skills and because I knew how to politic. Maybe you weren't promoted bacause you did not know how to play the "game"? I got tired of playing the "game" and resigned my position due to the fact I was told to fire people who had been with the company for 10+ yrs. The reason for wanting to fire these 3 individuals is due to the fact they were older and did not fit the new IT image the company wanted to display. I now own a consulting business as well as work full time as a contractor for a DoD / NASA supplier and paid hourly (bottom $ is much more than I made as a technical IT Manager) for what I do with my spine intact. Moral of the the story, be careful what you wish for as it may come true!

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

As you have only been on TR for a short time, I think you deserve to be cut some slack. Before flaming someone, please stop to think. It would be equally easy for someone to flame you. Consider reading this guide to Netiquette: www.albion.com/netiquette/corerules.html If that section seems a little overwhelming, at least read this page: http://www.albion.com/netiquette/rule1.html "Rule 1: Remember the human".

sestarr97
sestarr97

Have a good look at what he wrote and how it applies to the discussion, not just how he wrote in a language foreign to him (English)- he's talking about a requirement to speak another language (Arabic), nothing to do with your language. The guy is taking the time to discuss a universal issue and you still can't see the fact that IT is global. The first 'W' means this site is not just about your little pond. Open your eyes and your minds - this is what the site is about.

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