Have you ever been passed over for promotion, time and again, despite being a top performer? It’s frustrating beyond belief, isn’t it? Believe me, I know. I went through it myself at Google. I kept taking on more and more but there was no promotion in sight. It was baffling to me at the time. I kept telling myself that I was terrible at managing upwards but I’m not totally sure that was the cause of my stagnation. I had a brand issue. Recently, one of my clients (let’s call him John) was telling me how he was getting outstanding performance reviews and was considered a “rising star” in the department. He had been working in his current role for 3 years and had been exceeding expectations for a year straight. A few weeks after his review, John asked about next steps for promotion. All he heard were excuses for why that wouldn’t happen anytime soon.
When I probed more about the reasons, John told me his boss mentioned that there were only manager level roles to be promoted into but since he was an individual contributor (albeit a senior one), he didn’t feel he was ready for that yet. In the past year, John had been denied opportunities to lead teams, so he felt incredibly frustrated.
What this told me was that he had type cast himself as a stellar individual contributor and his boss wanted to keep it that way. Maybe this has happened to you too? You’re told that you need more experience in one way or another but when you ask for the opportunity to take it on, you’re not given the chance. So, how the heck are you supposed to be promoted in this no-win situation?
While there may be other reasons for not getting promoted, one strong possibility is that your brand may be standing in the way.
As I see it, your brand is a combination of your talents, skills, and values. Your talents are your natural gifts, the ones that nobody can teach you. Your values are core to who you are and what matters most to you. Your skills are what you have learned along the way that has given you expertise in certain areas.
The mistake most people make is they focus almost exclusively on showing off skills but not necessarily illuminate their talents. Skills are easier to translate and communicate to others. They seem more credible too, don’t they? But they can limit your ability to move and grow into new areas. If you are a superstar at doing something really well (a skill), why would your boss want to promote you and then have to find a replacement that may not deliver like you do?
The key is to be known for your talents, not your skills.
Imagine if your talents were thrust into the spotlight and you were able to show your potential for taking on ever expanding responsibilities due to your natural gifts. It is your responsibility to make your natural gifts known and to use them frequently. It is up to you to develop new skills that capitalize on your talents. Also, recognize that you need to train others to do what you do, so you can clear the way for taking on new responsibilities at the next level.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of your boss. How can you help them look good while also giving yourself a chance to stretch in a new direction? Can you offer to take something off their plate, which may give you an opportunity to shine in a different light?
Get creative about ways to re-brand yourself without losing sight of your talents and values.
If you’ve already tried this approach or feel that it’s too late to steer the ship in a new direction, it may be time to look for another job in a different department or another company altogether. Having a fresh slate gives you the opportunity to re-brand yourself and hit the reset button.
Lastly, don’t go for a lateral move, if it’s a promotion you seek. Go after jobs which are at the level you want to be at, not the one you're currently stuck in.
Flaunt those talents and show confidence that you can pick up the skills you don’t currently possess. After all, you can learn a skill but you can’t teach gifts. Future potential is based on having raw talent in the first place. Never forget that!