Soft Skills

Getting to the Next Promotion

Sonya Ware, Blue Beagle Consulting

Sometime in the first 5 years of your career, you may be getting a promotion. However, before a promotion takes place, you have to begin to walk as if you are already performing at the next level. This shouldn’t be because of self-entitlement, but rather a frame of mind, a way of being that trains others to see you at the next level. Ultimately, you are subtly branding yourself as being the next manager by exemplifying qualities seen in the next level, which includes performance. Below are some ways to do this in your day-to-day work.

Deliver beyond expectations. Have you ever purchased a sandwich and a drink only to be called back to the counter because the price also included a bag of chips or a cookie? It is a good feeling. You think to yourself, “This is a good value and I am pleasantly surprised.”

As you deliver your work, presentations, or reports, always give a little extra. If the request is for A, B, and C, think beyond this and include D and maybe even E. I once had a team member in a leadership team who embodied this way of being. I would ask her to extract data from a system so that I could evaluate it. She would give me the data in record time and share her analysis of the data: trends, categories, and observations. As you can imagine, this saved me a ton of time and gave me a starting point that I didn’t expect.

Dress the part: clothes, shoes, and hairstyle. I am not advocating that you spend a ton of money to dress like your boss. Rather, I am suggesting that you professionally express your personal style in a way that gains respect from others. There’s a reason we think we can judge a book by its cover! Consider a few staples in maximizing your presentation of yourself. Be sure to be cognizant of localized cultural expectations within your office.

Put your voice in the room early. Speak up in meetings. Early in my career, a leader pulled me to the side and whispered, “You have a brain in your head, use it, think! You can do this.”

I laugh about it now, but that whisper helped me early on to come to the table playing to win. In meetings, put your voice in the room early on in the first 10 to 15 minutes, even if it means summarizing what someone else has said for clarification. Ask questions; usually others also want to know the answer or have the same concern. You can start off by saying, “We are all curious to know…” Remember, you must be present to win!

Champion key behaviors. Every organization has champions. These are the folks who have the ear of the people in the organization. They are the grassroots heroes; the people that everyone loves to follow, listen to, and seek direction from. They are the ones who have a whole crowd outside of their office after major announcements. Everyone wants to know, “What did that mean?”

You can wield this power for negativity or positivity; I suggest the latter. Champion the key behaviors and initiatives that are directly aligned with the organization’s strategic direction. For example, be a champion for cost reduction, diversity and inclusiveness, globalization, and so on. Understand what is important to the senior leadership team and be a champion for those things. Get a good understanding and determine why it is important to the organization. Model the behavior and educate others at every opportunity.

Courageously give upwards feedback. A senior leader once shared her observation with me that no one ever gave her constructive feedback once she was promoted into higher ranks. Everyone wanted to be complimentary and be nice and avoided providing difficult feedback. As you may have guessed, she really appreciated it when someone told her the “truth.” While she did not always agree with it, she found it very insightful to understand how her behavior was perceived. This allowed her to manage changes in her behavior and change the perceptions that others had of her, to more favorable opinions.

The key in sharing upward feedback is to ensure that there is a relationship in place and that you ask if the leader wants feedback. One way that I like to ask permission is to simply state, “Do you want to know what I see?” This was a question shared with me many years ago and I never forgot it.

When sharing what you see, remember to only describe the behavior and never share your conclusion of the behavior. For example, “I noticed that when the team asked you a question, you stomped your foot, took in a deep breath, and raised your voice as you answered them.” As opposed to, “You seemed upset when the team asked you a question.” Remember, feedback is a gift.

Put your ideas on the map. Share your ideas, even those that seem way outside the box.  That said, be wise in what you decide is outside the box. I certainly don’t want my brain surgeon thinking outside the box on a critical routine procedure.

If you stay connected to industry organizations either as a member or visitor, you will no doubt have the inside scoop on broader trends happening across the industry as opposed to siloed, limited internal organizational information. This goes a long way in supporting your thoughts around new ideas that could infuse growth, innovation, and the organization’s bottom line. Also read trade magazines, blogs, and newsfeeds, such as SPE’s Journal of Petroleum Technology. Create peer relationships with colleagues in similar organizations. Find out what they are doing and how they are doing things, and most importantly why. Put your ideas on the map and if someone else takes credit, take pride in knowing that regardless of who took the credit, your idea was worthy to go forward.

By showing the key behaviors as the next leader in your company, whether as a technical expert, people manager, or both, you can make it easier for the current leadership to promote you. Remember that everyone you work with has the potential to be tomorrow’s leader, so treat everyone with respect. By exceeding expectations, championing key behaviors, and courageously giving feedback, you can progress your goals and help others up as well.


Sonya Ware is an entrepreneur and the founder of Blue Beagle Consulting. Her professional coaching practice focuses on the quest for living a more meaningful life. She has more than 20 years of experience, including roles as an IT and change management consultant, senior manager at Shell, and in other Fortune 500 companies. She is a graduate of the Life Purpose Institute and a student of Newfield Network’s Graduate Coaching program. She holds a BBA in Entrepreneurship from the University of Houston and a Master of Liberal Arts from the University of St. Thomas.