In his explanation of power and ruling, Plato’s infamous “philosopher king” idea goes something like this: Those who don’t deserve power will always make open bids to reach for it, usurp it, crave it and pursue it. Those who truly should be in power…are precisely those who will shy away from its open pursuit.
Merit-based promotions relying on more than just “competence” seem far-fetched, an idea discussed only at after-work functions and cocktail parties, typically after the third drink.
Of course, you don’t need any social lubricant to observe this phenomenon, especially as you aspire to the upper rungs of your company while watching less qualified colleagues advance. The reality seems to be, even if politically incorrect, that idiots are getting promoted instead of you. Ever wonder why that is?
Here are five issues you’d want to address to close the gap between your ambition and reality, and bring you closer to the next promotion:
Kill Your Entitlement
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks – but you’re certainly going to have trouble teaching an entitled dog anything at all.
This is one of the hardest things to quash since a sense of entitlement is tied so closely to one’s ego. And, thanks to Freud, we all know what a little nuisance that thing can be.
Entitlement plays out in the workplace as expectation and assumption. You expect that certain things will be given to you because you come from a particular place. Perhaps you have a particular degree from a particular institution that you think makes you far more valuable than the Joe Schmoe who was promoted last week.
Knowing you’re worthy of a promotion is different than expecting it. When you know something, you actively work towards it. When you expect it, you twiddle your thumbs and wait for it to be delivered to you. Address this mindset and it will be the first step to gaining a promotion. To kill entitlement, you must take nothing for granted. Do the hard work regardless of what you think you deserve.
I’m Wrong – You’re Right
Nobody likes a brown-noser, a “yes” man. But if you consider yourself a smart worker, you owe it to your boss to challenge the popular opinion and point out inefficiencies. Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions and conceptions, especially in team meetings. This not only shows that you’re a team player, willing to get involved in a collaborative process for a better end result, it also demonstrates that you understand that differing opinions or “conflict” produce an outcome that is far more robust than had it not been challenged at all.
This is emotional intelligence at its finest and this trait is invaluable. It cannot be quantified or taught but it can be practiced by you and sensed by others – especially when it comes time to get promoted.
Nothing Is Below You – Ask How You Can Help
This goes right back to entitlement. Humility in the workplace does not mean you have to take a backseat; not voice your expertise or opinions or dumb it down. It does, however, mean that you should look for opportunities to check in and communicate. Arrive with an attitude of openness and more than simply “competence”.
You can absolutely go above and beyond without being the “keener” in the group by simply asking how you can help further. If you’ve handled tasks assigned to you, ask your co-workers if they’d like to delegate something to you or if they’d like to bounce ideas off you.
Camaraderie and workplace bonds aside, this willingness to take up any role or task is sure to help you get promoted as it demonstrates your main priority is the successful outcome of the project and the company’s greater good.
Sent Does Not Mean Received
Says Jean Paul Sartre of the act of reading: that it is a shared experience necessitating the bond of trust between author and reader. So it is with communication. There are two parts to every successful moment and piece of communication.
So what does this mean for a workplace environment where productivity is heralded as the Golden Rule? Certainly, there needs to be a balance between productivity – actually getting work done – and downtime. But, even more important than this, and particularly conducive to promotions, communication requires an active response.
It can be all too easy for so-called “smart” people or creative thinkers to burrow deep and focus in order to get work done and maintain productivity, especially when deadlines are tight. But a lack of communication can spell disaster for a team that should be working in tandem, even if their roles are distinct.
The bottom line is that just because you may have communicated with your team or upper/senior management, don’t necessarily assume the message was received. Pop by their office or send a quick email asking for approval or giving a heads up.
Oftentimes, smart individuals who deserve promotions think (wrongly) that their work will speak for themselves.
They also have a distinct aversion to touting their own horn, so to speak, for fear that it will seem like they’ve been hit with the braggart stick.
But guess what? That idiot you see getting promoted? He’s doing self-promoting shamelessly, loudly and often. And you should too – only, there’s a much more refined way of doing it and you don’t need to lose self-respect in the process.
First off, work on things you can show at the end of the week or in status meetings. This also means you handily avoid decision fatigue (“should I work on X or Y?”) by choosing to work on things that you can show to teammates and senior management first.
It’s not enough to do the work. You need to show it has been done. If that means multiple iterations of the same project or task, so be it. The point is to stick out, however subtly, in people’s minds.
The next tactic is to work where people can see you. Grab portions of your work and migrate it to your work laptop. Work in large conference rooms or common spaces, rather than buried at your desk. Work in teams of two and three so you can brainstorm together, exchange expertise or prototype faster. Regardless, you want to be physically visible.
By now you will have noticed that these strategies are a mix of actionable tactics and mindset. Getting promoted is exactly what you make of it. It all comes down to your approach and attitude. These determine 80% of the progress you make – not only quantity but quality. The truth is that ambition, drive, knowledge and expertise will only take you so far. But upward mobility and long-term growth are always and forever going to be predicated on your attitude. This is what will truly close the gap between your desire and reality.
Sarah Merekar is primarily a storyteller who loves to work with and in several different mediums, on various platforms and see how these co-exist and complement each other. She loves hacking product sales and understanding how content creation has an effect on this process. The content she creates for clients is high quality, highly tailored, and on brand, specifically in the form of digital & brand copywriting, design and video.