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Inspired Workplace Q&A – Why Can’t I Get Promoted?

Photo by Josh Harper

Photo by Josh Harper

Q: I am a middle manager in a mid-sized technology company.  For the last three years, I have received an “exceeds expectations” on my reviews.  I am at the top of my job grade (band), and I’ve applied for positions with higher responsibility twice.  Both times, I was passed over.  Once, it was for an external candidate who’s now come and gone.  That time, my manager told me that the company was looking for someone “more seasoned.  “The second time, the position went to one of my peers whom I don’t think was as qualified.  The excuse they gave me was that I needed to improve my communication skills.  I’ve always been known as being an excellent communicator both verbal and written.  What’s going on?

A:  I can understand how frustrated you must be, and I hear this a lot from middle managers.  They’re working harder than ever, and they feel like they aren’t reaping the rewards.

I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but from my experience wokring with executives and middle managers I can help you to get to the bottom of this.

Let’s start with the issue of honest feedback.  One of the things I work with my clients on is giving feedback in a way that the recipient can hear it.  Many times, managers just don’t want to deliver bad news.  And so, they use code phrases like “more maturity,” “more seasoned,” or “better communication skills.”  This isn’t helpful for you, nor does it help them develop the kind of leader they’re going to need for the long term, but there you have it.

You need that feedback. So, how are you going to get it?

First, you have to take a hard look at you.  Can you take hearing what may be said without becoming upset of defensive?  If not, that’s something to work on, because someone who doesn’t like themselves when they have to deliver bad news will shut off as soon as they see your discomfort.

Second, schedule time with your manager and anyone else your manager might think would be helpful and ask them for their candor.  Schedule time with trusted peers (and make sure it doesn’t degenerate into a gripe-fest).

Good questions to ask:

  • “What exactly did you mean when you said that I needed more seasoning?”
  • “How can I demonstrate better communication skills?”
  • “What do I need to develop to get to the next level?”
  • (My favorite) “What do I need to develop to help you shine more brightly?”

Do your best to get some specifics.  Be patient, this may take some time, especially if you’ve been known to be reactive in the past.  And, if you have been known to be reactive in the past, this is something that will hold you back.  This may, in fact, be “it.”

Finally, listen carefully in these conversations for experience and behaviors that you may need to develop.  Sometimes they too are communicated in vagaries, so it’s up to you to stay curious and keep asking for clarification.

Best of luck, and Be Your Best You Today,


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