I work with a lot of achievers, and a question I’m often asked is, “How do I get promoted, and keep advancing?”

Well, you can’t promote yourself, but you can put yourself in a position to be promotion-ready, and by that I mean three things.

1. Have Your Existing Job “In A Box”

Preferably with a bow tied around it. That means achieving the goal that you agreed to achieve when you took on the role, and getting it into a position of stability, so that you can point to some accomplishments and say, “Hey, my work here is done.”

2. Stop Being Indispensable For Where You Are

When you are having to be in every meeting, being involved in every single thing, that means you are stuck where you are.

Instead, you want to be creating a bench, building the talent pool beneath you, having a succession plan and a set of options, two or three people that you’re bringing along who could one day take over your role.

3. Start Being Indispensable For What You Can Become

This is helping others to see your potential to succeed in future roles. Now, if you know what those future roles are then the simplest thing is to start demonstrating some of the elements right now.

As an example, when I was a senior VP/junior Executive Director, I was executing deals that the Managing Directors brought in. But I knew that the next step was to demonstrate that I too could hunt, I too could bring in business by calling on clients on my own.

So when the opportunity came up to do some cold-calling in a completely new region where there was really no downside, I put my hand up, and started smiling and dialling, set up some meetings, got in a rental car, drove around and met with these potential clients.

It turned out to be kind of fun but, more importantly, or equally importantly, the MDs were really impressed, and I got a lot of kudos because they could start to envision me in that next role.

The Three Components Of Potential

More broadly, I like to think of potential through the definition that I read in Claudio Fernández-Aráoz’s book (“Great People Decisions”). Claudio Fernández-Aráoz is an expert on hiring and promotion, and he defines potential as follows:

“When an individual has the ability to grow significantly in the future and therefore take on larger challenges.”

– Claudio Fernández-Aráoz

He talks about three components of potential:

1. Ambition

  • Are you hungry?
  • Do you have longer range aspirations?

2. Ability to learn from your experiences

  • Do you learn from your mistakes?
  • Do you take risk?
  • Do you seek opportunities to learn and grow?
  • Do you seek and use feedback?
  • Are you open to criticism?

3. Future oriented competencies

  • Having a strategic orientation
  • Having a results orientation
  • Being able to lead change

Taken together, I like to think of these elements that Claudio Fernández-Aráoz talks about as portable skills That’s because these are skills that you can use wherever you are, well into the future, and the best things is, they travel with you so you’re always going to be able to leverage them.

So, stepping back, when I think of the three aspects of making yourself promotion ready, I think of the analogy of being on a ship.

The first point about “getting your job in a box”, that’s like being the captain of the ship and making sure the ship is in shape.

The second point about “stop being indispensable where you are” is like being the captain of the ship, you’re standing on the deck and you do not want to be holding on to the anchor – you want to have somebody you can pass the anchor off too.

Because the third step, “start to be indispensable for what you can become”, that’s like being the captain on the deck, you’ve handed off the anchor because you are now seeking and attracting the future opportunities, and I think of a helicopter.

So, you want to be able to attract that helicopter and get in the helicopter and take off. If you’re holding on to that anchor of your current role then that helicopter isn’t going to be able to get off the deck.

Start Making Yourself Promotion-Ready

The good news in all of this is there are things you can be doing in all three of these elements right now, and you don’t have to take it sequentially.

So, get out there and start making yourself promotion-ready:

  • Do the very best job you can in the role at hand
  • Build a bench of talent beneath you
  • Keep learning and growing, and
  • Invest in those portable skills

I’ll leave you with this question:

Where do you stand on the promotion front, and what would most help you prepare for that next step up?