Passed Over for the Promotion! Now What?

Promotions are happening in an increasingly competitive environment. Organizations want more out of their employees and faster. The Baby Boomer generation, which is retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day, is creating leadership possibilities as organizations rethink their structure and design. A monumental effort to foster innovation in productivity requires contemporary skills, future and conceptual thinking, and energetic leadership with subject matter expertise. Younger—and still developing—leaders are anxious to accept increased responsibility and accountability for contributions now!

More organizations are looking internally to develop ready-now candidates for positions that need emerging talent in the next one to three years. DDJ Myers recommends at least two ready-now candidates per position, which means that only one person is promoted and the other receives the bad news. What is the best response when you find out someone else was offered the promotion you wanted? How do you save face, continue to contribute, and be seen as someone with confidence, self-efficacy, and as a valued contributor to the organization? The first step is to re-center after receiving the news. Feel your feet on the ground, let your breath move through your body, and remember your commitment to being seen as a leader. Ask the question: What is your leadership move? Do you ask for feedback? Do you wait until your manager explains why you were passed over? Or, do nothing? The action you take and how you take it will be long remembered.

Initiate a grounded assessment conversation with your manager. Scheduling such an appointment can be a scary task because of the vulnerability you face when engaging in a conversation about potential shortcomings. Some people brush off the bad news, become angry and hold resentment, or listen to the gremlin on the shoulder that says “you should have done better!” Create an opportunity for a clear understanding of what you need to develop in order not to be passed over the next time. This conversation is not one you want to have in an email or on the phone.

Participate in the conversation with self-efficacy, professionalism, and openness. Thanking your manager for the opportunity to be considered for a promotion and stating your commitment to the organization and career development are ideal openers. What are the top three things that are needed in your career path? Or, what is the single most important factor that was missing that prevented you from receiving the promotion?

The reason you didn't get the promotion might not be attributed to just one thing. Typically, the reason is a mixture of three or four components.

  1. Subject matter expertise: You might have expertise in a certain domain that's required to be promoted, yet it is not enough. Expertise and knowledge in more than one area is a requirement, and someone else might possess a broader range of proficiency. Executives and managers who are being promoted today or are hired from the outside have more than one area of subject-matter expertise.
  2. Leadership presence: The hardest quality to articulate, leadership presence, is about perspectives and your sense of self. One perspective is how you see yourself, who you are, and who you are becoming. Deeply rooted values, beliefs, and natural behaviors are starting points for a reflective practice regarding leadership presence. The second perspective is the impression that you make among others. Energy, language, mood, and commitment in action impact how others are impressed by your sense of self. Leadership presence is all about how others see and believe in you, the perception that others have of you, your deeply rooted credibility, and your ability to create and sustain connections. Do you make and keep powerful commitments? Do you embody the language of leadership? How developed is your emotional intelligence? Are you believable? Is vulnerability your friend? Do you ask for and listen to rigorous feedback?

    Building and maintaining leadership presence means you need to know who you are from the inside out and that person must match the impression you make on others. If there is a gap between your internal and external self, it leads to ambiguity, the impact on how relationships are built, and your capacity to connect in commitments with others.
  3. At the end of the meeting, thank your manager with a firm handshake (if that is your style) and a smile with direct eye contact. Whether or not you agree with the feedback does not matter at this moment because the origination of the feedback emanates from your manager's perspective.
  4. Design a career development plan: In our work at DDJ Myers, a Leadership Development Plan (LDP) is a requirement for each internal candidate with a future time horizon. For example, what is your three-year goal? What needs to happen in the next two-plus years for you to make that goal? What are your commitments to learning? What are you going to no longer do? How are you going to start developing others so that you can move forward? What resources are available and how will you find those that are outside the organization to help you on this path?
  5. One of my favorite exercises is to help internal and external candidates write their resume as if it was five years in the future. What's new on their resume in five years is a powerful reflection into self-accountability.

Once your LDP is completed with input from your manager, create milestones upon which to check in with your manager once a month. Make sure the LDP is a living, organic tool that is proactively implemented and sustained. A powerful career development commitment that is backed by relevant practices and meaningful support opens new possibilities and choices. Step into possibilities for your future with your commitment in action.