Getting a promotion takes strategy, patience, and your own undercover squad working on your behalf. I learned this the hard way. By 28, I thought I would've been a managing editor or publisher of a major mag. I was that good. Most would call that millennial arrogance; I called it confidence and receipts. So, I went up for a management position. It was my dream job.
I got slammed.
I thought I'd proven myself, gotten the traffic numbers, and added to the organization's bottom line in ways that were quantitative, not just anecdotal.
Then, I got a dose of reality: Someone at the company told me that several of the people who held major weight in deciding whether I'd be making $20,000 more a year and taking company trips thought I had a "bad attitude," and thus, would be "difficult to work with." She also said I needed to focus less on being this career-climbing worker bee and more on building great relationships with three key people:
The Motivational Mentor:
A mentor who has major workplace cred, management savvy, and an awesome network.
This person can give you the scoop on the latest interoffice or industry tea, leads on career-advancing opportunities, and advice on how to navigate environments with top-level professionals.
How to connect: I had great success with this while at work events or conferences. I'd skip sleeping in during my off time and, instead, go for a morning run, afternoon coffee, or after-session cocktail with an upper-level executive. Leave expectations and neediness at the door and come with an attitude of humility, understanding, and service. Also, be strategic in the events you attend or orgs you join. Not every happy hour, rally, or meet-up is worth your while.
Loves your initiative and is in charge of the projects that create impact and drive innovation at work.
How to connect: Volunteer to help plan that Susan G. Koman breast cancer event or help them add more digital savvy to that Power Point presentation for that next sales meeting. I loved being more intentional in doing this. Not only was I able to make more more work friends and change perceptions, but one influencer even told me at an event, "Girl, it's good to see you out here in your element. We never see you on the scene. Glad you're not the snob we thought you were."
Thanks for the real talk, sis. Mission accomplished.
The Closed-Door Advocate:
Has no problem recommending you for opportunities or vouching for you in closed-door meetings---because it makes them look good, too.
This person highly respects the tangible value you add to the company's bottom line and they love cultivating talent that the company can retain.
How to connect: Don't be afraid to spark a conversation in the elevator with your boss or the head of your department. Present new ideas or procedures that are relevant, solve problems, or save the company money. Find a way to make their highly stressful jobs a tad bit easier and get to know what makes them tick. Also, I learned to talk less and listen more. Successful leaders I've known typically never trust people they perceive as too chatty or know-it-alls.
None of this is about back-biting or scandal-style scheming. It's all about getting beyond your desk and into some real relationship-building that actually forges authentic connections, helps you grow as a person, and returns the favor through value-adding and innovation.
Talk about squad goals.
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