Context. This one thing makes all the difference between getting promoted and remaining stuck in your current role. Not hard work. Not sucking up. Not loyalty. Just context.
There's no mystery at the higher levels of most organizations, no secret club or handshake. The more senior a manager, the broader the sphere they're required to operate in and influence. It's really that simple. The hard part is that most people do the job they're in today with blinders on, never poking their head up to see what's around and next. Here's the harsh truth: you'll never get promoted by doing your current job well.
You may have heard this advice put another way: do the job you want, not the job you have. Wise words. You need to demonstrate you're able to take the next step before you actually do. To most, this is unfair and creates more work, so they don't try. As a result, they remain stuck.
Here's the harsh truth: you'll never get promoted by doing your current job well.
But you're not one of those stuck people. You're comfortable with stretching, you're interested in expanding your role and growing your career. So how do you cultivate a broader context? Use these three simple actions to put yourself in your manager's shoes.
Read Like A Manager
If you're an individual contributor, seek out and find materials - books, blog posts, trade articles, etc. - geared at first time or seasoned people/resource managers. You can peruse Amazon, check out popular sites like Harvard Business Review (HBR), or simply ask your manager what books they recommend.
If you're already a people manager aspiring to a Director/VP level, the most important thing to realize is this doesn't just mean managing a larger group of people. You become an officer of the company, charged with setting and executing strategy, managing finances, and identifying and mitigating risk. Seek out materials and coaching that focus on strategy, business, and being an intrapreneur.
Context cues are everywhere if you listen to what your manager and senior management says, writes, and - as important - doesn't say. Most employees' eyes glaze over when their managers start talking about strategy, priorities, and market forces, but these are exactly the areas where you need to pay most attention. But it's not enough to just parrot these back to your boss. No one likes a Yes Man or Woman.
Take the time to think through what their words really mean, internalize them, make thoughtful comments that connect the dots across domains or industries. So few people really understand and can articulate company or department strategy. You'll stand out from the crowd if you can do so.
Step Into Your Boss's Shoes
Nothing shows you're ready for the big time like filling in for your boss while he or she is out of the office. Hopefully they take some vacation, but if they don't, you can also offer to cover while they're on business trips.
So few people really understand and can articulate company or department strategy. You'll stand out from the crowd if you can do so.
The biggest mistake people make when filling in for their manager is being too timid and treating it like they're just minding the store. You've been "deputized", take full advantage of it. Stand in for your manager at meetings, find reasons and time to connect with your manager's boss, take action on time-sensitive items rather than trying to push off a decision until your boss returns. If you truly step into their shoes, you demonstrate to his or her boss and peers that you're ready for more.
With the right focus on context and consistent digging to find and internalize it, you can show your organization you're ready for a new, more demanding challenge. The bar (unfortunately) is pretty low, so if you take the initiative and can demonstrate your value in a broadened context, you'll be ready for the big time in no time.
Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
Leading Change by John Kotter