Old Ladder

Esther Gibbons via Compfight

To get a promotion, act as if you already hold the higher position.

It’s an age-old adage: you get the job title after you already are doing the job.

I experienced this early in my career. I was Assistant to the Director of a department at a large non-profit. I wanted the title of Assistant Director. By the time I got agreement from my boss, I’d been acting like an Assistant Director for months. And when we went to the COO to ask for the promotion, he said “of course – you’ve been doing that job for a while and have just been waiting for you to ask.” It was a no-brainer. I didn’t have to prove myself, because I already had.

Here’s what I had to do: let go of my old way of being, thinking and acting. Take on the behavior and attitude of a more senior manager and organizational leader – someone who:

  • co-owns the work
  • anticipates instead of only responding
  • initiates and leads projects and solves problems
  • corrals people and organizes resources without prompting
  • meets the need higher-ups have for less worry, less tracking, less oversight
  • shoulders some of the burden of responsibility.

Getting more responsibility and prestige is only part of a promotion. There is a mental shift involved in taking on a higher position.

I needed to stop expecting things to be handed to me. I had to stop feeling entitled to recognition and gratitude. I had to stop expecting to be rewarded for the job I was doing. I needed to let go of my resentment that I had to ask for a promotion, and that my boss expected me to prove myself.

Eventually I got over myself and realized I needed to prove to myself that I could handle greater responsibility. I accepted that I would need to build a case for a promotion and more money, that they wouldn’t just be handed to me because I was doing my job. I came to realize that I only would get rewarded for doing the job without expectation of reward.

It took about a year. And when I got the promotion and raise, it was clear to me that they were an acknowledgement that I really could handle the responsibility. I had shown my value by doing the work.

Think about sports competitions. Tennis players don’t get the prize money until they’ve won the match. Golf players don’t get money and Ryder cup points until they finish the tournament. They earn their reward after working incredibly hard and showing the world and themselves that they have what it takes to win.

That’s how to get a promotion – think of it as the result of doing the work, proving yourself through your performance.