With Martin G. Moore

Episode #289

Improving Your Promotion Prospects: Getting to the next level

Although every episode of No Bullsh!t Leadership is peppered with practical guidance on how to improve your leadership confidence and performance, I’ve never given you the specific recipe for improving your promotion prospects — until now!

In this episode, I lay out a holistic inventory of the things that contribute to your promotability.

As you listen, you can make a mental note of the areas where you think you have a pretty good handle on things, and the areas where you may still be a little weak, or need to focus more attention.

I’ve managed to condense my thinking into the 10 key areas that affect your promotability. I go into each one in turn, in just enough detail to describe clearly what that area is and, wherever possible, I provide you with links to the podcast episodes in our back catalog that give a more in-depth treatment of that particular area.

If you really want to get serious about improving your promotion prospects, download our free PDF companion resource, which will enable you to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses through the lens of what your organization values most.

And, if you’re a business owner, don’t skip over this one, whatever you do! It’s an essential checklist of the precise capabilities, attitudes, and behaviors that you’re looking for in the people you’re hiring.


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Episode #289 Improving Your Promotion Prospects: Getting to the next level


If you are reading this, I know a few things about you that are probably true:

  • You have a thirst for self-improvement;

  • You’re ambitious;

  • You’re prepared to work hard towards worthwhile goals; and

  • You’re not waiting for someone else to make it happen for you.

I was fortunate to have an incredibly fulfilling executive career. After arguably starting a little bit behind the eight-ball, I eventually became the CEO of a multi-billion dollar industrial business. To do that, I had to win quite a few promotions in several different companies.

Although every episode of the No Bullshit Leadership podcast is peppered with practical leadership tools and strategies, I’ve never given you the specific recipe for improving your promotion prospects – until now.

In this newsletter, I lay out a holistic inventory of the things that are going to contribute to your promotability. As you read, you can make a mental note of the areas where you think you have a pretty good handle on things and the areas where you may still be a little weak or need to focus more attention.

If you really want to get serious about improving your promotion prospects, you can also download our free PDF Companion resource, The 10 Ingredients That Determine Your Promotability, which will enable you to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses through the lens of what your organization and your boss value the most.

Today’s episode is pretty simple. I’ve condensed my thinking into the 10 key areas that affect your promotability. I go into each one in turn in just enough detail to describe clearly what that area is and wherever possible, I provide you with links to the podcast episodes in our back catalog that are going to give you a more in-depth treatment of that particular area.

From there, you can decide what you need to do to improve your promotion prospects.


Before we get into my 10 vital ingredients in the promotability mix, a word of caution – if we pay too much attention to the saturation coverage in the media since the start of this decade, we could easily convince ourselves that everyone is seeking balance, purpose, and harmony, above all else… that there’s more to life than just work (which, of course, is true)!

But don’t let this lull you into a false sense of security when you’re positioning for your next promotion. While the world embraces the shift from competitiveness to human connection, just remember one thing: career progression is a contact sport.

If you convince yourself that seeking balance and paying less attention to your career won’t hurt your promotion prospects, you’d be mistaken. There are still loads of ambitious, hard working leaders out there who are tenaciously focused on getting to the next level. They’re the ones who get the promotions, more often than not, so there’s no point in bullsh!tting ourselves about that fact.

That being said, have you ever been passed over for promotion, believing you’ve done everything right, and think, “What the…!? How on earth did that happen?” Well, you wouldn’t be the first. That happened to me a bunch of times before I decided to deconstruct what these people were doing to win the promotion. It wasn’t just politics, but it wasn’t just performance either.

To think about it more clearly, I had to let go of one limiting belief which was holding me back – but it was seductively easy to hang onto: that the person who decided whom to promote was either an idiot, or was somehow fooled by an ambitious (but unworthy candidate). To an extent, that may even be true, but it’s not particularly helpful. And it’s not until I chose to let go of that assumption that I began to analyze these situations in a more useful fashion.

Virtually everyone who makes a promotion decision does so based on their own worldview. They look through the lens of the things that they value the most. And, let’s face it, we all tend to hire and promote in our own image.

For example, it’s no surprise that a highly technical, task-focused leader will see and value those same attributes in the people whom they’re considering for promotion. They’re likely to overlook many issues when they’re deciding who they’re going to promote. Issues like:

  • Ineffective leadership;

  • Lack of team capability or performance;

  • Poor communication skills; or

  • Lack of commercial acumen.

If they value technical excellence above results, they can often make decisions that are questionable, to say the least. But, even in the absence of performance, they wouldn’t necessarily think that they’d made a poor decision.

All this to say, of course, that every situation is indeed different, and that’s even if we only factor in the variable of who the decision maker is. The extent to which each of the 10 promotability factors is relevant depends upon the culture of the organization and the standards that it chooses to uphold, as well as the individual values of the decision maker.

The only way to work this out is by observing these things in your day-to-day environment over a period of time. That may provide some clues as to why you’re not being earmarked for the promotions you think you deserve.

To make this whole thing easier for you, we’ve put together a free PDF resource that you can download to help you keep track of the areas where you may wish to focus your attention in the future. It’s an absolute cracker because it doesn’t just give you the opportunity for self-reflection: it also enables you to map your perceptions of how much value the organization places on each of these characteristics.

We’ve set the resource up so that you can use it for a basic SWOT analysis:

  • Which areas am I weak in, but the organization considers to be important;

  • Which areas am I strong in that the organization doesn’t particularly value?


Although there’s a wide-ranging perception that incompetent people are often promoted, that’s not generally my experience. The more common scenario is that people who are extremely competent at their current level just don’t have the skills, temperament, and capability to perform at the next level up.

Returning to the example where the brilliant technical person who’s undoubtedly competent in their current role is promoted, they may not be able to perform in a leadership role. They may just lack the fundamental ability and emotional intelligence to harness their team’s talent. This is virtually a cliché in the world of talent management.

Credibility is critical for strong leadership. It underpins trust, and it begins with competence.

And it doesn’t matter whether you work for a listed company, a not-for-profit organization, or an NGO, achieving profitable growth, meeting your customer’s needs, and delivering value for all your stakeholders should be common themes.

The complementary skillset that you must have in order to convey your competence is high order communication skills. Your ability to communicate effectively will either massively add to, or massively detract from people’s perceptions of how competent you are.

The episode that I think is most useful here in our back catalog is Ep.243, Credibility, The Hallmark of Great Leaders.


I cannot tell you the number of leaders over the years who’ve told me that they “build high performing teams.” Mostly, this is just talk: many leaders, if you press them, can’t even clearly articulate what a high performing team looks like.

I used to push these leaders mercilessly in interviews to see if they had any idea of what performance is, and how to lead a team to superior performance.

But these days I’m trying to be a better person, and I’ve come to realize that many people simply use different criteria to assess what high performance is. Many would consider that a team where everyone gets on, collaborates, and reaches consensus easily is a high performing team.


That team, by definition, is likely to be mediocre. You just have to look through one important lens: high performing teams have to achieve measurably better results. Not just compared to the team sitting in the cubicle farm next to them, but compared to other teams and companies in the same industry against which they’re competing.

Performance is about results and outcomes. If you perform well and deliver superior outcomes, it’s going to be noticed, and that tends to nullify a lot of the speculation and chatter. It may also attract vicious politics from those who aren’t performing. But that’s a different matter.

To improve your promotion prospects, focus on leading your team to superior performance. For more depth on the role that performance plays, have a listen to Ep.2: Building a High Performing Team.


One of the most common traits of people who get promoted is their resilience. They learn to withstand the challenges, setbacks, disappointments, and obstacles that they face in their daily work. They’re not flaky and they can absorb pressure from above. This also incorporates the concept of work ethic.

I’m not suggesting you become a workaholic, but your work ethic is a critical companion to your performance. Working to the clock is a rookie error, if you want to be promoted. You’ve got to work to the outcomes.

Of course, not every leader who appears to be resilient is actually that resilient. Often, there’s a massive disparity between what someone displays on the outside and what’s going on for them on the inside.

Having complete congruence – being calm and rational in the most difficult, high-stakes situations – is what I call grace under pressure. Not many leaders have it.

One thing I will say is that, in the absence of your ability to handle pressure at your current level, your boss is going to think twice about promoting you.

In my view, the most damaging behavior comes from what I call the catatonic leaders. These are the leaders who freeze, go into hiding, and can’t make decisions in the heat of battle. During my corporate executive career, I found that I had to free up quite a few of these leaders so that they could be successful in another organization.

One of the most useful resources I’ve produced on resilience is, Ep.228: Resilience Myths.


Great leaders focus tirelessly on extracting maximum performance from every individual in their team. There’s a complex cocktail of leadership competencies involved here, because it’s all about leverage.

How do you make the most of what you’ve got? The first principle is that you have to be prepared to do the hard yards to build the right team. This is something that many leaders simply aren’t prepared to do… yet they wonder why promotions elude them!

You have to get your head around the fact that, instead of increasing your own effort and performance by, say 10%, the real gold is in being able to get 10% more from everyone in your team. The performance multiple is staggering, if you can manage to build your capability and develop your talent.

For this promotability ingredient, you might find Ep.24: Building Organizational Capability useful.


This is a critical skill that leaders need to master and the mantra, don’t dip down, should always be in the back of your mind. You will constantly have to make choices about how involved you become in the work of your people.

There’s always a balance to strike: You have to know how to support and coach your people, while still holding them to account for doing the jobs that they’re being paid to do. And it definitely takes some trial and error – every individual’s different.

Every minute you spend doing the job for one of your people is a minute you are not doing your own job. And as you over-function for the people who are either incapable or unwilling to deliver the results to the appropriate standard, you become a workhorse. You have no time to focus on the leadership disciplines that make a difference to team performance. You’re overworked and, eventually, you’re going to burn out.

To dive deeper into this ingredient, have a listen to Ep.7: Working at the Right Level.


To be considered promotable, particularly once you get beyond those early frontline leader roles, most organizations like to see some capacity for strategic thinking. We know this can mean a lot of different things, but the easiest way to describe it is that you have to show that you understand the issues that exercise your boss’s mind.

In the previous ingredient I spoke about the fact that if you dip down, you run the risk of being typecast as a workhorse. And, whereas many organizations absolutely love workhorses, they often don’t get promoted. Why is that? Because every single day they reinforce the fact that the level they are at is exactly where they should be. That’s where they’re comfortable, and that’s where they provide the most value.

Instead of looking in and down, you need to learn how to look up and out. Your ability to see beyond the narrow confines of your existing role and to demonstrate your ability to think more holistically, is a key factor in your promotability. Instead of being a workhorse, your goal should be to become a trusted advisor to your boss.

To take a deeper dive on this promotability ingredient, have a listen to Ep.134: Being More Strategic.


As you move into higher roles, you need to be able to get results through influence, rather than simply by controlling the resources you are given.

In today’s complex organization structures, very few things happen in a single isolated team. Your ability to work with others to achieve outcomes is a critical factor in your promotability. This is where many leadership competencies and behaviors combine:

  • The ability to handle conflict, comfortably;

  • Your negotiating capability;

  • Sophisticated communication skills;

  • Strategic thinking;

  • A deep understanding of value creation; and

  • The ability to work for the greater good rather than just for your own narrow self-interest.

To dive deeper into what it takes to build great influencing skills, have a listen to Ep.39: Getting Results When You Don’t Have Control.


Closely related to your influencing skill is stakeholder management. This includes:

  • Your external stakeholders: customers, regulators, shareholders, suppliers etc;

  • Your internal stakeholders: other leaders, risk and audit, finance, legal, shared services etc;

  • Your network of supporters and mentors: the people who are going to guide you, not just in your career path, but also in the things that you need to do to become better; and

  • Your patron. This is the person who’s going to fight for you to be retained, promoted, and paid within your current organization – and we should all have one.

To my complete amazement, I’ve never recorded a podcast episode specifically on the topic of stakeholder management, although I’ve produced quite a bit of content on this for our mastermind groups. And, of course, my one-on-one mentoring work is focused specifically in this critical performance area. Watch this space!


The way you conduct yourself and position yourself personally is a crucial determinant of your promotability. No one likes to promote someone that they don’t enjoy working with… It doesn’t matter how good you are. So you have to at least make sure you pass the no d!ckheads test.

To be a bit more specific, I just want to give you a few comparators to let you know what I’m talking about. Your objective should be to build your brand as a strong, empathetic leader, who is decisive and performance oriented. You’ll ideally be:

  • Thoughtful and level – not impulsive and volatile;

  • Strong – not weak;

  • Decisive and confident – not hesitant and fearful;

  • Empathetic – not sympathetic;

  • Action-oriented – not just someone who talks a good game; and

  • Committed to continuous learning and self-development – not just someone who relies on your existing skills and knowledge to make you indispensable.

To dive deeper into what it takes to build this type of leadership brand, have a listen to Ep.182: What is Strong Leadership?


The extent to which politics matters depends a lot on your boss. If you kiss the right ass, it can take you a long way. The view I formed, after years of corporate politics, was that I should always be aware of the politics, but never actually play the politics.

I was convinced that a performance focus would eventually win out. But I must say, I was blindsided a few times with political attacks that I didn’t see coming – and on the odd occasion it actually cost me dearly.

But for me it was always more important to be able to look myself squarely in the mirror every morning and know, deep down, that I was doing things the right way – that I was leading with courage and integrity.

Like I said, this does really depend on your boss. If your boss is insecure and he wants to surround himself with ‘yes people’, then politics is much more likely to be a factor in promotions. If your boss is more secure, and isn’t threatened by the quest for high performance, politics is going to play less of a part in whether or not you’re going to get that big promotion.

To dive deeper into corporate politics, have a listen to Ep.168: Political Sabotage at Work.


As I said at the start, career advancement is a contact sport. Knowing the rules and formulating a personal success strategy to improve your promotion prospects could just make the difference between stagnating in your current role, or jumping on the fast track to career success.

I’ve put a huge amount of thought and effort into our free downloadable PDF resource, The 10 Ingredients That Determine Your Promotability, so please take advantage of it. Personally, I think this is one of the most valuable resources we’ve ever produced for this podcast.

I wish you luck, and look forward to you sharing your stories of career success with me.



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