Ready for a Promotion (But Still Waiting)? Ask Madeleine

Waiting For Special Moment.Dear Madeleine,

I sure could use some help. I have worked for a company for 12 years. Here is the story. All I hear from my boss are the same words: “Oh you are such a good worker, we always can depend on you to produce, you always make me look good to the higher ups.” Even my boss’s boss says the same thing. How do I ask my boss nicely, “Why am I not being advanced to a higher position?”—and get her to act on it?     —Ready for a Promotion!

Dear Ready,

How wonderful that your boss and the “higher ups” recognize how competent, hard working, and dependable you are. You are clearly an employer’s dream!

As you begin your quest for a promotion, here are a few things to think about:

Be clear about what you want. What do you really want? What would it really mean to be in a “higher position”? Do you really want to do a different job? Do you want to manage other people, like your boss does? Or do you just want more money and a better office? Perhaps if there are no real advancement opportunities you could ask for more paid time off or more flexibility in your working hours. Or perhaps you want the company to pay for more training or an advanced degree. The idea of a higher position sounds good, but it will be even better if you define exactly what that means to you.

Ask for what you want. Asking your boss a question that starts with why will only put her on the defensive (this is true in most cultures and languages), because it sounds as if you assume she has an answer. The truth, most likely, is that she has not thought about promoting you at all. Why would she want to change something that is working perfectly (at least for her)? The better strategy is to be very clear about what you want and then ask for it. Nicely.

I notice from your letter that you are female. Generally speaking, it is more difficult for women than for men to ask for what they want—this is well documented and discussed in Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever’s book, Women Don’t Ask. Click this link to see some staggering statistics on this topic. The authors’ research shows that men generally get promotions, perks, extra benefits, and special consideration because they ask for it. Asking can be challenging, but being clear about what you want will contribute to your confidence level. I also recommend that you practice your request a couple of times with someone you trust. Finally, it is a good idea to ask for a little more than you would actually be happy with so there is room for negotiation and everybody ends up happy—a win-win. When I was building my first coaching business, my mentor told me to ask for more than I thought I was worth. It is scary, but I do encourage you to try it.

Consider the landscape. How much room is there at the top? If your office or location is relatively small, there may be, quite simply, nowhere for you to go. If the only way upward would be for you to take your boss’s job, you are going to have a problem. The best way upward might be for you to move to a different office. Are you willing to move to an office in another location?

Groom your replacement. One big reason managers don’t promote individual contributors is because the person is too valuable to lose. It will be up to you to answer the question how will they replace me? If it begins to look as if you might be considered for a promotion, identify someone who could do your job and begin grooming them to take over.

The ancient Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” This is certainly my experience. So keep up the good work—and in the meantime get clear, think it through, prepare, and rehearse. You will know when it is the moment to seize your chance. Good luck!



About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

2 thoughts on “Ready for a Promotion (But Still Waiting)? Ask Madeleine

  1. Thank you for your articles, it was helpful and eye opener for me. I enjoyed reading and really applied some of your advises at work.

    Glad to read more when you publish any new article.

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