It depends on the industry, but in most large organizations, a promotion to vice president is the entry point to the executive ranks. I’ve written before about what it takes to get promoted in general and have written a book on what’s usually expected of you once you reach the next level. Today, I want to write specifically about how high potential leaders get promoted to vice president or to whatever the entry level executive role is in their company.
The post is prompted by a conversation I had last week with a small group of leaders in one of our Next Level Leadership® group coaching cohorts. While we were on Zoom, someone sent me a chat message to let me know that, in the time since our last conversation, two of the folks in the session had been promoted to vice president. Of course, I promptly called for a round of applause and then asked the two in the spotlight to share their insights on how they got promoted to VP.
They cited seven critical factors which I think are applicable to being promoted to the executive ranks in just about any company. Here’s what they said:
Do a great job: This, of course, is the price of admission to be considered for promotion. You and your team have to do a great job on your current scope before you’ll be asked to take on a bigger scope.
Speak for the work: And the way that anyone is going to know that you and your team are doing a great job is if you speak for the work. In large companies, great work doesn’t speak for itself; you have to speak for the work. That means being fact-based in terms of sharing with the people that need to know the goals, the progress against the goals, and the obstacles overcome to achieve the goals. It’s not bragging. By sharing grounded reports of your progress, you’re providing the information that senior leaders need to know to lead the business.
Get your name out there by offering to help more broadly: The leaders who get promoted to VP don’t just lead their functions, they take an enterprise-wide point of view and approach and make offers to help and add value across the business. You get promoted to vice president by acting as if you are already are one and taking ownership for broader business outcomes. You want to develop the reputation of being that kind of leader.
Share your goal: People are much more likely to help you if they know what you want. If you want to be promoted to VP, let key senior leaders, including your managing executive, know that that’s your goal. And while you’re expressing that goal, say a bit about why it’s your goal. Your goal needs to extend beyond more money and more power; it needs to incorporate the value you want to help create for the business.
Have an advocate to put your name in the mix: Promotions to vice president and other executive level roles usually come on a predictable cycle of once or twice a year in most companies. When you think it’s the right time for you to be considered for VP, you need to have a primary advocate who’s going to put your name in the mix for promotion. Nine times out of ten, the best advocate is going to be your executive manager.
Cultivate other sponsors: Most of the time, your manager isn’t the only person involved in the decision to name you a VP. Executive level promotion decisions are typically made by committee. To enhance your chances of being promoted, you need to cultivate other sponsors. That means you need to build relationships and deliver value that other senior executives can see and benefit from. When the committee is reviewing their short list, it helps to have multiple people singing your praises.
Have a vision for the future: Promotions aren’t just based on what you’ve done; they also turn on what you’re going to do. To get promoted to vice president, be intentional about creating a narrative around your work and how it tees up opportunities for future growth.
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