THE SEVEN STAGES OF PROMOTION
By Todd Dewett, Andersen
Alumnus, author and speaker
I think we owe it to all aspiring leaders to tell them about the mental and emotional journey they will experience before and after promotion. We do them a disservice if we allow them to be surprised by the process, a process I refer to as the stages of promotion.
I share these ideas because promotion is fundamentally about moving forward into an unknown place. People don’t know what it’s like to lead until they get there. Too often, however, professionals overestimate how well they know this new place, thus they engage the stages of promotion with surprise and elevated stress. Good news: if you know what’s coming, it doesn’t have to hurt!
Stage 1: dreaming. Before the next big promotion, long before you have signaled your intensions and applied, you dream. You idealize the promotion. You focus on the joy of being rewarded, the feeling of higher status and authority, and the glee of higher pay. You rely on simple uninformed notions of what it means to be a leader. In short, you see in your future exactly what you need to see to maintain the feeling that you can do anything.
Stage 2: doubt. You have applied for the promotion. Others know what you have done. You begin to feel eyes watching you in larger numbers than ever before. You start rethinking your logic. You begin to question your timing and your skills. You work hard to maintain a belief that you have made the right decision, in the face of an odd and unexpected challenge to your self-confidence.
Stage 3: the honeymoon. You got it! You have been rewarded with the promotion! During your honeymoon month, self-doubt evaporates. You are overtaken with elation. People keep telling you, “Congratulations.” You have a new office, title, and salary. Even the office jerks seem to give you a pass. A glorious feeling of success and invulnerability defines you. It’s beautiful. Enjoy it. It doesn’t last.
Stage 4: paranoia. After the honeymoon, you begin to see your new reality more clearly. Many of the folks who were your buddies now look at you differently, some with suspicion. You feel abandoned. Sadly, nobody has given you a playbook for your new role. A sense of being overwhelmed sets in. Then you realize that not everyone wants you to succeed. For the first time, you are forced to think deeply about politics at work. You feel a sense of dread, wondering whom you can trust.
Stage 5: delusions of grandeur. Assuming you did not quit or get fired while battling the paranoia, you get a grip on your new reality, convince yourself you can do this, and begin plotting your grand success. You remember why you accepted the role in the first place. This is when you learn to read politics more clearly and unemotionally, you begin to build stronger coalitions, you learn to rally your team, and you begin espousing serious long-term improvement goals. You achieve your first small win and the emotional swing from paranoia and dread to a passionate belief in positive change is complete.
Stage 6: regret. While plotting to change the world, you finally realize the pros and cons of being a leader. You now understand that the challenges are bigger than you realized. The hours are very long. The constraints are now apparent. You know what the system can and can’t do. You clearly see the abilities and limitations of your colleagues on the leadership team. You comprehend both the rewarding nature of small wins, and the seemingly impossible reality of making large-scale change. You feel respected, but you often feel alone while facing difficult odds.
Stage 7: the choice. You know that you must make a choice about what you intend to do moving forward. Your initial learning curve after promotion lasted a few months, maybe one year. Now, with much more clarity, you must own your situation and make a choice about how to proceed. You can quit (get out of the current role), play it safe (stay in the role and become a steward of the status quo), or strive to make real change (stay in the role, take smart risks, fight the good fight – to heck with the odds).
Every leader faces this choice. It is unavoidable. It’s possible to justify each of these choices, but the only one that delivers real passion and fulfillment is the last one. The best leaders are change agents. So, go help the next generation. Find a few aspiring or young leaders and share the version of this growth process that you experienced. Don’t you wish someone had share their journey with you?
Dr. Todd Dewett is one of the world’s most watched leadership personalities: a thought leader, an authenticity expert, best-selling author, top global instructor at LinkedIn Learning, a TEDx speaker, and an Inc. Magazine Top 100 leadership speaker. He has been quoted in the New York Times, TIME, Businessweek, Forbes, and many other outlets. After beginning his career with Andersen Consulting and Ernst & Young he completed his PhD in Organizational Behavior at Texas A&M University and enjoyed a career as an award-winning professor. Todd has delivered over 1,000 speeches to audiences at Microsoft, ExxonMobil, Pepsi, Boeing, General Electric, IBM, Kraft Heinz, Caterpillar, and hundreds more. His educational library at LinkedIn Learning has been enjoyed by over 30,000,000 professionals in more than one hundred countries in eight languages. Visit his home online at www.drdewett.com or connect with Todd on LinkedIn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org