In Achieving Goals, Climbing the Ladder, Own Your Power

I had my eye on a dream promotion.

I had worked really hard in my role as vice president of marketing. My team had the results, we had recruited new talent, our brands had grown market share and our P&L was healthy. I had my eye on the head of marketing position, responsible for overseeing all of the brands in the company’s portfolio. I made my interest known to my boss and my boss’s boss. I thought it was in the bag.

I didn’t get it.

Instead, I got one of the most important lessons in my career:  Plan for your dream promotion, but be prepared to pivot, because something will change . Much of your career is outside your control, no matter how hard you’ve worked or how good your results are. Today, as industries get disrupted, jobs disappear and new jobs are created, this is more true than ever before.

My organization went through a restructuring. I got a new boss. My new boss wanted to bring in someone as head of marketing, someone who she had worked with before. My boss’s boss called me into his office and gave me the news. “We’re moving you to a vice president position in sales,” he said. I heard a loud thud. It was my heart falling to the floor.

Six months later, that position turned out to be my dream role.

Here are six lessons I have learned about dream promotions that I hope will prepare you for yours.

Dream wisely. Most of us (including me) just look to the next rung on the ladder as the promotion of our dreams. It’s logical because that’s what we know, and we assume anything higher up the ladder is better. In retrospect, I learned much more in the vice president of sales role than I would have in the head of marketing role. It prepared me for my next role as general manager. In today’s disruptive world of work, agility is key to development. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you imagine your dream role:

  • What new areas am I interested in learning about?
  • What transferable strengths and skillsets do I have?
  • What differences do I aspire to make? What roles will help me do that?
  • What role will challenge and stretch me outside of my comfort zone?

You don’t know what you don’t knowChallenge your assumptions. I had made all kinds of assumptions about the role of vice president of sales. Truth be told, I felt a bit superior and considered the role beneath me. “Sales people aren’t that smart. There’s not much for me to learn,” I had told myself. It turned out to be one of the most challenging roles I’d had at that point in my career. I realized just how much I didn’t know about leading people and influencing those outside my organization. The role stretched me outside my comfort zone. I learned new skills I would not have acquired had a I stayed in marketing. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What roles have I written off?
  • What assumptions am I making about these roles? Test your assumptions.
  • Who can I connect with who would have insight to expand my perspective?

Develop a dream-skills mindset. According to research by the World Economic Forum, artificial intelligence will disrupt millions of jobs. In an AI-powered world, many jobs that require repetitive tasks or can be enriched by real-time data will be done by machines. According to the book Human + Machine by Paul Daugherty, humans will need to move up the value chain of skills to new skills that work with AI (i.e., designing, training and explaining algorithms) and soft skills (i.e., re-imagining how AI can improve processes and experiences, creativity, emotional intelligence, empathy and leadership).

As organizational hierarchies get flatter, get out of the dream-promotion mindset. There will be fewer layers to get promoted into. Instead, get into the dream-skills mindset. While AI will disrupt, it can also have great promise for human work being more fulfilling, creative and interesting. What are the dream skills you want to acquire? I recommend your list include learning how to influence people over whom you have no authority, be agile in change, connect with your innate creativity and bring out the best in others, whether they work for you or not. What roles—and they may not present themselves as promotions—will help you learn these skills?

You will be thrown curve balls. Be open to exploring, experimenting and pivoting throughout your career. About a year ago, I was asked to interview for a position to be a board director for a publicly traded company. This position was completely outside my “plan.” I was hesitant at first. Would this role distract me from running my business? I decided to go in for the interview anyway. I came away from the interview inspired by the vision of the future the company was creating. I realized that not only did I have value to add, but that I would be stretched and challenged in new and different ways, and that was exciting to me.

Know yourself and listen to your gut. As you get thrown curve balls or explore dream roles, pay attention to your inner GPS. Self-awareness and authenticity in leading yourself and others will be a skill that is more important than ever. As you explore a role for a promotion ask yourself:

  • Does this role excite me?
  • Does the culture of the team I’ll be working with feel like a good fit?
  • Would my boss be someone I can create a trusted partnership with and learn from?
  • What kind of culture do I thrive in?
  • What are the elements of a job that are important to me (i.e., autonomy, contribution, etc.)?

Find the opportunity in change. In the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world we live in, AI will disrupt millions of jobs. We must evolve so that we’re able to move from fear, a normal reaction to change and feeling out of control, to finding the opportunity in change. As you consider dream jobs, learn to embrace a mindset of opportunity. Ask yourself:

  • What can I learn here?
  • How can I connect this role to what’s important to me?

Here’s hoping you will continue to dream, while also being open to what’s changing around you. I will be writing more about the future of work, so follow my writing if this resonated for you.

A version of this post first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.


  • Clarity

    Great article and advice. I can resonate to that.

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