Principle 4: People

So far, we’ve introduced the Promotion Principles, and started to describe why each one matters with an overview of the first 3 Principles: Performance, Potential and Presence.

Today we will dive into Principle 4: People.

People Principle: What it’s about and why it matters

The People principle is about your ability to gain support and advocacy from others.

It’s about your ability to build relationships with people who can positively influence your career trajectory. Career success isn’t a solo sport!

You need people to want to help you—to believe in you and advocate for your advancement.

It’s true that the biggest decisions about your career are made when you are not in the room—decisions to hire, fire, and promote you.

You need the people in the room (and the people who influence the people in the room) in your corner.

More People Matter Than You May Know

Having a supportive boss who believes in you is essential. Building a network of mentors who share knowledge and offer coaching is super valuable. And if you can connect with sponsors who will advocate and vouch for you, even better.

But you can’t rely solely on your manager, or network of mentors or sponsors to move up at work. 

There are more people than you may realize who will have a say in whether you get promoted. And the people who matter most will change and grow as you move up the ladder.

The higher you advance, the more people you need to have on your side. Not just any people, but the right people.

Early Career

Early in your career, the most important person is your immediate manager. Gaining support for a promotion starts with your boss, but it’s important to know it doesn’t end there.

Your boss needs to convince their boss that you’re worthy of a promotion. If you’ve already established a relationship with your boss’ boss and they’ve seen your awesomeness first-hand, then it shouldn’t take too much convincing.

On the other hand, if the big boss barely knows your name, you may have a problem.

Next Level 

And as you move to the next level you will need to gain even broader support. To advance into a management role, you’ll often need to gain support from coworkers who may end up working for you.

Your boss will want to make sure that moving you up will not ruffle too many feathers among other members of your team. Building up the trust and respect of your peers will be important.

And don’t underestimate the influence HR can have on promotion decisions as well. I’ve personally seen the power human resources can wield in advocating or blocking someone’s promotion, including my own.

Senior Level 

As a senior leader, you need other senior leaders on your side. Earning a promotion to the executive ranks typically requires nodding heads from a committee of higher ups. And this can be one of the tougher audiences to win over.

If you’ve been at your company a while, you’ve likely built-up history with members of the senior leadership team. Hopefully that history has been positive, but if not, you may have some work to do to build up enough backing for your promotion.

And then you have the c-suite leaders who need to win over even more people—board members, shareholders, and even industry influencers.

The point is, there may be one person deciding whether to promote you or not, but there are many, many more people swaying the outcome.

It’s essential you understand this and be able to gain backing from the many people who matter in promotion decisions. Including the colleagues who aren’t part of the decision committee, who don’t necessarily have the big titles, but whose opinions matter with the important people deciding your promotion fate.

Always Work to Build Bridges

How these influencers view you and talk about you, can make, or break your ability to get promoted. It’s important you recognize this—and be aware of the different interpersonal connections and dynamics at play across your company. Be mindful about the state of your relationships, and work to build more bridges.

The reality is everyone you work with has the potential to influence your next promotion. It may not be now, but it could be in the future. So, the best approach is to treat everyone with consideration and respect, while working to win over the ones who matter most for your next promotion.

Signs you are gaining support and advocacy

Obviously, you know who your friends are at work, but here’s some signs that others believe in you and support you, even when you’re not in the room:

  • Take you under their wing to share knowledge and work wisdom—helping you learn the ropes and unspoken way things get done.

  • Provides unsolicited performance feedback, showing they are engaged in your development.

  • Makes you aware of new job opportunities and encourages you to go for them. Puts your name out there as a someone to consider. 


  • Shares what’s being said about you, or a project you’re responsible for—helping you understand current state of perceptions.

  • Writes a strong recommendation for you on LinkedIn (and doesn’t expect you to reciprocate).


Common blockers to gaining support from others


Not feeling the love? Here’s a few of the more common reasons why others may not be willing to support and advocate for your advancement.

1) They don’t know you.

Someone may not support you because they don’t know you well enough, or their exposure to you is limited. This isn’t a bad thing—you’re likely starting with neutral relationship to start forming a positive perception. Find a reason to interact with them more and gain more visiblity.

2) They don’t like you.

Someone may not support you because they had a bad experience with you in the past. Or maybe you didn’t get along with one of their coworkers and that was enough to form a negative perception of you. You need to determine if you can change their opinion of you.

Test the waters and see if there’s an opportunity for a fresh start to your relationship. If not, will this be a deal breaker for you moving forward, or can it suffice to have support from other influential people? If so, focus your efforts elsewhere to build bridges.

3) They see you as an adversary.

Someone may not support you because they are threatened by you. But you need to know the problem here is more about them than you. They lack confidence in themselves, and therefore have determined you are competition. If they see you as an adversary, it means they see your potential to move up—and that’s not a bad thing. Some people just thrive on having workplace competitors as a personal motivator.

The key is to try and diffuse the relationship. One way to do this is to ask them for help with a project, or ask them for advice on a difficult situation. Or if they have done a great job on something, commend them for it publicly. It’s hard to remain threatened by someone who is asking for your help or singing your praises.

4) You over-rely on your boss.

Maybe you don’t have enough people on your side. It’s risky to over-rely on your boss, or just a few individuals to support your advancement—what if they don’t carry enough clout in the organization? Or what if their own career takes a downturn? Or what if they suddenly quit, leaving your promotion in limbo?

As we covered earlier, there may be one person deciding whether to promote you or not, but there are many, many more people swaying the outcome. You don’t need to win everyone over, but you do need to have enough people in your corner.

Next up…

This post covered the basic blocking and tackling on what People Principle means and why it’s important. In the future we will dive into ways you can strengthen support and support from others.

Next, we’ll cover Promotion Principle #5: Personal Power!



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