Promotion Principles: 5 Key Abilities to Get Promoted

Don’t waste time on quick fix advice to earn a promotion. Learn what matters most to get ahead based on 5 Promotion Principles.

Great Employees Don’t Always Get Promoted

Sooner or later we all come to realize that great employees don’t always get promoted.

Unfortunately, many of us learn this lesson the hard way. When annual review time rolls around, we’re given high performance ratings for our results, yet fail to get rewarded with a well-deserved promotion. 

It’s deflating to be told you didn’t get selected for that promotion you’ve been working so hard to earn. A promotion that not only brings a bigger paycheck, but also validates your position as a high performer with potential to take on more.

We all come to understand it takes more than hard work and results to get ahead. But what exactly more is needed? 

To answer this question, our natural tendency is to turn to advice from others. But, when it comes to career advancement, the bad news is much of what we are told is less than helpful. There’s no such thing as a “quick fix” to get promoted. 

Advice from Upper Management

Reaching out to your boss for career advice is a sensible first step, but let’s be honest, their feedback can sometimes leave you scratching your head. 

You might hear things like, “be more visible,” “act like you already have the promotion,” or the classic “you’re not ready yet.” It can feel like you’re being handed a corporate catchphrase rather than practical guidance.

And here’s the kicker – these nuggets of wisdom can sometimes seem like a ploy to extract more work without additional compensation! Frustrating, right?

The problem with such advice is that it’s often too vague and lacks the nitty-gritty details about which skills and competencies you should actually work on to move up the career ladder. 

Which may lead you to look at career experts for more concrete tips on how advance your career.

Advice from “Career Experts”

When you search for tips on how to get promoted, you’re bombarded with articles from every corner of the internet. I mean, Google serves up a whopping 7 million results! 

But here’s the thing: a lot of this advice feels like it’s just skimming the surface. It’s all about quick fixes, easy steps, and “do this one thing to get ahead” kind of stuff. And to make matters worse, some of these articles are penned by folks who’ve never set foot on the corporate ladder, let alone climbed it! You ever read something and think, “That’s just not how it works in the real world”?

Take, for instance, the ever-so-popular advice to cozy up to your boss. They tell you to “bond with your boss,” “make their life easier,” or even “make their job obsolete.” Seriously? In the real world, that’s not the whole story. 

Sure, your boss’s support is vital, but promotions usually require the nod from higher-ups too. And if your boss becomes too reliant on you, it could backfire big time. Trust me, I’ve been there! So yeah, the advice out there can be pretty hit-or-miss. 

Cut Through the Clutter

Here’s the thing: following advice from others can absolutely have a positive impact and lead to professional improvements. But are those improvements the ones that make you more promotable?

If you’re serious about wanting to get promoted, don’t waste your time following random pieces of advice that may have helped someone else in some arbitrary way. Or worse, doesn’t speak from experience, hasn’t overcome challenges like yours, or can’t make your path forward simpler. 

You need to zero in on the actions to fast-track your next promotion. Cut through the clutter and do what matters most to finally get promoted.

So, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty and make sense of it all with a clear method to the madness. It’s time to explore principles. 

Principles: Your Best Path to a Better Career

So, what exactly are principles? In official terms, a principle is a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior, or for a chain of reasoning.

But let’s simplify that a bit.

In essence, principles are like condensed wisdom. They’re the distilled knowledge of what’s proven to be true about something. These little gems help us break down complex topics into their basic building blocks. And the beauty of principles is that they steer us toward what truly matters, allowing us to gradually build a path toward excellence.

You’ll find principles at work in countless areas of business and life: principles of leadership, principles of design, merit system principles, and the list goes on.

In the world of marketing communications, we have the famous 7 principles (formerly known as the 4 Ps of marketing). Each of these principles is like a pillar holding up the marketing universe. They’re all crucial on their own, but when you bring them together, they create a solid foundation for marketing success. These marketing principles act as guiding stars, helping marketers focus their creative energies on the most critical aspects of a marketing strategy.

And this is precisely why embracing principles is a smarter strategy for advancing your career compared to simply following generic advice.

Principles provide a framework that guides you to focus on what matters most to get ahead, while enabling you to determine the behaviors and actions you’ll take to achieve success. 

Exploring principles put you on a different trajectory. They enable you to think for yourself to develop the necessary skills for success.

Before I get into describing what the Promotion Principles are all about, I think it would help to share some context on how I developed them in the first place. 

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Why Were the Promotion Principles Developed?

I developed Promotion Principles to bring a simpler, structured approach to what can often be an obscure and confusing path to earning a promotion in corporate America. 

On a more personal level, Promotion Principles was developed out of necessity—to respond to my own career setbacks with a more sane and sensible way forward. 

Early in my career promotions came quickly. I put in the hard work, delivered results, and was rewarded for my performance. My annual reviews were positive, I received above-average pay increases, and steadily climbed the corporate ladder. 

But then, once I made my way up to middle management, the promotions stopped. I was still receiving high ratings on my annual performance reviews, yet I was no longer rewarded with promotions. My career stalled.

I was passed over for promotions—repeatedly. I was circling in a career cul-de-sac, and it sucked. I spent several frustrating, feel-sorry-for-myself years stuck at the same level. 

During this time, there was no shortage of well-intentioned advice from my manager and coworkers:

  • Get a sponsor

  • Find a mentor

  • Be more visible

  • Be more vulnerable

  • Speak up more

  • Promote your successes more

  • Put yourself out there more

None of the feedback was to work harder or deliver more results. Nor was it explicit in describing the areas – skills or competencies – that I needed to develop. In fact, much of it felt super subjective and scattered, lacking any rhyme or reason. 

It certainly didn’t help me zero in on the areas that mattered most to get promoted. 

I was beginning to understand that career advice was nonsense that left me confused on what it would take to finally get promoted. There had to be a better way. Feeling frustrated, it drove me to think about my path to a promotion differently. 

I started searching for new answers. There had to be more structured, sensible way to get ahead, right? 

I was on a mission to crack the code on career advancement. I set out to uncover what matters most to get promoted.

How Were the Promotion Principles Developed?

It turns out that during this low period in my career—when my progression stalled out and I was getting passed over for promotions—I was learning a ton about how to manage my career on my own terms. It turned out that these setbacks were actually valuable learning experiences that taught me how to take charge of my career in a way that aligned with my values and goals. 

I began to study how my colleagues advanced their careers, and personally helped guide numerous members of my team toward their own well-deserved promotions.

As a manager, I had a front-row seat to countless discussions about promotions, gaining valuable insights into the decision-making processes that determined who would move up and who wouldn’t. Additionally, I learned from my own trial and error of career setbacks. 

Through these experiences, I started to notice certain patterns and behaviors that set individuals on different career trajectories. Over time, I developed an ability to identify those who were unlikely to advance further in their careers:

    • The individuals who became consumed with perfecting their personal style through superficial tips and tricks at the expense of developing essential skills and capabilities.

    • Those who dedicated more time to networking and schmoozing, only to be eventually exposed for their lack of substance.

    • People who experienced one too many career setbacks, felt mistreated by management, blamed others for their situation, and grew an increasingly bad attitude.

    • Individuals who justified their inaction by saying “if that’s what it takes to get promoted, forget it,” instead of working to find a better way forward.

On the other hand, I observed individuals who skillfully adapted their behaviors and cultivated higher-level capabilities, making themselves increasingly more promotable. They took ownership of their careers, demonstrated ingenuity in achieving their goals, and showed resilience in the face of adversity. 

I also had some aha moments during this period:

    • I came to recognize that while producing results was undeniably important, it was merely a prerequisite and not sufficient to propel one into senior ranks (an obvious but crucial realization).

    • I understood that it wasn’t just your immediate supervisor or peers who needed to believe in your potential to take on greater responsibilities; the right people throughout the organization needed to share this belief.

    • As I progressed up the career ladder, I saw how other factors, such as one’s ability to positively influence and inspire others, became increasingly significant.

    • The awareness of how personal values could impact one’s approach to professional development emerged as a critical aspect in steering one’s career in the right direction.

Themes and patterns began to surface. A simplified structure emerged that helped me make sense out of the hodgepodge of confusing career advice I had been receiving. 

I started to see how certain actions, behaviors, and skillsets laddered up to a few higher-level capabilities. And these higher-level capabilities had the power to either make or break my next promotion. 

I began to codify these learnings into essential abilities for career advancement—and termed these the Promotion Principles.

What are the Promotion Principles?

The Promotion Principles are 5 higher-order domains of expertise that underpin promotability across all corporate levels—from entry level to senior manager to execute ranks and everything in between. 

Together, they represent a framework for career advancement – a model to help you think through your path to get promoted.

By exploring the Promotion Principles, you’ll be able to cut through the clutter and focus on what’s most important to move your career to the next level. You’ll have a framework that speeds up learning and provides useful insights for better decision making. 

The Promotion Principles offer a sensible, structured approach to get recognized, rewarded, and promoted at work. They enable you to think for yourself and manage your career your way!

5 Promotion Principles

Here’s a brief introduction to each of the 5 principles.

Promotion Principle #1: Performance

Performance is about your ability to produce strong results AND be seen as a top performer.  

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking this is an obvious one.  And you’re right – being recognized as a top performer sets the stage for a thriving career. But this isn’t just about going “above and beyond” at work. Being a top performer also means being someone others want to work with, adapting to changing expectations, and getting results attributed to you. 

Learn more about why the Performance Principle matters, signs of success, and common blockers. 

Promotion Principle #2: Potential

Potential is about your ability to excel in your next, higher-level role.

While being a superstar in your current role is super important, it’s not the only ticket to career advancement. To move up, you need to complement your performance with a clear display of potential and readiness for the responsibilities of higher-level positions. (And this means getting out of your comfort zone often)

Learn more about why the Potential Principle matters, signs of success, and common blockers here.

Promotion Principle #3: Presence

Presence is about your ability to show up with impact.

The presence principle is about what you project to others. How you make people feel—your words, actions, gestures, behaviors. You want people to feel good about you, and about themselves when they are around you. 

Learn more about why the Presence Principle matters, signs of success, and common blockers here.

Promotion Principle #4: People

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

To get promoted it’s essential you have people who genuinely want to see you succeed. Having a supportive boss who believes in you is undoubtedly crucial. But your manager alone won’t cut it (what if your boss suddenly quits?).

There are more decision-makers than you might realize when it comes to promotions. And as you climb the career ladder, the key players who matter most will shift and evolve.

Learn more about why the People Principle matters, signs of success, and common blockers here.

Promotion Story Q&A Interviews

Promotion Story 2

Promoted from Director to Executive Level

“I received a 15% bump in total compensation (base, bonus, equity).”

Promotion Story 3

Promoted from Coordinator to Manager Level

“I’m proud to say I got promoted because I asked!”

Promotion Story 6

Promoted from Manager to Director Level

“The hardest part about getting promoted to where I am now was overcoming age and gender prejudice.”

Promotion Principle #5: Personal Power

Personal Power is about your ability to be authentic while becoming more promotable.

As part of your path to get promoted, it’s inevitable you’ll find yourself needing to adapt and even change certain aspects of yourself in the pursuit of growth and development. And the Personal Power principle is about your ability to grow and make degrees of change without becoming someone you’re not.

Learn more about why the Personal Power matters, signs of success, and common blockers here.

How do the Promotion Principles Help?

Mastering these 5 abilities will fast-track your climb up the career ladder!

By diving into these 5 principles and understanding what actions can speed up or slow down your progress, you can cut through the noise and focus on the important stuff that will push your career forward. These principles let you take charge of your career journey on your own terms.

To break it down further, the Promotion Principles Framework simplifies the compexities of career growth by breaking them into manageable parts.

As you assess how well you’re doing in each principle — figuring out what “being excellent” really means, spotting potential challenges, and picking up strategies to boost your skills — you can zero in on the areas where you need to improvche.

This targeted approach will speed up your learning, give you useful insights for making better decisions, and fast-track your journey to a promotion.

Working the Promotion Principles

The Promotion Principles Framework is versatile and applicable to any business professional aiming for career advancement, whether you’re starting at entry level or aiming for an senior job title.

However, the approach to honing your skills in each principle is highly personal. Your inherent qualities, work beliefs, and values significantly influence how you build proficiency in each principle.

Moreover, you can’t afford to neglect any of the Promotion Principles—they each play a key role in achieving your desired results. Yet, understanding how these principles interact and when they work in tandem is equally crucial. 

For instance, knowing which Principle to emphasize based on your career stage is vital, as is learning how to leverage your strengths in one Principle to excel in another.

I refer to this as “Working the Promotion Principles,” and you can read more about this concept in our free eBook primer.

Next Steps:

Ready to start using the Promotion Principles to fast-track your climb up the career ladder? Take this brief quiz to assess how well you’re doing in each principle – and zero in on any roadblocks that could hold you back from landing your next promotion.



About Author

Alison started her 20+ year career as an admin assistant and eventually advanced to a CMO role. But, as a quiet introvert, she was often overlooked for promotions. While stuck in middle management, Alison made a goal to use her corporate career to achieve financial freedom and retire in her 40s. You can read more about her story here.



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