The Unwritten Rules


Assuming that Producing Strong Results Alone Will Lead to Promotion; Trying to Do It All Yourself; and Ignoring Deeply-Rooted Perceptions of Your Leadership Skills, Will Handicap Your Move to the Executive Suite According to John Beeson, Author of The Unwritten Rules

NEW YORK CITY (January 12, 2011) –  Promotion-seeking managers should start 2011 by recognizing and avoiding five mistakes that are likely to prevent them from ascending to the executive suite.

"As much as companies say they want to develop future leadership talent, most do a poor job of specifying the requirements for advancement. As a result, many managers operate under false assumptions about what's needed to get ahead," said John Beeson, succession planning and organizational development expert and author of The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level (Jossey-Bass, 2010). "In this environment, those who leapfrog to a higher level realize that they need to tease out deeper feedback and make adjustments not only to how they approach their work but also how they display their skills to key decision makers."

The five executive promotion killers, according to Mr. Beeson, are:

1. Assuming that producing strong results will lead to a promotion.

Too many managers spend their career energy focusing simply on producing results in their current job in the erroneous belief that strong performance will necessarily get them promoted. As a result, they never get to the heart of what will prompt decision makers to move them into higher-level positions. Managers who just focus on displaying "non-negotiable capabilities" like a consistent track record of performance or a strong work ethic are unlikely to get the big promotions.

"What really matters are the deeper, more complex factors that relate to the skills required to succeed at higher levels," said Mr. Beeson. "But most managers who are looking to move up don't even consider these variables or even know they exist – in large part they haven't received the feedback they need."

2. Assuming you'll get the feedback you need from your boss in your performance review.

Most annual performance reviews give people feedback on what they need to do to improve their performance in their current job – not what they need to do to get ahead. Often, the person giving the review doesn't know the criteria more senior managers use in making promotion and placement decisions, and they often lack a good sense of how the employee is viewed by those higher-level decision makers.

"The onus is on aspiring executives to take the initiative and do the hard work to extract deeper feedback," said Mr. Beeson. "Smart managers set up a series of career conversations with their supervisor and other senior managers to get a true sense of their companies' promotion criteria as well as the things they need to display to breed confidence in their ability to succeed at higher levels."

3. Having an internal focus and not developing your external network.

Hard-working and committed managers often commit a major misstep in managing their careers: They become pre-occupied with activities and events inside their own company. As a result, they miss opportunities to develop their network outside of the organization.

"Whether you're in a market-facing role like sales, marketing or general management or in an internal role like information technology or human resources, the keys to your strategic and innovative thinking are much more likely to lie outside of the company than within it," said Mr. Beeson. "Managers who want to move forward must connect themselves with customers, marketplace trends, new industry practices and the diverse sources of information required to jumpstart their creative thinking. In addition, the lack of external relationships serves as an obstacle when it comes time to explore jobs outside the company."

4. Trying to do it all by yourself.

By definition, succeeding at the executive level involves managing others to achieve results. Some managers fail to learn to delegate and, as a result, get sucked into managing implementation at too low a level of detail. Successful managers know how to build and nurture a successful team. Without a skilled team, it becomes impossible to devote time to executive-level activities like strategic thinking, managing innovation and change and working with peers to get things done across organizational boundaries.

"Interacting with customers and other external groups, carving out time for strategic thinking, identifying the next big breakthrough, influencing and persuading peers across the company – all of these things take time, and a strong team allows you to focus on them," said Mr. Beeson. "To build this management strength, an aspiring executive should create and implement a plan to continuously upgrade talent within the team and motivate and develop people through challenging assignments."

5. Not changing deeply-rooted perceptions that may be holding you back.

Rightly or wrongly, how you are perceived has a huge impact on whether or not you'll be promoted to the C-suite. Whether intentional or not, your actions over time and in the context of your organization's culture combine to create a widespread impression of your leadership skills and capabilities. However, many managers don't realize the need to change these perceptions through not only developing, but also displaying critical skills to key decision makers in their organization.

"Managers need to be aware that they won't fundamentally change perceptions unless people can see them doing something new and then share their observations with others within the organization. In some cases a move to a new assignment within the company may be required," said Mr. Beeson. "Look for activities that allow you to demonstrate the skills needed for advancement. For example, with your boss's help, you can get named to a company-wide project which can help broaden your perspective and showcase your skills in influencing and persuading others."

"You may not be able to make the ideal job open up when you want it, but by understanding the biggest mistakes and pitfalls, you can increase your chances of being a top candidate to advance when the right opportunity to move to the executive level emerges," said Mr. Beeson.

To schedule a conversation with John Beeson or for more information, please contact Frank Lentini of Sommerfield Communications at 212-255-8386 or

About Beeson Consulting, Inc.

Founded in 1998, Beeson Consulting provides management consulting services to some of the largest, most respected companies in the world. Services include succession planning, top-talent development, executive assessment, organization design and executive coaching. For each client, the firm brings to bear best-practice expertise; practical, action-oriented solutions; and a consultative, customized approach. All Beeson consultants have a combination of corporate and consulting experience.

Learn more about Beeson Consulting, Inc.

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