It is natural to want to advance in your career. We drill it into people’s heads that an upward trajectory at work is the primary marker of success. That is how you get more money, opportunity, and status.
On top of that, you may even feel like your boss isn’t that great. Their flaws stand out, and you may have great ideas to fix the problems you see.
That is great. The desire to move up is one of the prerequisites for advancing. But there is a lot to do to get there. Here are a few things to consider as you get started on your journey upward.
What you need to know
It can be easy to get impatient in your job—particularly early in your career. After a year in your job, you may already feel like it is time to get more responsibility. There are several reasons to take it slowly, though.
First, you wouldn’t actually want to be in an organization that promotes you too quickly. After all, what is going to happen to you when you get that job? You would like to have it for a while in order to fulfill your goals. If your organization is constantly pushing people up or out, then you won’t have time to achieve your goals in that position, either. It turns out to be a good thing that organizations change leadership slowly.
Second, your boss’s job probably involves using a lot of relationships. The higher up you go in an organization, the more that you have to work to get resources to accomplish goals. You have to navigate office politics to support your team. You are going to need time to develop relationships with other people in the company in order to work with them effectively to get what you want. If you don’t have the trust of other leaders in the organization, you are not going to have the support you require to succeed.
Third, your boss probably has to make a lot of tradeoffs. No organization has all the resources it needs for everything it would like to do. There is never enough time, money, personnel, or energy to address all of the problems and opportunities that are out there. As a result, organizations have to prioritize. That process of trading one goal off against another is often invisible to people lower down the hierarchy. As a result, many decisions may feel like they are arbitrary, which is why you assume you would do them differently. As soon as you have your boss’s job, though, those tradeoffs become your job. And you will have to know how to balance the competing issues that draw on your resources.
What you need to do
If you want to move up, you need to understand what your new job will really entail. That means you have to address your current weaknesses.
Start by telling your boss you’re interested in moving up. You might think that by doing that, you are putting you and your boss in competition, But good supervisors know that an important part of the job is training the next generation of leaders. After all, they can’t be promoted if they can’t be replaced. Expressing a desire can get you into the mix for opportunities to learn about the next-level job.
Then, you need to be observant. What do people at the next level actually do? What meetings do they attend? See if you can get invited to attend some of those meetings as an observer so that you can see what issues are discussed and how they are handled.
Ask your boss a lot of questions about how and why decisions are made. If you do that in the context of wanting a promotion in the future, then these questions will be interpreted as requests for information rather than complaints about how things are currently done. That way, you can learn about the organization’s priorities and how resources are allocated. You may still find that you disagree with some decisions that get made, but if you understand why they are made as they are, you will be in a better position to try to do things differently after you get promoted.
Finally, start developing relationships with other leaders and supervisors in the company, and try to get some mentoring from them. Take them for coffee or ask for a brief meeting to ask a few key questions. The aim is to become a known quantity to other people you will have to work with when you do get a promotion. Once you get thrust into a new role, tasks will come at you quickly. You won’t have that much time to develop the relationships you need after you get into the role. You are better off developing those connections before you need them.