LMA Communication

You like your job, and your performance reviews are stellar. You’ve put in the long hours, made considerable sacrifices, and now you are ready to reap the benefits of your hard work. However, when you try to talk to your boss about taking the next step, you sense that she doesn’t want to go there.

A number of reasons could explain your boss’s reluctance to help you move ahead. You may be a critical part of your department’s success. She knows she can count on you as the go-to person, and if she is a bit insecure about her own position, she doesn’t want to risk losing good people.

Or, you may have a boss with ego or control issues. The department can only handle one superstar, and he’s it. He may be using your accomplishments to enhance his reputation, and losing you would shine the spotlight on what he is or isn’t doing.

Alternatively, your manager may genuinely feel that you aren’t ready to move ahead.

If you aren’t sure whether this reluctance is real or your imagination, be on the lookout for these signs that your boss may be interfering with your upward mobility:

  • Unwillingness to commit to a definite time for you to expect more responsibility or a promotion.
  • Lack of guidance or training regarding specific areas for improvement that could be keeping you from moving to the next level.
  • A “phantom” promotion that changes your title but doesn’t come with more money or any additional responsibilities.
  • Gushing praise about your work and how she doesn’t know what she would do without you.
  • Meetings in which you seem to reach agreement about your career goals but nothing ever happens.

If these scenarios sound all too familiar, you need a strategy for overcoming this resistance or figuring out a way to take the next step. These suggestions may help get you started.

Identify the job you want.

Don’t just assert that you think you’re ready for more responsibility or a promotion. Be prepared to name the position. Find out as much as you can about the one or two jobs that you recognize would be great next steps and determine if you’re qualified to make that move. Assuming you really are ready to fill that spot, you can design a targeted message for when you approach your manager about your career goals.

Meet formally with your manager and state your goals in specific terms.

Once you have the information that you need, schedule a meeting with your manager. Jeb Blount, author of Power Principles, suggests an offsite location to move you out of the boss’s  power zone and create an even playing field. Ask specifically what you need to do to move to the job you are discussing. If your manager points out areas where you aren’t ready for the next step, have him or her identify the training or experience you need, and set specific goals with time lines for closing the performance gap.

Whenever you meet with your boss to discuss your career goals, follow up in writing, summarizing the commitments that you both made. You will have a record if your manager’s memory gets a bit fuzzy about his or her commitment. If your manager won’t make a move now but promises to revisit the subject at a particular time, such as six months, mark your calendar and check in when the time draws near.

Demonstrate that you are considering your manager’s needs as well as your own.

Give your manager credit for helping you develop to the point that you are ready to move up in the organization. Acknowledge her leadership in preparing you for more responsibility. Blount suggests that you assure your manager that you will do whatever is necessary to make the transition smooth, including train the person who will take your place.

If all else fails, assess the situation as objectively as possible. If you have approached the situation professionally, prepared yourself for the next step, and been transparent in your desire to move ahead, decide if it’s time to look elsewhere. Avoid delivering an ultimatum or threatening to leave. Simply take the necessary steps to identify and secure a position that leverages your strengths and gives you continued opportunities to develop.


Beverly Y. Langford is President of LMA Communication, Inc.® a consulting, training, and coaching firm that works with organizations and individuals on strategic communication, message development, effective interpersonal communication skills, team building, and leadership development.