Get Promoted: First Build Trust With Your Boss

Learning about leadership is like being a detective. You're given bits and pieces by different leaders - clues, if you will. And then it's up to you to interpret those clues and create a story of what leadership actually is. I had a conversation with a senior executive and he told me one of the trademarks of a rising leader is when your bosses aren't in the room, they still trust that you will take the team further to achieve their vision.

Why trust is important

Pause and consider this for a moment. If you were in a position of power, and your success was deeply connected with the outcome of a project, would you trust just anyone to take the reins and help you achieve your vision?

Probably not. You'd only trust someone who understood that vision, someone who you believe could communicate that vision well to the rest of the team, and ensure that the team doesn't deviate from the project goals by always realigning the team to those goals.

You want to find someone who takes full ownership, and who is willing to take the extra step to ensure success. Someone who could piece together what everyone is doing on the team, and understand how they fit together to meet the team's goals. This is someone that you'd probably feel comfortable promoting.

What is a promotion? 

A promotion is a cessation of ownership for your boss. Your boss trusts that she doesn't need to be in the room for her team to do well. Your boss doesn't need to monitor you in order to feel comfortable that her overall strategic goals will be met. A promotion is like letting your son or daughter who just turned 16 drive your car on their own. You can't see them, but you trust that they will take good care of your car (and themselves, of course).

I've had the opportunity to participate in a lot of meetings during my internship. After learning this trademark, I started to observe people during these meetings, and I was surprised at the leadership learnings I acquired. Next time you're in a meeting at work or at school, see if you can identify the person you think should be promoted.

Notice how this person is always engaged and asking the right questions. Observe how he is able to connect a team resource to a team need. Learn how he is always contributing key insights that drive the discussion forward, but also isn't just talking to be heard. See if this person is always aligning the team when the group goes off topic.

Next, see if you are this person. If not, then consciously try to be this person. Spend the extra time offline to strategize and think. Prepare, engage, and contribute.

Understanding the vision

For those of you who haven't seen Simon Sinek's talks on his book, "Start With Why", I highly recommend watching a clip of his talks. A leader is someone who understands the "why". A follower is someone who only focuses on the "how" and "what". Knowing the "why" of a project is the motivation that drives this engagement and contribution and makes being a leader really fun because you appreciate the vision.

Knowing the "why" is critical to being that person your boss will trust when he's not in the room. A "how" or "what" person on the other hand, is difficult to trust because the "why" is the strategic driver. Just like you wouldn't drive a car just for the sake of driving - it has to take you to where you actually wanted to go.

I've had meetings where I wasn't engaged and contributing and I've had meetings where I was present and able to align my team to the strategic mission of the project. I now know which version of me would get promoted.

Read the other posts in my MBA Internship Leadership Series here:

Leadership: the Key Ingredient to Success
What the MBA Doesn't Teach: How to Become a Leader 
Gaining Exposure to Senior Leaders: Night Jobs
Leadership Development: Finding Time to Reflect
Leading Effective Meetings for MBAs
Non-Traditional MBA Skills, A Hidden Asset

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