What can you do to get promoted from manager to executive?

The intangibles will get you every time.

Since it is my job to give advice to people regarding career development and job search I dabble in a bit of anecdotal research to find answers. My style is to get the information right from the horse’s mouth: in this case, the executives who promote their direct reports (managers) to executive positions. Here’s what the corner office says about how to get promoted from manager to executive.

The first queries I sent out resulted in exactly the list of guidelines one would expect:

  • Volunteer for more responsibilities
  • Do what you can to stay visible
  • Learn all you can
  • Cooperate with other departments
  • Deliver on your groups’ charter
  • Stay up to date on the market and your area of expertise
  • Maintain your brand

My own advice is be a good listener. Even if you can’t accommodate other managers’ priorities in your decisions, knowing you understand their needs goes a long way towards being considered as a good collaborator, which is a major plus in an executive.

To give you an edge over other would-be execs, I asked some of the better managers in my circle to elaborate.

EI is a senior director who manages a technology team of over 65 people from QA to Architecture.

He watches how his direct reports manage their relationships with those who help define the products. Do they encourage their people to question, to push back, to challenge to ensure the instructions are clear and meaningful? This sort of management is key to EI because he knows the importance of the internal sell for any executive.

He also places a high value on those direct reports who come to him with solutions rather than problems. In his eyes, anyone can whine or complain and point out problems, but only a true leader acknowledges and accepts challenges by proposing solutions for discussion. The proposal need not even be right; to EI it is the approach that defines the prospective executive from the manager.

The toughest bar. How do managers handle employees who are not producing? He watches how long it takes to manage out those who are not performing, and he monitors the manager’s ability to convey and meet expectations with the team.

Do they require games and incentives, or do managers employ positive reinforcement to motivate their troupes? Do they deliver what is expected in a timely manner? If not, is he informed of delays to allow him to plan accordingly?


MS is a Vice President with over 300 people in his department at a world-renowned Seattle-based company. His 9 direct reports are charted with succession planning and therefore the requirements for transitioning from manager to executive are perpetually on the table.

The questions are always the same. Do managers convey the charter for the group, the mission for the department and the goals of the company? Does each individual understand their role in delivering on that mission?

MS believes the most important factor to being a successful executive is being a successful manager.

The first place he looks is the morale of the team being managed. He looks to see if each individual contributor knows what is expected. Is there a metric by which they can judge their own performance? And is there a clear and apparent consequence for not meeting those performance goals?

On an administrative level, are reviews and status reports delivered on time? Do the manager’s individual contributors feel their career development is a priority for their manager? When conflicts arise, is the manager able to diffuse any problems so they do not affect others, the schedules or the company image?

MS will not promote managers who avoid confrontation, no matter how excellent their performance. He and his direct reports are sensitive to the attributes of the passive-aggressive manager who avoids making the hard decisions.

Recurring issues mentioned by CEOs to Directors are:

  1. Can the manager make the sale? I.e., can they organize a presentation of what is needed or wanted and sell that to their own manager? And then sell it to their direct reports and get buy-in?
  2. When managers make decisions do they take into consideration the priorities and agendas of other departments/stakeholders?
  3. And last, but certainly not least, how do managers implement ideas or plans with which they do not agree? Once they have had their say, are they able to back the idea and execute or do they sabotage, delay or complain?

Conclusion: While each executive has a different list of performance metrics they expect to be met to consider promoting a manager, if you heed the guidelines above, you will no doubt get the attention of the people who will promote you.

More help: 5 Steps to Promotion

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