How Leaders Pick Leaders

howleaderspickleaders3 Executives Reveal How Promotions Are Decided

At the 6th Annual Asian MBA Leadership Conference, I moderated a panel featuring 3 senior executives sharing insights and advice on breaking into the executive ranks. While the panelists were all Asian women and issues relating to this specific demographic were addressed, the strategies shared for getting promoted can be universally applied. For one segment in the panel, I asked each of the panelists to think of a specific person that they decided to promote. What was it about these people that was promotion-worthy? Why did these executives go to bat for them?


It’s not just what you have done but how you did it

Dale Shintani, Senior Vice President at Wells Fargo, shared the importance of collaboration. A record of accomplishments and bankable expertise are a given – that’s the what. The deciding factor is in the strength of your relationships, your ability to work well with others, and your ability to galvanize others to work with you – that’s the “how.”

Do you have strong relationships? Do people work hard, willingly and excitedly for you? Are you seen as a lone wolf or a collaborator?

Decisions are made quickly. Stay front of mind

Kam Wong, Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion Planning & Administration at Prudential Financial, pointed out the need for speed. She reminded the audience how quickly business decisions are made, so there is no time for lobbying when a promotion opportunity is at hand. You already need to be top of mind for the decision-makers.

At the next promotion discussion, will senior people know who you are – at least one person who can speak up on your behalf? Is your interest in a leadership role already known? Are you regularly meeting with people inside and outside of your immediate area to stay front of mind?

Others will also be qualified. Play to the edge

Jinsook Han, Vice President of Science at AIG, made a tennis analogy: the best players play to the edge, aiming close to the line, making their opponents have to run that much further. Han noted that others will also demonstrate core competence, past results and other qualifications. At the executive level, these strengths become just the starting point. It’s at the edge where you differentiate yourself. What was the edge for Han’s promotion-worthy example? Extreme intelligence and a can-do attitude about even the toughest projects, the ones others would turn down.

What is your edge? Do you have a skill, personal quality or expertise that differentiates you? What are you known for?

As both an executive recruiter and executive coach, I have seen a lot of career paths. The ones who successfully ascended into leadership all possessed the above criteria — strong relationships, recognition, an edge. If your goal is the executive ranks, which of these factors do you already have? Which do you still need? What are you going to do to fill the gaps?

By Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Caroline Ceniza-Levine of SixFigureStart® has coached executives from Goldman Sachs, Gilt, Google, and other leading firms. She also performs stand-up.


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