promotion into leadership

Promotion into leadership: tell your stories the right way

I’m going to let you in on a little secret that will help you hone your story-telling skills and position yourself for promotion into leadership:

Tell a story from the perspective of the business or the organization you’re working for.

People often tell stories or provide case studies from their perspective – namely, describing the problem, what they did to solve the problem, and the result. (Or, you might be familiar with the STAR interview technique – it has a similar framework, and the same shortcoming I will discuss below.)

This traditional approach is great if you’re fresh out of school and discussing a project you completed in your degree program as an example of “teamwork.” However, it’s not enough for promotion into leadership.

But by the time you are trying to make a jump into a position that will allow you a seat at the table for higher-level decision making, I recommend a different spin on your examples and case studies.

Answer two questions to support your promotion into leadership that the traditional case study approach doesn’t address.

One: What was the overall business initiative or goal that the problem was creating a road block to?

Daily, we are problem solvers. We either identify issues, or they are brought to our attention. We will fall into one of two categories: the good worker, or the good leader.

Good workers diligently solve these problems and move onto the next. Good leaders, however, have an appreciation for how those issues represent bottlenecks to accomplishing the organization’s goals. That appreciation allows the leader to prioritize, delegate, and focus energies. If you want a chance at promotion into leadership, learn to add some color around the larger business issues at play into your case studies and examples.

Here is an example of using this new framework for your case studies:

Before (problem statement only) – We acquired new members, and I had to create a new suite of services to meet their needs.

After (problem statement representing a road block to a business goal) – The organization knew that ensuring the new members would have a very positive initial experience would make a huge difference in the opinion they carried about the business long after the honeymoon phase was over. I had to create a new suite of services to meet their needs with this customer experience in mind.

Some of my clients have stated that at the time they performed the work, they did not have visibility to the organization’s larger business objectives, so they are unable to communicate exactly what that was.

My response is (A) don’t be a cog in the wheel. Know where and why you fit in! But (B), overall business objectives fall into just a few main categories:

  • Revenue
  • Customer service or customer experience
  • People (retention or attraction of talent or performance)
  • Products or services

If you think about an organization’s goals within these categories, I’m sure you can come up with how the problem you tackled represented a bigger business issue.

Two: What impact on the overall business initiative or goal did your result have?

The typical “best practice” advice in presenting examples or case studies is to be able to list the results of your efforts – even better if you can be quantitative.

But I say: So what?

By the time you’re trying to gain promotion into leadership, individual achievement is sort of a given. Of course you should be good at your job. Of course you should be able to solve problems and get results.

And that’s not particularly interesting for higher-level management anymore.

But being able to translate your result into what impact it had on the organization? Now, we’re talking.

Impact is fundamentally different than result. A result is simply a description of how things changed. Impact is why it was important.

Here is an example:

Before (describing individual achievement results) – I designed and created new services for the incoming members, and I completed the project on time and under budget.

After (describing how results positively impacted larger business goals) – I designed and created new services for the incoming members. Knowing this was critical to the company’s customer service goals, I was on site at the roll-out to witness how the team took care of the new members, quickly address any issues or questions, and personally inquire of the members whether we were able to go beyond their expectations and how their experience here compared to other credit unions.

You can see how the impact statement connects directly to the overall business goals.

Here is your new framework. Apply it to your job duties right now, and see if you can expand your case studies to position yourself for higher-level leadership today.

OLD FRAMEWORK: problem > solution > result


business goal > road block to business goal > solution > result > impact

You might also like:

Leadership vs management vs authority

Avoiding the victim manager mindset

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