Elements of a Job Promotion

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The following is a guest post by Gary Bonner.

A commenter from my last post “Making a Living, Or Making a Life” had a slight disagreement with my quote that “no one ever lies on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time in the office.” In the balancing life of modern America the commenter expressed that “there are plenty of people working past the age of 62 and even those who are retired that say to themselves ‘if I had only gotten that promotion.”


His mention of age 62 or even those retired who may have regret for not getting a promotion appears to be a concern about the higher earning power that comes with higher positions in corporations. Retirement planning and savings are a central focus in everyone’s career in today’s workplace. The objective is to maximize return on investment while increasing savings contributions when salaries and bonuses are rising.

There are other reasons beyond financial concerns for people regretting the missed opportunity for promotion. People in corporations value promotions because it indicates achievement, responsibility, trust and confidence expressed by the corporate manager/owner that the person can tackle the challenges of their new roles. The new promotion more readily “defines” the person in the group and often grants them higher privilege that others in the organization must accept. And at the bottom line, it is a boost to the ego that “these guys are finally seeing the light”.

While we don’t have to dig too deep into our thoughts to find the desire for a promotion, what are the elements of how a promotion occurs and what drives the individual to achieve it? The elements that provide the highest probability of success are familiar and can be extended further: the right place, the right time, the right group, the right set of talents and the right motivation. Let’s look at an illustration that identify these elements.

General Patton & General Eisenhower

General George S Patton was without question the most talented and feared warrior in the Allied effort in World War II. Patton had a natural knack for leading men into battle. Nazi Germany assumed he would lead the total war effort to defeat Hitler in Europe. Patton, with all his skill and achievement, was at the right place at the right time. However, Patton’s West Point schoolmate, Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe. Patton was assigned a lesser post and commanded the 3rd Army Tank Group.

Eisenhower had immense organizational and planning skills to assemble the vast armada necessary to invade the French coast. Most importantly, Eisenhower had the diplomatic skills and ability to deal with difficult people and conflicting egos to overcome obstacles, reach consensus and lead a multi-national force in unison. Everyone “liked Ike”. Eisenhower was at the right place with the right group and had the right set of talents.

Patton saw himself as a reincarnation of Caesars and ancient heroes of battles. He was argumentative, uncooperative, driven and determined to have everything done his way. He believed he had the greatest vision to defeat the Germans and should be the Supreme Commander. His motivation was not only victory, but personal triumph that would lead to glorify Patton.

Patton not only didn’t lead the invasion, he was left cooling his heels and didn’t participate in leading anyone anywhere on D-Day. Eisenhower used Patton as a decoy to delay the Germans from reinforcing Normandy. The fake worked and allowed the invasion forces to gain a strong foothold to begin operations. Eisenhower’s motivation was to achieve the mission objective regardless of who gained glory or received credit. Eisenhower, not Patton, had the right motivation. Personal ambition has its place, but it is not the primary reason to grant a promotion.

Be Honest With Yourself

You can avoid regret if you honestly objectify yourself and assign your correct identity into your workplace circumstances. You need to evaluate the work situation correctly and not project your own hopes or aspirations into the group dynamic. Then the questions can be asked: “are you/were you at the right place, at the right time, with the right group and did you possess the right set of talents?

Then you must sort out motivation to properly evaluate your gain or loss of promotion. You have to examine your own motivations. You also must judge the motivations of higher management and other group members as you perceive them. This is difficult as the motives of others may prove to be elusive. All play a key factor whether you obtain the promotion or not.

We all have a better chance of getting to retirement without looking back with regret if we periodically step back and evaluate our current situation. We may see ourselves blocked into our jobs because the situation lacks one or more of the elements needed for promotion. If so, we need to decide whether we should seek opportunities elsewhere or satisfy ourselves that our present circumstances are acceptable. Either decision is rational, it is up to the individual to decide if it is desirable.

We’ll explore this a little further by looking at the career of automobile giant Lee Iacocca next time.

Gary Bonner has spent the last 35 years in commercial & consumer finance, equipment leasing and factoring for 4 of the largest financial organizations world-wide. He served as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 manufacturer and also started and operated a successful small business. He graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Finance from the University of Oklahoma and now resides in San Diego, CA.

{ 4 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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4 Responses to “Elements of a Job Promotion”

  1. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think that the quote about nobody lying on their death bed wishing that they would have spent more time in the office is spot on. Maybe not for everyone, but for me.

  2. Cap says:

    “We all have a better chance of getting to retirement without looking back with regret if we periodically step back and evaluate our current situation.”

    Great point right there. Something I don’t think about too much due to my age. Periodic reflection, of course, doesn’t just apply to career goals and achievement. I’m sure all of us can use a little step back once in awhile and reflect on one’s current standing — whether it be relationship, finances, or whatever else.

    Your point on timing, location, and sets of talent made me realize that I’ve missed quite a few opportunities in the past, and most of the time it’s because I didn’t feel I had the right set of qualifications. On further reflection, I think I was just making excuses for myself to avoid the hassles of certain responsibilities. Lesson learned!

  3. fred says:

    Very good guest post. Why doesn’t this guy have a blog?

    Cap: I completely agree on the point of reflection. We all need to step back and take a look at our situation for what it is. Reflection affords us the opportunity to appreciate what we have, and work on things we need to fix.

    One thing that comes to mind relative to this topic is the need to proactively ask others how you are performing. This question should be asked of your boss, your coworkers, and your staff. In many cases, it should also be asked to your boss’ boss, since he/she is the person who will likely promote you to your boss’ level. You can only really know what people think by asking them what they think – and even then they might be using restraint. Build a relationship and ask this question frequently, and you’ll never go to far off course.

  4. Jon says:

    When I was in my twenties and thirties, I was gung ho about putting in massive amounts of time and getting the promotions and raises. Now that I’m somewhat more seasoned, I’m only interested in having a job for the money to support my amusements and fund my retirement. I have responsibilities elsewhere in the community that fulfill my desire for recognition and meaning, so my job is just …wait for it…a job.

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