How to Move on After Getting Passed Up for a Promotion

August 11, 2015

Anyone who’s been passed over for a major promotion can attest: it hurts. You’re angry, frustrated, embarrassed, and it’s tempting to compose a resignation email starting with a capital ‘F.’ Further, a cadre of sympathizers will materialize at your door, phone and inbox with solicitations for you to vent. But instead of reacting, hit pause. In the aftermath of a missed promotion, more eyes will be on you than you may realize. This is the time for you to take four deliberate steps and demonstrate the kind of leader you really are.

Refocus on your core values

If, for instance, integrity, collaboration and results are core to how you see yourself as a leader, how will your behaviors in the next 24 hours, week, and coming months demonstrate these principles?

You’re still a leader

You still have a team that looks up to and relies on you. You have customers and suppliers who respect and trust you. And you have a fiduciary responsibility to deliver on this year’s results.

Choose your confidantes carefully

Venting to a recruiter, co-worker or that one board member you sometimes meet with, are all potential scenarios for damaging your reputation. Accept sympathy graciously, but quietly. For actual advice, choose one or two trusted advisors from outside your immediate organization. Choose someone you trust, andwho has the dry-eyed objectivity to hear out your venting, refill your adult beverage and suggest, “Let’s talk about what comes next.”

Reassess your goals

If after being passed over, you are happy in your current position (and few leaders are), then dig in and keep doing the things that made you successful. If your goal is to work at the next level, however, then begin to plan a careful exit. Lay out a set of interim milestones that will leave your team and your organization in better shape than you found it. Create an exit that leaves your — and your internal supporters’ — credibility intact.

Here’s an example of these four principles in action. We coached a senior executive of a Fortune 50 organization – let’s call her ‘Jennifer’ – who was one of four internal candidates to potentially succeed the CEO. By most estimates, she was the lead contender. Then a year into the process, Jennifer was informed that, while the board valued her greatly, they would not be naming her as successor. The message was clear: We love your performance. We want you to stay. But you’ll never be CEO.

Her first response, predictably, was to be angry and hurt. She had devoted two decades of her career to the company and played a key role in its growth and success. Furthermore, she knew she was marketable elsewhere. But rather than acting reflexively, Jennifer took a step back. She reached out to a trusted ex-colleague and to a former CEO who knew her well. She vented and sought advice. She later recounted the most powerful piece of advice she received: “Think about how you’re going to show up tomorrow.”

Jennifer left the company about nine months later. Though many regretted her departure, she left her organization in stellar shape and walked away with grace and dignity. And satisfaction: she left to become CEO of a competitor. The coda to this story is that, because of the thoughtfulness of her exit, the board members of Jennifer’s original organization have since reached a general consensus that they should have considered Jennifer’s succession candidacy from more angles. And if they go outside to replace theirpresent CEO, it will be an attempt to bring Jennifer back.

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