The information below is shared with permission from and was provided as a reply to an “I want to be a manager” conversation by Elisa Hebert, Director of Project Management at Embolden. Embolden is a national digital communications group, providing a tailored approach to online strategy, development, design & content, working primarily in the nonprofit and community foundation sectors.
You need to decide what you want. More money? A title? A corner office? To be the boss and make your own hours? To not be the boss and work your own hours? Once you know what order these go in, you can make some decisions.
If you just want to make more money and not have more responsibility, you need to hone a highly-demanded skill. If you want more money and a title and a nice office – but not own your own business – you might have to make some compromises. Decide if you’re willing to put in the elbow grease (read: 60hr weeks) if that’s what is necessary, or if you want more home and less work.
Rising in the context of a company that you do not own:
You have to prove yourself before I’m going to recommend you for a promotion. You have to show me you can do the job before I’m going to give it to you. I will help you and train you and provide support if you show me you’re interested. But you’ve gotta put in that elbow grease. Pick up the balls you see rolling around on the floor.
There are three parts to rising:
1. Demonstrable skill – Show me you can do the job.
2. Differential use of self – You may be awesome, you may be smart, and you may have lots of people who love you. One of those people may not be the one with the control. Figuring out what makes them tick, and positioning yourself within that context – to whatever extent you can stomach – is a key. EG: I used to have a facial piercing. My boss didn’t mind it one bit. But it was holding me back. I could see how old male clients couldn’t take me seriously. So I made the decision to take it out. I can remember a 2-day meeting with a particular client who on day one (with piercing in) couldn’t look me in the eye or really hear my consulting, which was solid. Day 2 – I took out the piercing. All of the sudden, he could hear me. I could have left that piercing in, and said, “Forget it, forget him, what a jerk”. But I learned I’m able to actually do better by my clients by putting them at ease. It’s a concession I was comfortable with. I mourned the piercing, but the literal riches that have come from that choice and the growth I’ve been able to see – in part because my clients sing my praises to my boss – has been significant.
You have to decide your comfort zone for this. While I was willing to take out my piercing, I would never be willing to pretend I’m straight by swapping pronouns about my family, or even being silent. But I am willing to take it down a notch and not be as loud as I am naturally. With a more conservative client I can be a little less gregarious. The general guideline I use: be one notch below the client (or boss or whoever). If they’re huggers – let them initiate. If they’re drinking, have one less. If they’re quiet, model that. Let them lead. If you really can’t tolerate the idea of your work-self being any different, it might be time to read Erika’s book, and work for yourself.
3. A mentor, rabbi, or coach – Whatever you call it, this is someone who guides you, gives it to you straight, tells you you’re a star when you are, and kicks you under the table when you need it. This person will also go to bat for you when you’re ready.