How to unlock your career progression

Career progression is a common topic in coaching sessions, particularly for professionals seeking to overcome obstacles and propel their careers forward.


Many individuals wonder why their career is not advancing despite their hard work and dedication within their work field. Some may even observe that certain individuals, whom they perceive as "brown-noses" or "ar** lickers" (pardon my French), seem to get promoted easily within the organisation. However, it's essential to question whether hard work, dedication, and having the best technical skills are the sole promotion criterion. But also the observation that some people make about "brown noses". Are we missing the point here? After looking into hard work and "being best", I will touch on this topic.

Being best at what?

Individuals who are primarily promoted based on their hard work, dedication and technical expertise are often referred to as expert leaders in vertical development terminology. The vertical development framework defines five leadership stages and describes what behaviour typically describes leaders operating at the different stages. The expert stage is the first of the five described leadership stages, but there are other stages in the vertical development framework before the leadership stages. 

Unlike horizontal development, which is about acquiring new (technical) skills and knowledge, vertical development emphasises deepening one's capacity to handle increasingly complex situations and challenges. As individuals grow vertically, they become more adaptable, self-aware, and capable of handling leadership roles with greater effectiveness and maturity. 

So while expert leaders excel in their technical knowledge and handle technical challenges admirably, they may not possess the necessary qualities to become exceptional leaders. Leadership demands a broader set of capacities, ones that are not often taught in universities or business schools.

Effective leadership is a nuanced skill that evolves as you grow. One of the critical aspects of leadership is self-awareness, the ability to reflect on one's actions and behaviours. As leaders reflect and develop their self-awareness, they become more well-rounded and acquire new skills and capacities that complement their existing ones. These skills and capacities include situational awareness, understanding complexity, delegation, empowerment, coaching, inclusion and the ability to create visionary strategies for their function or area. Capacities which are typically observed with leaders operating at the higher leadership stages. 

How to develop your leadership capacities and skills

Leadership development is an ongoing and deliberate journey that requires active effort. For some, exposure to excellent managers and leaders operating at higher vertical development stages serves as natural coaching, helping them acquire new skills and capacities needed to succeed in their current roles and be fit for promotion. 

Others find inspiration from surrounding themselves with strong role models, motivating their growth. It can be friends, family, and peers, to mention some. Here it's worth noting that operating at higher stages of vertical development doesn't necessarily require one to be a leader; it reflects how individuals respond to challenges and obstacles in various situations. The vertical development framework primarily focuses on leadership behaviours, but its benefits extend to personal growth beyond leadership roles. 

If you, for instance, are blessed with parents operating at a high vertical development stage, it will be more natural for you to operate at a higher stage than many of your peers, as you have been exposed to solid role models your entire life. 

Suppose you are not privileged with the above-mentioned opportunities or prefer to accelerate your leadership career journey. In that case, there is a powerful solution – embracing executive coaching. To better understand the value of executive coaching, let's first address the common perception associated with 'brown-noses.'

"Brown-noses" or stakeholder management?

The notion of "brown-noses" and their association with career progression brings attention to the significance of superior stakeholder engagement and management. Often, individuals may mistakenly confuse stakeholder management with "brown-nosing," mainly if they haven't fully developed their understanding and skills in this area. As Donald Rumsfeld once wisely stated, "There are things we don't know we don't know", and this rings especially true for the multifaceted nature of stakeholder management and its far-reaching implications.

Talented employees and leaders who can effectively comprehend, handle, and engage stakeholders gain a competitive advantage in organisational growth, particularly in securing more senior positions. This capacity also plays a pivotal role in developing other essential leadership skills and capacities that emerge as leaders progress vertically and operate at higher stages of vertical development. Emphasising stakeholder engagement is critical to achieving career advancement and fostering impactful leadership. 

Undoubtedly, genuine "brown-noses" might manage to get promoted, and life isn't always fair. However, instead of dwelling on the injustices, focus on taking charge of your development for the best chance of success. Trust that justice will eventually address those unfairly promoted leaders in due time. Your proactive approach to personal growth will help you achieve your desired achievements.

Executive coaching

Executive coaching offers a potent avenue to navigate the realm of 'unknown unknowns,' as it centres on exploring one's beliefs, perspectives, self-awareness, and understanding of others. By partnering with a skilled executive coach, you can strengthen the abovementioned and, in addition, gain personalised guidance, unbiased feedback, and a strategic roadmap to navigate challenges, empowering you to reach new heights in your leadership journey. 

Career progression and leadership development go hand in hand. Being the best at technical skills may not be sufficient to thrive in leadership roles. Effective leaders possess diverse skills, including well-developed reflection, self-awareness, strong stakeholder management, and visionary thinking. 

Thus, investing in executive coaching and continuous self-improvement can be an invaluable resource to unlock your leadership potential, identify areas for growth, and develop the necessary skills and capacities to propel your career forward. 

Remember, leadership is a journey of growth, and with the right mindset and support, you can unlock your true potential.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, Greater London, SW8
Written by Kim Hafjall, Executive Coach | Coach | Author | Adviser
London, Greater London, SW8

Kim Háfjall | Executive Coach | Author | Adviser | Catalyst for Growth
After 20 years of international experience (lived in 5 countries) and having held roles like CEO, CFO, Regional and Group Treasurer, I’m today dedicated to helping other talented professionals and corporates grow their talent through executive coaching & consulting.

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