How to Ace the Executive Leader Promotion Process

How to Ace the Executive Leader Promotion Process

This week I want to show you how to ace the promotion process and become an executive leader by sharing insights from my own experience as –

  • Someone who got promoted themselves.
  • Someone who coached members of his leadership team to get promoted.
  • An executive leader promotion evaluator and global promotion committee member.
  • And a professional coach who has helped his clients get promoted.

Some people want it to happen, some wish it to happen, others make it happen.

Michael Jordan

Your Best Shot at The Title

If you are thinking about getting promoted, then this is an exciting and pivotal career moment for you. I remember feeling very excited about it.

But it’s also a challenging process to navigate successfully, and I want to give you the best chance of success.

The first year I was in the promotion process was probably one of my most significant years for impact and sponsorship. As I said, I was very excited, and my expectations were high. When I failed to get promoted, it knocked me for six. What else could have done?

I remember not wanting to go for it again, but Mike, who had just become my new boss, convinced me to give it another attempt and helped me meet the high bar required.

If I knew what I know now and share here, then I would have ranked higher among the other candidates and may have succeeded.

If you want to give yourself the best shot at the title, then definitely read on.

Executive Leader Definition

When I refer to getting promoted to an executive leader, I am talking about the jump between a leader who is operationally focussed to one who’s focussed on strategic intent.

Executive leaders typically oversee teams of teams but can be individual contributors who specialise in their field. Titles include Director, Executive Director, some C-Suite titles, etc.

 A High Bar

There is a high bar set for promotion to the executive level.

This is because –

  1. The population of executive leaders is usually less than 10% of the number of employees. So, numbers are limited, competition is intense, and the company wants only the best at this level.
  2. It’s a big step up, and you need to be able to demonstrate you can manage the required responsibility and accountability.
  3. Your internal and external exposure will increase, and you will need to show you are a role model in leadership behaviour and ways of working.
  4. You’ll be setting the strategic direction for part of the organisation that will impact the bottom line.
  5. You must be able to compete with other leaders at that level currently and not drop to a poor performer when you get promoted.

You’ll need to be seen to be doing the role before you are promoted to it, and others should not be surprised when you get the elusive title.

To meet this high bar takes a lot of work on top of on already manic workload and a lot of resilience to keep going when things don’t go your way.

Do You Really Want this?

Before you embark on your long, challenging journey to become an executive leader, I want to challenge you to validate that it’s the right path for you.


What outcomes are you looking to achieve when you get promoted?

For me these were, I wanted to –

  • Be able to provide a more secure lifestyle for my family.
  • Be recognised as performing at that level.
  • Interact with senior leaders and contribute to strategic decisions and direction.
  • Be proud when I spoke about my career progression.

What are yours?

Will these outcomes continue to drive you forward when the going gets tough?

And are you willing to do what it takes to achieve them?

What Will You Be Doing?

How will your role change if you get promoted? What will you be doing each day?

Observe what an experienced executive leader does all day or interview one to ensure you fully understand what’s involved.

Is this the work you want to be doing every day?

How Will Your Life Be Impacted?

The pressure, workload and responsibility will all increase when you step up. This is all manageable, but how does that balance up against your core values, motivations and current life priorities?

Is it worth it, and is it the right time for you?

If you’re still highly motivated to continue the journey, let’s looks at the promotion process itself.

The Promotion Process Overview

There may be variations to the process I am going to describe here, but I’ve based this document on one I know well and believe to be the best of breed.

Here is a high-level overview –

  1. Demonstrate you can meet the entry criteria for promotion to an executive leader.
  2. Selected to be added to the promotion process by your boss.
  3. Submission of a promotion form providing evidence of you meeting the entry criteria.
  4. Evaluation by one or more promotion evaluators who are not in your department. They will interview you, your manager, your sponsors and anyone else they feel they should interview to validate that your promotion form is an accurate representation and that you meet and go beyond the criteria of being promoted.
  5. You will be presented to a promotion committee by your evaluator(s), and the committee will determine if your application is successful or not.
  6. A high-level executive committee signs off the successful candidates.
  7. You will be informed of the outcome.

The following sections drill down further into this process and give you some strategies on how to be successful in each.

Promotion Process Entry Criteria

The first step is to be meet the minimum criteria for promotion to an executive leader. I call it minimum because the competition is very strong, and you need to go above and beyond these criteria to stand out from others in the running.

Each organisation will have different criteria that you need to meet to be promoted to an executive leader. HR will have a copy of this, or it may be available on the intranet.

From my experience, these criteria can be bucketed into the following core areas –


As said earlier, you have to be seen to have the role before they give you the title. Is your platform that of an executive leader?

Track Record of High Performance

For the last three years, has your overall performance ranking been in the top 20% of your peers? Ideally, one or more years in the top 10% would be better.

Strategic Impact

Have you demonstrated your ability to consistently deliver strategic impact for the team, the department and your clients that goes above and beyond your role?

Other than the impact on business results, what else have you done in terms of offering your time to help global/regional initiatives? How have you been a good corporate citizen?

A lot of candidates focus on the impact to the clients they serve and often forget their colleagues/clients up and downstream from their areas which usually have representation on the promotion committee.

Role Model

Are you considered a visible role model in terms of strategic, culturally aligned, reputational, and people leadership behaviour, and ways of working?


Do you have a number of senior executive sponsors (clients, stakeholders, dependent front to back leads) who can speak in detail about what impact you have made to their areas?

Can you demonstrate you meet the entry criteria? If you can, then it’s time to move on to the selection process.

Promotion Process Selection

Up until now, there has been no agendas or opinions involved. You either demonstrate you meet the entry criteria or not.

But being added to the promotion process itself is a different matter.

This is usually a joint decision made between your manager, his boss and his peers.

Ideally, they will select the best candidates from the department as there will be a limited number of promotions. But what leaders consider the best candidates can vary, i.e. some leaders may feel a robust functional leader is better placed than a transformational change leader.

Maybe there is some overselling and horse-trading being performed as some managers may be worried about losing their top performers if they don’t get promoted.

There may also be a queue of people who didn’t get put forward last year which they may consider deserving a shot this year.

If you are reading this, then you are at the level that you understand this is reality. A reality you need to overcome to give yourself the best chance of getting selected.

A way to do this is to ensure you have built a strong relationship with all those involved in this selection process and ensure they are aware of the impact you make to the organisation and ideally their departments.

You’ve Been Selected

Great news, you’ve been added to the promotion process.

Some candidates will continue as is. They’ve done what it takes to get promoted, and it’s just about waiting for the result. I must admit this was me the first time I was selected for the promotion process.

Some candidates will change their behaviour, and others will see through this. My advice is to stay authentic.

What I do advice you do is continue to build on the entry criteria and core areas I described above –

  • It will increase your chances at the interview stage as you will be able to provide more up to date and in some case, better examples.
  • If you fail to get through this year, it will get you entry to and more chance of success for next year’s process as you have continued to progress whilst others have stayed static.

Continue to build strong relationships with your boss, his peers, his boss and your team as good promotion evaluators will speak with them.

The Form

You will have to fill out a detailed promotion form that provide examples of where you meet the entry criteria.

I’ve seen some great ones, some poor ones and some written at the last minute.

It’s always tricky to talk about yourself and what you’ve achieved, but this is a time when this is critical. This is your first impression of the evaluator/promotion committee.

I suggest you start it straight away, do several iterations until you are happy and then ask your boss and some senior colleagues to review it.


As part of the process, you will usually have to submit a list of sponsors for the evaluators to talk to.

A lot of people pick the most senior they can find that agree to sponsor them. This is fine, but can they talk in detail about what you have done for them and their department.

If they can, then that’s great. If not, I would suggest you can find some sponsors who can.

It’s always good to prepare your sponsors before the evaluators talk to them by taking them through your form.

The Evaluator Interview

It is key to over-prepare for your interview.

Go back to the entry criteria and for each of these criteria have an example of how you meet that criteria.


When you provide your example, use the STAR framework –

  • Situation – The situation you were involved in.
  • Task – What was your role in the situation.
  • Action – What actions did you take.
  • Result – What were the results of your actions.

If you can, also describe what you learnt from the situation and applied this learning to future situations.


The language you use is imperative and should represent you as an executive leader. Remember they want to hear examples of you leading and acting strategically.


You need to be very articulate and hide your nerves in an interview, so practice, practice, practice.

Practice with your boss, your colleagues, your partner, a coach, a mirror — anything or anyone who will help you polish your performance and grow in confidence.

If you can, find a person who has been an evaluator in the past and ask them to interview you.

The Committee Meeting

The committee members have two sources of information to make their decision from –

1. Your form – that’s why it’s important to make it exceptional.

2. Your Evaluator(s) – It’s important that they have the best examples of how you go beyond the entry criteria.

Hopefully, your evaluator(s) will represent you well by doing a great pitch of your case. I’ve heard a few poor ones, but there’s generally a committee member who knows the candidate and can articulate their case better. That’s why it’s imperative to keep raising your visibility front to back.

The committee will make their decision on the promotes/no promotes.

Note that the number of candidates, they can promote are limited, there may be a waiting list of candidates who were high up on the list last year that did not get through that the committee may feel should go through this year over you.

Promotion Process Outcome

If you get promoted, that’s fantastic news and outstanding achievement. Don’t forget though that you have stepped up to the premier league and its key to competing at this level and not get relegated next season. I might write another article about the first year as an executive leader. Let me know if you would like me to.

If you don’t get promoted, you have 3 options –

  1. Suck it up, take the feedback and improve so you can put your hat in again next year.
  2. Moan and bitch like a baby, which, in my opinion, means the committee was right.
  3. Leave and find another role. Now the issue here is that it will take a few years to get into the same position again.

It’s your call.

To Recap

  • Make sure you really want it.
  • Relationships and visible impact with your boss, his leadership team, his boss and committee members are essential.
  • Your form and evaluator interview are the only things you control to get the right information to the promotion committee.
  • Don’t rest on your laurel’s, keep pushing to stand out from the other candidates.

I have helped many promotion candidates stand out from their peers and ace the promotion process. If you would like the same support to ace yours – Click Here

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