Your Time vs Their Time – The Mystique of Promotions

It’s January 23… and you’ve wrapped up one year and launched headfirst into another one. And buried within the holidays and celebrations is an end-of-the-year touchpoint. In that touchpoint discussion, managers will give feedback, a compensation review and sometimes a promotion.

It’s the “sometimes” that has created tension inside organizations. And while we work with many people to prepare for the end-of-year conversations, we also start coaching with people when they didn’t get what they want.

Promotions, or the lack of them, create tension in organizations, hard feelings between managers and employees – and a lot of misunderstanding with everyone. In fact, the tension around it has increased in recent years.

People managers feel like they get asked about promotions 3x more often than they used to. Most feedback sessions lead to “what’s in it for me,” and many employees want to meet frequently to be sure that their “promotion” and advancement is on track. Managers say that the language has shifted from “What’s my next opportunity?” to “You need to promote me” and “You owe me a promotion.” That’s a pretty demanding employee!

Employees are worried about falling behind. They’re worried about an increased cost of living. They want to hold onto the more flexible lifestyle and work style, and they’re impatient about getting to the next opportunity. They’re trying to shift the timing from when they want it to when the company is ready to do it.

That suggests that some employees don’t really understand how the timing of promotions works.

And the answer is: it depends.

There are some concepts that are universal for all companies.

  • Promotions never happen because an employee asked for it. Promotions happen on a company’s time and when an opening or increased responsibility call for it.
  • Promotions are rarely the sole decision of one leader.
  • Promotions are best impacted by what you do vs. what you ask for.
  • Promotions are more relational than transactional.

The concepts may seem clear. They may also seem rigid as if there’s little you can do to influence them in your favor. It may feel like there’s an invisible playbook inside a company, and some people seem to have one and you don’t. It’s more likely that some employees seek guidance and coaching and developed their own playbook for career advancement.

Here’s how we’d guide you to do the same.

Appreciate Feedback. Act on It.
Even though you aren’t in charge of when promotions happen, pay attention when these touchpoints occur. Even if you weren’t promoted, your career was discussed. Managers are most likely to share their thoughts –and the sound bites of others – as they go through a review.

Don’t challenge your manager’s perspective. Seek to understand it. If you come across as defensive or resistant, you won’t get much more. When you have constructive feedback, act on it. Not by trying to prove a leader wrong, but more by trying to shift an impression.

It doesn’t matter if impressions are accurate. It’s someone else’s perspective. And they have a right to it. You need to change it, not debate it.

In a coaching session, we ask you: what feedback you’ve gotten recently and what you’ve done with the feedback. Everyone answers the first question. Most people say “nothing” on the second one.

Managers vs Coaches.
Everybody has a manager, not everybody has a coach within that manager. And that’s OK. You shouldn’t put your career opportunities in the hands of one person anyway. Most promotions are decided by committee. But you should be savvy about where you stand with the manager you have.

In a coaching session, we ask you: where you stand in a manager’s pecking order. Are you the right-hand person for your manager? If not, are you second? And if not, chances are your manager may not be your best advocate. You have plenty of support in your current role. You just might not have the coach who’s going to help you move beyond it.

If there were an invisible playbook, page two would tell you to build an internal network. Build champions and coaches inside an organization, and they will support your future steps.

Results Speak Loudest.
There is an “I’m owed” mentality that is showing up in touchpoints. And it doesn’t fare well in a corporate setting. Promotions start with company needs, not individual ones. They will align, and promotions are likely. But you do more to promote yourself by your work vs. your words.

In a coaching setting, we talk to you about how you position your work and your brand. And this is often where some employees outshine others. They know how to package themselves more effectively. And instead of talking about what they should get, they talk more about what they’ve done.

Stop By, Say Hi!
We are still adjusting to new ways of working. The advantages of flexibility outweigh the trade-offs for most employees, but promotions are about visibility and relationships. And if they don’t know you…they don’t promote you. That’s not your manager’s responsibility, it’s yours. No matter how you’re working, you need to put added effort into relational time with your leader and others.

While we’ve heard a lot about how much employees need flexibility in their schedules, we’ve also heard what leaders say about adjusted work environments.

“If I’ve seen you in three Zoom meetings with 10 other people, I don’t know you.”

We know that promotions start with relationships. To promote you, I don’t just need to know your work. I need to know you to endorse you within the company.


Promotions are key points across a career, and as a result, they get a lot of attention. But worry less about timing and more about effort. Because there’s a lot you can do to greatly improve your chances.

If your year-end touchpoint didn’t go as you had planned, let’s talk about how you can proactively improve your opportunity.

As always, we’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

The Expectations of Executive Presence

In the last few months, we began our research for an updated release of our first book, The Hidden Factor. Written more than a decade ago, the book defined presence and offered executive-level insights on how presence helps some employees get ahead while the lack of it holds other employees back. Presence was viewed as a collection of attributes and expectations that increased with more visibility and responsibility across a career.

Our first book provided executive-level input on how employees show up in a business setting, and we’ve coached to those impressions and expectations for thirty years. In fact, we would say that the concepts of presence: Confidence, Commitment and Connection, are validated over and over again as we talk to managers and leaders about impact and influence.

But a decade ago now seems like a lifetime ago. And as we continue to provide expertise on presence, we’ve collected new insights to challenge and confirm our direction. And in our recent surveys and interviews, we researched two different perspectives: how employees think about presence in a leader and how leaders observe presence in employees.

As our work continues on our fifth book, here are some preliminary thoughts that may help you consider presence in your work environment today:

A Leader’s Presence – the Employees’ Perspective

Ten years ago, we ranked the attributes of presence. And while most of the original concepts are still there, the order of importance has shifted. While confidence, credibility and professionalism led the pack originally, today’s employees focus more on authenticity, believability and engagement.

It doesn’t mean that confidence and credibility are less important. It means to really influence an employee, a leader has to have more than that.

And leaders got a lot of that feedback and coaching during the pandemic. They were guided to share more about themselves and to start with a human connection before a business concept. It has elevated expectations of a leader to a compelling communicator. And leaders are seeking skills to become memorable and repeatable. It taps into our work on storytelling, and in many cases, the pandemic helped leaders get a jumpstart on this skill.

Storytelling is valued enough to be considered an expected attribute of presence in leaders. If you lead a large division or a function with multiple teams and you haven’t mastered storytelling, you’re behind your peers. It’s the element of presence that brings content and style together by helping a communicator establish lasting impressions and repeatable sound bites.

But if leaders are a little ahead on new expectations, employees themselves may be behind.

An Employee’s Presence – the Leaders’ Perspective:

When you ask leaders to think about how they notice presence in employees, there are some new dynamics to consider. Working remote or hybrid has had an impact on how easy or difficult it is to establish presence with leaders. And in several of our discussion groups, managers called this out directly. They say establishing presence is harder because they just don’t get as many opportunities. And it seems leaders feel the same.

Here are three themes we identified in surveys and conversations with leaders.

First, presence hasn’t changed. Choices have.

Leaders have stayed consistent to impressions and how they describe the impact of presence on someone’s visibility and opportunity. Bottom-line: “Like everyone else, I form an impression of you from how you communicate and how you present yourself in business settings.” But as employees have shifted with flexible hours, flexible settings and flexible everything else, the opportunity for comparison is more obvious.

Leaders would say an employee with presence stands out so much more today because of all the other choices being made around them. From how people show up in meetings to when they show up in the office, from lack of focus to lack of clarity, from being prepared to being unclear. And by extending the boundaries of how we work, we’ve also opened up more opportunities to miss the mark.

Second, in-person presence trumps virtual presence. Every time.

“You can’t confuse the convenience of virtual with the influence of in-person.”

A good analogy is this: You’re sitting in a room with a person and the television is on. You’re watching something together. But as you engage with each other, it’s easy for the show to be drowned out as you take more of an interest in your conversation with each other. You feed on each other’s enthusiasm which is expressed through body language and voice energy. There’s just more to take in and more to influence when you’re with someone.

It doesn’t mean that virtual can’t work. By focusing on the television, you and the other person in the room can choose to make the television the focal point. But it takes agreement and combined focus to make it happen. And in a business setting, a really good facilitator. And that puts your ability to make an impact in the hands of someone else.

Third, leveraging impressions is a lot about relationships. They matter.

If your presence is established as an initial impression, it takes repetition of that impression for people to attach presence to your brand. It’s how people begin to think about you and talk about you when you’re not around. They describe you to others, and they leverage you in different places.

Presence opens the door to new relationships. But leaders are talking a lot about the lack of relationships with newer employees.

In our discussions, one leader said: “If I’ve seen you twice a month in a virtual meeting and you’re one of ten people, I don’t really know you. I don’t think of that as a relationship. I only know you related to the skills you’re discussing in the meeting.” And without the more relaxed opportunity to form a relationship, it’s harder for leaders to assess expanded responsibility and consider promotion. For employees, it’s harder to have a network of champions.


As we head into another year of hybrid working and expanded choices, you should think about how presence shows up in your business setting. From leaders to managers, the expectations of presence have stayed consistent. But a lot about how we establish a presence has changed. And that’s going to take more effort around fewer opportunities. It means learning how to have a presence in the way you’ve been asked to work or the way you’ve chosen to work.

Resetting presence is a priority for us in the year ahead. And we anticipate 2024 will add another book to our resources.

As always, we’re here when you need us and hope you’ll consider how we can help you and your team reset presence in the year ahead.

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Does Presence Even Matter Anymore?

To answer that question, you have to consider one in return. How do you define presence?

Do you think about it merely in terms of how someone looks and how well they package that look in a business setting? Then, in a hybrid world, presence may matter more the day you’re in the office versus the day you’re on Zoom.

Or do you define presence in terms of someone’s confidence and the concept of “owning the room” or commanding the meeting? In those terms, presence may be evident in some meetings and totally lacking in others. When the workspace and the setting were redefined, presence didn’t translate easily. That’s why people are asking the question.

But if you think of presence more in terms of engagement and the ability to impact or influence others, then presence may matter more than it ever has. And that’s because business context has been blurred and the rules of engagement are looser. So, it leaves managers wondering whether they should address it and coach people, and it leaves individuals wondering whether they should listen to the coaching.

And to both groups, our answer is yes. Presence isn’t a mandate or a set of rules that should be force fit on someone. Presence is about awareness, influence and the ability to collaborate, connect and move others forward. As a manager, you can reset the definition and the guidelines so that presence has a fresh feel to your team, and your team can improve their overall effectiveness by thinking more about influence with a peer group or a customer group.

Here’s how we’ve reset presence in our workshops and helped our clients think about how to coach it within their organizations.

It starts with a clear definition.

All of the elements listed in the questions above are a part of presence. And that can make it sound like it’s solely visual, all about dominating, or even just about listening. When presence is described by the first two elements, it feels rigid, or personality driven. That’s because these are ways that presence shows up, but not really what it is.

Presence is the culmination of impressions. It’s not something you give yourself, but a way that others define you in terms of how they see you, hear you and feel influenced by you. It’s based on someone else’s experiences, and the expectations of presence are best described by how others need to feel about you to follow your guidance or line up to your ideas.

We define presence as the three C’s: Confidence, Commitment and Connection. They represent attributes built on impressions from others. And those impressions and expectations have stayed very consistent even with all of the shifts in our business setting. But because we shifted so much about where we work and how we work together, the power of impressions and the intention behind owning them should be reset to match those changes.

Here’s how we talk about it.

HOW YOU’RE SEEN: Visual impressions will always be the first way we focus on someone. It may be a quick impression or a lingering one. And it’s shaped by what you wear and choices you make with hair, nails, makeup, tattoos, facial hair, shoes, and everything else that we can visually see. And managers are beginning to ask: Do I need to set some guidelines around how they show up?

Yes, you should set expectations because without them, you can’t guide choices. But tread lightly in terms of setting do’s and don’ts and focus instead on owning impressions. Organizations are working hard on making all things inclusive, and someone’s visual expression of style is a part of that.

In our work, we’ve shifted from coaching someone on poor choices to helping them see that bold choices speak loudly. That means what I see may distract me enough that I never get to what you wanted me to hear. When you own your impression, you think about those reactions and learn to work with them so that you are heard. Consider a discussion where your team sets the norms or talks through what intention looks like for different groups.

HOW YOU’RE HEARD: Most groups have broken rules of effective meetings in a virtual setting, and they’re struggling to put order back into discussions in an in-person setting. And if you’re running some meetings with people in-person and others remote, then you’re right back to the “invisible audience” on the virtual platform.

We’re coaching people to make sure they’ve found a way to be active, involved and seen in meetings. The majority of impressions formed around someone’s brand and influence come out of day-to-day meetings. The outspoken team members often need to be coached to wait before they jump in. While they’ve gotten kudos for being involved and outspoken, their energy can stifle others. Peers will be less interested in working with them if they seem to always have the answer. Those who are quiet or more tentative in a group setting need some tools to bridge ideas or create space for questions and deeper thought. From both perspectives, it’s intentional choices that drive impressions of someone who is active in meetings and a valued part of getting to resolution.

As a manager, you can support the meeting setting by adding a little structure to discussions and giving advance notice about the topics up for discussion. Too often, managers approach their team meetings from their own perspective. They wing it or pull the agenda together a few hours ahead of time. Unintentionally, the manager is running a meeting that works well for the outspoken and provides no support to those who build confidence through preparation.

HOW YOU INFLUENCE: When we focus on connection, we shift someone’s perspective off of how they’re doing and toward how they make others feel. It’s a true differentiator of presence, and it’s gotten a little lost in the virtual world.

If you think about what influences you, it’s usually driven by an idea you like and your willingness or interest in aligning with the person who shared the idea. When we hear an idea from someone we don’t align with, we’re less likely to hear it as good and we’ll rebuke the idea to avoid the person.

Across the attributes of presence, connection is the concept that has suffered the most in a virtual world. And it may be the hardest to achieve as we shift to hybrid. There are a lot of bad habits that have taken hold as many people are pushing information out and not focused on drawing people in.

Influence is more about others and less about you. Active listening is the skill we coach and the ability to draw response from others. It’s harder to read and get response virtually, and it’s why we coach people to rethink the virtual connection and add ways that confirm response and impose participation.

As a manager, active listening is a great skill to coach. When you debrief on meetings, bring two perspectives to the conversation. Ask an employee how others responded to their idea and when they share what they think, ask them how they know. This forces discussion of response and the awareness of the communicator. It also creates an opportunity to consider ways to get that reaction or response from a group.

So YES, presence still matters. Maybe more than it ever has before because business context has been blurred and the rules of engagement are looser. And when there’s change and a little confusion, there’s always opportunity. We already see it as people share the impact of coaching. Those who pay attention to impressions are getting noticed and pulled into bigger opportunities.

If you think your team could use a reset on presence we’d love to help.

We’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates