April 9, 2015

How Not to Get Promoted to a Manager’s Position

Dead End - No Career Growth!Do you dream of becoming a manager? Do you think it’s “your turn” because you have already been in this job for the right amount of time? You already passed all the other promotions, but why not this one?

Are you thinking, “They should just give it to me, I’m entitled?”

Unlike traditional cultures, many Western companies do not promote based on seniority alone, but on a combination of education, experience, and initiative. This means, a newcomer on the job can get the promotion a seasoned employee was looking forward to. Why is this so? Employees engaging in the below activities are much less likely to be promoted than those who don’t and work at the company less time.

1. Not showing up to meetings.
Showing up, and showing up on time, sets a good impression.

2. Not participating in meetings
Showing up for a meeting is useless without participating - creating conversations, helping to solve problems, offering advice or lessons on the recent projects, and though it may be difficult, learning to ask the right questions. Asking questions for the sake of asking question is not what we are talking about. Questions can be used to “clear doubts,” collect information, paraphrase, and continue the conversation. Using questions shows the American side that you are listening, participating, curious, eager to learn, and are a team player.

3. Not being a problem solver and taking initiative.
Some of this are seen in meetings. While every day, and in every hour or minute, there are opportunities to go the extra mile and demonstrate problem solving skills. Taking initiative means that one should not be expected to be spoon-fed or micromanaged. Understand the tasks to be completed, figure out ways to get them done, and learn ways to be an independent worker.

4. Not Taking cell phone calls in meetings.
Although voice mail is rare or non-existent in India, a typical American in India does not know this. Taking a cell phone call unexpectedly during a meeting without prior notice creates a bad impression to the American / Western counterparts. In addition to attending to calls, texting, checking e-mails, and surfing the web along with other non-related activities must be avoided. They will think that you are not paying attention, easily distracted, and are more interested in things happening outside the meeting. This is not an impression someone who wants to be a manager wants to create.

5. Not understanding the sensitivity or importance of answering e-mails.
Never leave e-mails unanswered. Learn the ins and outs of proper email etiquette. Never leave an email unanswered for longer than a business day (or ask your manager what the best practices are). If on vacation, or out a few days, use the auto responder vacation response. For those with critical assignments, possibly having a back-up to answer emails in their absence is a good idea.

6. Not seeking out or accepting mentorship from managers or the Western counterparts.
The Western counterparts are successful when you are successful. They are the best guides to understanding and helping you to learn the practices needed to be successful in the company, on your team and on your project. Don’t be afraid to ask for mentorship. Asking for help can be considered a respectable thing in many American offices. Managers are honored to be asked to be mentors to their employees and can mold and groom you appropriately. 

Note that mentorship in the US sense is not micromanaging or sitting and guiding you through every step. American mentorship, ideally, includes guidance and tips to help you self-improve. American managers prefer direct reports to take more initiative and not be told every step in the process. Therefore, if you know how to do it, try it yourself first, then ask for help to improve the outcome or process.

7. Never understanding the true roles and responsibilities of a manager (but only want the title).
Mentorship and keen observation can be two things that can help overcome this issue. Always be open to learn. Understand management and leadership principles intellectually. Take it a step further and put these principles into practice. Walk the talk, and show them what you’re really made of.

8. Waiting for your manager to tell you the next steps- step by painful step.
American and Western managers generally pride themselves on trusting their employees to do the job that they must do on their own. This means that the employees who get ahead show self-initiative and do not need to be told what to do at every step. Spoonfeeding or micromanaging is generally an activity managers in the West avoid. American employees generally feel bitter and spiteful towards those managers who micromanage. That's why as noted above, it's better to try it or do it yourself first before asking for help.

9. Saying you are working from home, but not really working from home.
Working from home is still gaining respect in many parts of India, as compared to the West. Society in India still may consider working from home “not serious” or “a time to relax and not take work seriously.” However, the Western manager does not see it this way. Those who relax and do not complete work, respond to emails or show they have completed work while working from home set a bad example to the manager, and may even get a stern talking to and told that ‘working from home’ is no longer an option for them. This is not an impression you want to create if you want to become a manager.

10. Not respecting your manager’s time / schedule.
“Time is money.” This is a popular phrase in the United States. Americans take this very seriously. Each moment at work is to be dedicated to tasks at hand. In opposition to some Eastern cultures, small talk and relationship building on a personal level is often minimal, and getting down to ‘business at hand’ is often much more valued. Whereas some may prefer to build relationships and work later, Americans often prefer to do work during work hours, and build relationships after working hours by meeting business contacts during lunch hours, happy hours, or for dinner. These times are considered ‘off the clock’ or unpaid time, even if it is during the working day (lunch, for example). In addition to this, remaining sensitive to all the other points in this article will help the non-American worker to show respect to the time of their American colleagues, managers or bosses.

11. Demanding a promotion to become a manager, when you haven’t shown any of the above to prove it.
Find out the job description of the manger’s position that you desire. How can you get to this position? What do you need to do? Maybe using this article as a good guideline will help you succeed in a few major areas. A Western boss will not look at your seniority level to qualify you for a manager’s position, but would look at your skills, talents, and abilities. Do they match the manager’s job description? What proves that you are management material? Are you ready to self-promote yourself through sharing relevant outcomes, examples and tangible results that convince your manager you are ready to move to the next step?


Are you a Western manager in India? Which of these tips apply to your workplace situation? Do you have any employees who are management material but need a little extra push? Corporates hire me to help bridge the culture and communication gap between Americans and Indians. 

Take care to learn what is actually required in your company to acquire a management position. It is quite possible that in some Western companies, the senior employees may be surprised and even offended to hear that a junior has been promoted simply because he/she has actually researched and groomed himself/herself appropriately for the promotion at hand.


Jennifer Kumar, Owner and Program Director of Authentic Journeys, based in Kochi, India, offers personalized cross-cultural soft-skills training to Indians working in or for American companies.

Chris Sufi is a freelance editor who lives in Bangalore, India. Her personal interest in language and communication inspires her to contribute through proofreading and editing.  

Photo credit: Andee Duncan @flickr, used under creative commons.

Related Posts:
Process and Communication Styles in American Work Culture
Mistakes Indians make when communicating with Americans

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