Being a good manager doesn't make you promotable. (Here's what does.)

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Being good doesn’t make you promotable

Being good doesn’t make you promotable. Here’s what does.

A software engineering manager recently asked me, “What’s the difference between being a good manager and being a manager who is promotable?”

It’s a powerful, insightful question because it reflects the fact that the best performer is not always the best candidate for the next level of leadership. Delivering positive results is certainly necessary, but those who exceed expectations in results don’t always make the best leaders. That’s true whether you’re moving from individual contributor to manager or up the rungs of the management ladder.

Generally speaking, what makes you promotable is demonstrating the skills that are needed to succeed at the next level.

For a first-line manager, that means showing director-level skills. And here are a few ways that’s different from management-level skills.

1️⃣ First-line managers tend to focus on strengthening the relationships with their direct reports. Because you officially represent your company to your individual contributors in a way they don’t have to, this is a crucial part of good management. But as a director, strong peer relationships become increasingly important.

2️⃣ First-line managers often focus on the tactical work, actively balancing investments in scope, quality, timeline, etc. of specific projects. As a director, you’ll need to participate in setting your team’s strategy as well as communicating and supporting it. This strategy focus is why those peer relationships become so important.

3️⃣ First-line managers can sometimes succeed for a while without learning to delegate, especially when leading teams of specialists whose roles and skills are already well defined. As a director, you must be able to release more control, letting other people have ownership of projects and decisions that will ultimately reflect on you and your reputation.

So, to be a promotable manager, yes, you must first be a good manager. Then work on learning and showing the skills that make a good director, including peer relationships, strategic thinking, and effective delegation.

And if you want further help developing those skills, let’s talk. Visit for a complimentary conversation about advancing your leadership abilities.

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