What one co-founder looks for when promoting employees

Inc. Magazine

One of the most common questions that ambitious employees ask their boss — along with “Can I get a raise?” — is “What can I do to get promoted?”

For some bosses, the answer to getting promoted is obvious:

Complete important tasks, gain a certain amount of experience or simply be the next in line. Other people, like HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah, take a different approach. When it comes to getting promoted, Shah focuses on the employee’s attitude.

His reasoning is simple. Attitude informs action. Attitude informs behavior. Attitude is the driving force behind every achievement, accomplishment and success.

Shah’s criteria have validity outside his company. Here’s what he wants to see employees do:

1. Be a servant of others, not yourself.

People never accomplish anything worthwhile by themselves. That’s why great teammates make everyone around them better.

Great leaders provide the tools, training and culture to help their employees do their jobs better and achieve their own goals.

Great companies serve their customers first; they know that by serving their customers they ultimately serve the interests of their business.

The employee who’s only in it for himself will someday be by himself. The employee in it for others may not get all the limelight, but the right people definitely notice.

2. Be humble, not arrogant.

Arrogant people think they know everything; humble people are always learning. Humble people ask questions. Humble people ask for help.

Humble people automatically share credit because they instinctively know that every effort, no matter how seemingly individual, is a team effort.

Humble people are willing to take on any job, no matter how menial, because no job is beneath them, and in the process they prove that no job is above them.

3. Be optimistic, not pessimistic.

Optimists add energy; pessimists drain away energy. Optimists try more things and take more (intelligent) risks simply because they’re focused on what can go right. Pessimists never get started because they’re too busy thinking about what might go wrong.

Best of all, optimism is infectious.

4. Focus on execution.

Planning is important, but too many shelves are filled with strategies that were never implemented.

The best employees develop an idea, create a strategy, set up a basic operational plan, then execute, adapt, execute, revise, execute, refine and make great things happen based on what works in practice, not in theory.

Success starts with strategy but ends with execution. Employees who advance are certainly good at planning, but they are awesome at execution.

5. Think long-term.

Real leadership isn’t short-lived. Real leaders are able to consistently inspire, motivate and make people feel better about themselves than they think they have a right to feel. Real leaders are people you follow not because you have to, but because you want to.

Other people will follow a real leader anywhere. And they’ll follow a real leader forever because she has a knack for making you feel you aren’t actually following — wherever you’re going, you feel like you’re going there together.

Creating that level of respect and trust and that type of bond takes time. Great employees consider not just the short-term but also the long-term, and then act accordingly.

In time, great employees are placed in positions where they can truly influence the success of their company.

6. Be a volunteer, not a draftee.

The best employees are natural volunteers. They volunteer for extra tasks. They volunteer for responsibility before responsibility is delegated. They volunteer to train or mentor new employees. They offer to help people who need help, and even those who don’t.

Why is that important? Volunteering demonstrates leadership aptitude. Leaders are proactive, and proactive people don’t wait to be told what to do.

Successful employees earn promotions by working harder, just as successful businesses earn higher revenue by delivering greater value, and successful entrepreneurs earn bigger payoffs by working hard well before any potential return is in sight.

Draftees expect to be asked. Draftees expect to be compensated before they will even consider doing more.

7. Be self-aware, not selfish.

Self-aware people understand themselves and that helps them understand the people around them. They are more empathetic and accepting of the weaknesses of others because they know how it feels to fail.

They can lead with compassion and kindness because they know how it feels to be treated with disregard, disdain and scorn. They do everything they can to help others reach their goals, because they know how it feels to fall short.

Self-aware people solve for the team, the organization and the customer — not just for themselves. Every organization needs self-aware people in key roles. (What is a key role? Every role.)

8. Be adaptable, not rigid.

Things constantly change in high-growth companies. Inflexible people grow uncomfortable with too much change and consciously or unconsciously try to slow things down.

Best practices are important. Methodology is important. Guidelines, procedures and policies all can help a business run smoothly.

But anyone can follow guidelines and procedures. Great employees are willing, even eager, to change. Great employees respond to new circumstances and challenges with excitement, not hesitation. Employees willing to adapt tend to advance more quickly because that is what every company needs.

9. Be a teacher, not a truant officer.

The best people like to teach. They don’t hoard knowledge; they spread it and share what they know.

A truant officer’s job is to make sure people show up. A teacher’s job is to make sure people learn. A teacher helps other people gain experience, wisdom and insight. A teacher willingly and happily gives other people tools they can use.

In the process, a teacher builds teams. And a teacher advances, because a true team builder is a rare gem.

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