Managers Advised to Stay Polite When Competing for Promotions

September 24, 2019

Over the last few decades, countless movies and TV shows have portrayed cutthroat corporate characters who will stop at nothing to advance up the company ladder. According to many top managers, however, today’s firms aren’t looking to promote anyone as ruthless as this. Although obtaining executive positions at major companies remains extremely competitive, modern businesses want collaborative managers who are willing to work with everyone. That especially includes colleagues who could be seen as their competition for promotions. 

“Today, inclusion and collaboration are the declared values of a lot of large organizations because those qualities demonstrate effective leadership,’’ said Janice Waterman, CEO of the leadership and career services firm Waterman Hurst. Of the S&P 500 companies that selected new high-level managers this year, about 73 percent filled the position with somebody who was already part of the firm. As companies continue to hire from within, managers must be able to get along with employees at all levels. For example, Accenture CEO Julie Sweet landed the top job partly because she had nothing but praise for her colleagues who were also competing for the position. While Sweet faced some criticism for her team’s past performance, she stayed positive and did not try to deflect blame on anyone else. 

Of course, it’s not easy to remain level-headed during leadership changes that can sometimes take years to accomplish. In order to keep calm during a long promotion fight, experts suggest that candidates talk with a mentor who “can be a sounding board for managing your emotions.” They also recommend discussing the matter with colleagues beforehand so that there’s as little confusion as possible going forward. “Addressing the elephant in the room can help diffuse some of the tension that naturally occurs in these competitive situations,’’ said Paul Winum, CEO of the leadership development firm RHR International. 


  1. Why is it important for today’s managers to be collaborative and inclusive? 
  2. What can managers do to stay level-headed and calm during long promotion fights? 

Source: Joann S. Lublin, “Among Today’s Most Prized Leadership Qualities: Playing Nicely,” The Wall Street Journal, September 18, 2019.