Ask Jo: Stuck! When you’re too valuable to be promoted.

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Question: I feel stuck in my current position. I recently asked for a promotion but was told I am “too valuable” in the role I’m in. What should I do? — Business Analyst.

Answer: Ugh, that has got to be the ultimate backhanded compliment!

Here’s what I think is going on “between the lines” of that comment: You’ve outgrown your current role, but your personal brand has not.

Think back to a time when you really enjoyed your current role. I bet there was a time when this job was a stretch for you, and you stepped up to the challenge and performed like a rock star. You became known for doing your job so well that you built up some strong “personal brand” equity, and people know you as the go-to-person for this particular job. That’s what we call “a good problem to have”: you did a really good job of building a positive perception about your suitability for the role, but you may have done “too” good of a job!

Now to your current predicament: You’ve now outgrown the role and you’re capable of doing more, but people around you haven’t caught on yet because they still see you in that particular role. Their perception of you hasn’t evolved at the same pace as you’ve evolved. Don’t fault them for that. Do, however, think about the personal brand you want to be known for next and how you can better craft it to send the proper message. Here are two ways to achieve that:

1.) Scale up your brand

For your personal brand to accurately represent your current level of skill, it must grow – or scale up – along with you. Krista Thomas is Vice President of Product Marketing at Rubicon Project. Thomas has built a career around helping tech companies build great brands as they scale up to serve a growing customer base. So it’s not surprising that she would offer similar advice for anyone wanting to advance their career. Her advice for any ambitious emerging leader is “You must make your brand scalable.”

Your personal brand needs to scale up at certain key points in your career, such as when you want to make the leap from individual contributor to team leader, or from manager to executive. If it doesn’t, people will keep perceiving you the way they always have. Your career growth will stall.

Here are some questions to think about when it comes to scaling up your brand:

• What’s your goal?

• What role would you like to be in two years from today?

• What brand will you need to build now, in order to get there?

• What are the competencies of your next role that distinguish it from your current job?

• Which of those competencies can you demonstrate now?

When you do get a chance to talk to colleagues about what you’re working on, emphasize the next-level competencies and downplay lower-level competencies like the ones you’d prefer to leave behind. Also, look for high-visibility projects that allow you to work on those higher-level duties, and showcase those skills to your leadership.

To help you with this brand reinvention, here is a free video series with a step-by-step process for scaling up your brand to advance your career.

2.) Be replaceable

Here’s a final thought to keep in mind. Talent development expert Robert F. Solomon said that making yourself replaceable is a critical career advancement strategy. According to Solomon, “If you cannot be replaced you cannot be promoted. Your job can be expanded and you can take on additional responsibilities within your current pay band, but if you take up ‘permanent residence’ in a position you’ll miss a lot of career growth opportunities.”

But don’t forget what you’ve been taught along the way, which is to do your best at every opportunity for the good of your team and your organization. Don’t be that individual who climbs the ladder, kicks the ladder away, and lets it land on everyone else. So think about how to develop other leaders all around you as you scale up how you’re perceived, reinvent your brand, and lift others up as you climb.

Jo Miller

Jo is Founding Editor of Be Leaderly, CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc., and creator of the Women’s Leadership Coaching® system, a roadmap for women who want to break into leadership. She has traveled in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and workshops, and counts being the only Aussie women’s leadership coach in Iowa among her unique “koalafications.” Learn more about Jo’s services at womensleadershipcoaching.com and follow @jo_miller on Twitter.

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