We all make mistakes. Sometimes our mistakes can have dramatic consequences. In my case, I can see very clearly (hindsight is 20/20 after all) at least one major mistake that had a negative impact on my career.

I was an AVP with a track record of great accomplishments. My territory consistently performed well and exceeded budgeted gross and net income. I was able to grow my business significantly by adding new product lines and I had a reputation as a supportive and fair manager. At the time, I had a total of 18 direct reports! It was a cohesive and enthusiastic team.

A re-organization in the company led to my position reporting to someone new; someone that I did not have a close relationship with and who had a reputation as being difficult. When the position of VP became officially available, I let him know that I was interested. Many of my direct reports called him as well to let him know that they thought I was the best person for the job. I truly believed that my achievement in the AVP role would land me the job, no question.

But that assumption was a big mistake. Merit is not always the reason for promotions. Often there are politics involved and in this case, the newly appointed SVP had his own agenda for the territory and the business. Because I had no relationship with him, I was unaware of what his vision was and how that would affect his decision to fill the VP position. I did not get the promotion.

Here’s what I learned from this mistake:

  1. Never assume that your merit alone will get you promoted.
  2. Make sure that you understand the politics and the way decisions are made in your organization.
  3. Build relationships with the decision makers to better understand their agenda as well as their criteria for hiring. It helps you to position yourself for the promotion.
  4. Build relationships with influencers. It’s important to leverage relationships that you have nurtured in the organization to influence the decision makers.
  5. Stay positive and don’t burn any bridges if the promotion does not happen.

In fact, probably the best lesson I learned is that with each disappointment there is another opportunity. When I was not promoted, I left the company to become CEO of another national company. More than likely, if promoted, I would have stayed with the company another few years in a dead end job.

I learned never to make the same mistakes again, the importance of being politically savvy, and building and nurturing key relationships to move my career forward. You can learn from my mistake. If you want to move up, be mindful of the politics and the relationships that can help you get where you want to go.