Why the Day I Didn’t Get Promoted Was One of the Best Days of My Life
One of the questions managers often hear is, “What do I need to do to get promoted?” Employees want to know how to get ahead, and often will work extra hard and put in more hours, hoping to be noticed and rewarded for their efforts. And many times they are. But I want to share with you the time that I asked that same question, and got a very different answer. That answer had a profound impact on me, on my career, and on how I led my teams.
I started at Chick-fil-A right out of college, still living at home, and focused heavily on my work. I loved what I did and didn’t mind the extra hours or pouring myself into the job. I honestly had little activity outside of work so it was my true focus. A few years into my career, the President of the company met with me and said, “David, we are really excited about you and your future and the work you’re doing.” He went through this whole litany of things and said, ‘And we want to promote you. However, we refuse to promote you unless you change something.’ And I’m sitting there thinking, are you kidding me? I’m giving my whole life. I’m working seven days a week in a company that only allows you to work six days. ‘How much more could you expect from me’. I was really dumbfounded. But I’ll never forget what he told me at that point.
He told me, “We appreciate how hard you’re working. But every time we make a promotion, it sends a message to the organization. And we feel like if we were to promote you right now based on your behavior at work, we’d be sending the wrong message. We’d be sending the message that in order to get ahead here, you’ve got to work seven days a week. And we think that’s a very unhealthy message. But we are willing to promote you under one condition: you have to agree to work less.You have to agree to prioritize things outside of work. One day, you may be married with kids. And if this behavior were to be the same at that point in your life, this would be unhealthy. We want you to be successful in the future as a husband, as a father, as a citizen in the community. And that requires you spending some of this energy on things other than work. We just feel like you’re not a very good role model for what we want our leaders to be. So you’re going to have to change that behavior.”
I’ll never forget that conversation. I did change my behavior, and I did eventually get the promotion. But I think this lesson is even more applicable as we all work to find a steady rhythm between work and our personal life. The phrases work/life balance, harmony, integration are so common now — everyone seems to be trying to figure it out. As leaders, part of building a healthy culture is encouraging our employees to find a balance that oftentimes requires prioritizing things outside of work.
It’s especially tough as we are always just an email or text away from work. It’s easy to fall into the habit of “just checking email for a few minutes” at night. But it can quickly turn into an imbalance that does not serve anyone well. A strong culture allows employees to make the choice on what events occasionally need to take priority over work: for parents it can be the dance recital, little league game, or school concert. Or for others it may be family events, time to decompress through exercise, or other hobbies.
I’m grateful to have learned this lesson young, and I know it allowed me to be a better employee, father, and husband. I encourage my employees to have that balance. It’s certainly a delicate one, and one not to be abused — prioritizing too many things outside of work creates an imbalance in the other direction.
I’m also thankful as a leader to have learned the lesson that what you promote gets repeated. The employees in your organization are noticing the behaviors of those who advance and will attempt to emulate them.
I want to leave you with three questions to think about:
- As a leader do you want your people to be successful in all aspects of their life or just at work?
- As a leader, ask yourself if you know enough about your employees to know what they do or value outside of work? It doesn’t need to be invasive, but enough that you can encourage them in those areas.
- Do you reward employees who are overextending themselves at work? What message are you sending with your promotions?
As always, I would love to know how you answered those questions. Share your thoughts by replying to this email or tagging me on social media.
Founder, Spark A Revolution