levels of management

What it really takes to get that next promotion

September 28, 2012: 11:27 AM ET

The traits that got you to middle management may not help you scale the corporate heights. Here's a look at what might get you there.corporate-promotion

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: A friend of mine sent me your column about getting promoted from the individual "star" level into management, but I already made that jump a few years ago at a different company. In fact, I'm starting to regret having left there because, ever since I signed on with my current employer, my career seems to have stalled out. My performance reviews have been great, my department has had several big successes, and I think I'm ready for the next level. My boss, however, disagrees. His main criticism is that I'm "too detail-oriented."

So I have two questions. First, is there really such a thing as being too detail-oriented, or could that be a smokescreen for something else he doesn't want to tell me? And second, I've been extremely attentive to detail all my life -- which usually has been an advantage -- so do I have to change my personality to get promoted? (Is that even possible?) --Stuck in Neutral

Dear Stuck: No doubt you aren't the only one wondering. Getting promoted is tougher than it used to be, for a couple of reasons. First, "the global recession has been a factor," notes Stu Crandell, a senior vice president at Minneapolis-based leadership development and coaching firm PDI Ninth House. "Organizations let so many people go that lots of positions got consolidated, so there are fewer management jobs to move into."

MORE: Why you shouldn't hate business

Even before that, he adds, companies had been running leaner and cutting out layers of management jobs. "So often, instead of an upward move, we're seeing people move sideways in companies, to get broader experience and visibility, or sometimes even taking a step down in rank in order to prepare to move up later," Crandell says. "It's become more of a zigzag path, rather than straight up. This is hard for 'A students' to accept."

Then there's the notoriously lofty failure rate of people promoted into bigger jobs, which according to some studies runs as high as 40%. "Companies are being extremely cautious about moving people from one level to the next higher one," Crandell observes, and no wonder: "We've heard plenty of horror stories about managers who got promoted and then flamed out -- and executives themselves often tell us how much harder it is to adjust to a bigger job than they thought it would be." More

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