No promotion?

By: RyanCC BY 2.0

My colleague was promoted instead of me, though I have been on the job longer. I don’t think competency is the issue. But I believe my boss is dividing the work between the two of us. However, the job that my colleague is getting is more skill-based, while I am left to handle the operations side. In the long run, he will benefit from this; I may be left by the wayside. How can I change my personal brand so I am viewed as a leader, not an operations manager, by my boss?

It’s always painful when a peer gets promoted instead of you. It can feel like head-to-head competition—and you were judged lacking. But the only way to stay sane is to focus on the future and the steps you can take to move your career forward. Here are three ways to take back control.

Don’t complain

Your boss will be acutely aware that you wanted the promotion and didn’t get it—and she’ll likely be watching closely to see how you adapt to the setback. After all, resiliency is one of the key attributes of successful leaders. So—difficult though it might be—swallow your pride and don’t complain (even to sympathetic co-workers, because odds are, word will get back to your boss). She probably had good reasons to promote your colleague, and you need to respect them. Your job is to focus on yourself, not the competition, and how to continue improving your skills.

Make your intentions clear

It’s possible your boss gave the nod to your colleague because she perceived you as unwilling to make the sacrifices required at the next level (more travel, for instance, or longer hours). Make sure there are no misperceptions: Let your boss know directly that you value the company and it’s your goal and desire to advance in it. A dose of strategic humility will help here. You can tell her, “I wanted to talk with you about Prashant’s promotion—and to let you know that I understand and respect your decision. I also wanted to make sure you knew about my commitment to the company and my desire to continue growing my career here in the future. I want to continue and become a better and better executive, and I would truly appreciate any feedback you have about ways I can improve, or skills I can work on developing. ” Your frank approach will defuse a challenging situation and will help get your boss on your side (and encourage her to support you for professional development opportunities).

Know when it’s time to leave

Sometimes—alas—your efforts won’t work. If you’ve made your professional goals clear and worked diligently, yet you still feel your boss doesn’t recognize your merits, it may be time to move on. As Stanford University Graduate School of Business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer (jeffreypfeffer.com) pointed out in his excellent book Power: Why Some People Have It And Others Don’t, changing people’s perceptions of you and your work can be tremendously difficult. Hard work and perseverance matter—up to a point. But some people may nonetheless refuse to see you in a new way. If you’ve been pigeonholed into a limited role in your organization, you may advance farther and faster if you leave, because you’ll be viewed differently in a new workplace.

Taking control of your career—and the perceptions that shape its trajectory—isn’t easy. But being clear about your goals, asking for what you want, and knowing when to leave are key to your success.

This post originally appeared on the Mint website on April 16 2012.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.