Congratulations You’ve Made Director! Now What?


One of the consistent themes that come across in coaching clients is their desire to make the Director level. Sometimes I’m coaching a VP who is struggling with how to explain to one of their leaders what it takes to be promoted to Director. I understand the drive to obtain that sometimes elusive title. I had that interest myself once upon a time, which I ultimately achieved. It generally means a nice bump in salary and a significant increase in bonus potential and maybe stock. Plus, you do actually get a bit more respect when you enter meetings – for better or worse.

Setting a Leadership Example

While there are some specific indicators of being ready for a Director promotion, there are plenty of subjective factors which are often very specific to the culture of the organization. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard was from an SVP I coached. His advice was to remember that once you’re a Director, you need to remember that you are a “Director of the Company.” Of course, he doesn’t mean you’re on the Board Directors. He was, however, making the point that there is an expectation that once you are a Director, you need to provide a leadership example that goes beyond “managing” your particular area of responsibility. It means that when you are working with your peers and, in particular, outside your functional area, you conduct yourself in a way that goes beyond your own direct needs. Instead, you take into account the bigger goals and aspirations of the organization. At the end of this post, I have a few other considerations if you’re looking to become a Director.

In the Pursuit of Achievement

The other theme that I’ve run across recently with my clients is a sense of confusion. What’s next for them after achieving Director? Some clients are clear they want to be on the track to VP. Others have not really thought that far ahead. Or, some aren’t sure they want to make the sacrifices required to make it to the VP level.

There is a very similar sense of confusion in martial arts when you finally reach the long-term goal of becoming a black belt. In martial arts practice, achieving your black belt is the goal of most students. It’s a long process in most arts, requiring a commitment of 5 years at a minimum, and generally takes closer to 7 to 10 years.  Earning your black belt takes consistent practice, patience, lots of ups and downs, and some injury. It’s pretty similar to the journey from a first-line supervisor to Director.

The strange phenomenon that happens in most martial arts, is that when somebody achieves a black belt, they disappear or slowly fade away from the practice. They don’t show up at the dojo, training hall, or the school. And you wonder, “wow, after all that work, what happened?” I believe this is another parallel between reaching Director and earning your first black belt rank.

When the Learning Actually Starts

In Aikido, when you become a black belt, they say that’s when your learning actually starts. That’s a hard thing to hear especially since you’ve been practicing with diligence for so many years. Now, as a fourth-degree black belt (an accomplishment I never really expected to achieve), I can say that this is a very true statement.

The reality is that, up until a black belt, you are learning techniques, katas, or ways of responding to different attacks. You recognize these technique names when called by your instructor. You demonstrate them with some proficiency. You practice them over and over until you’ve mastered that technique.

Beyond the first-degree black belt is when the art you practice really comes together. It’s when you can start to take these individual pieces of technique and put them into something that is beautiful and powerful and has a great impact. It also means that you can pay more attention to what is happening with your training partner, understanding the subtleties of how what you are doing meets their attack. This happens because you no longer need to check in with yourself continuously in order to complete the move or technique.

Even more importantly as a black belt, you start to positively impact all of the white belts that are aspiring to your level. Often white belts are also the best source of information and feedback on how you’re progressing as a black belt. Often they don’t move as elegantly or as easily as higher ranks, so your skill is really put to the test. It’s a perfect symbiotic relationship. Higher rank students helping beginners. This practice is one of the most important indicators that a dojo or school is good for training.

I see a connection here, with becoming a Director and getting your black belt in Management.

As a Sr. Manager, you know how to deal with employee issues, performance reviews, basic time management, providing difficult feedback, and working through all the basics of managing a team. These are the techniques in Martial Arts. But now you have the opportunity to take all of these foundational skills to the next level, making a bigger impact on your company. In fact, that’s why you got promoted. It’s not a payoff for all of your hard work (which was significant). It’s about the future and what you can give back to the larger organization.

Becoming a Director of the Company

Now let’s go back to my SVP client’s piece of advice: when people become directors, I want them to realize that they’re now directors of the company.

The point is you now have an obligation to show up differently. When you’re a black belt, you’re supposed to show up in a different way. And it is not about being able to beat people up. It’s about what you give back. Now that you’re a Director, you show up and perform at this higher level. Your performance is an example for your organization’s white belts to emulate.

I think this is the critical inflection point for Directors (and black belts) alike. You’ve worked hard to get where you are. What’s next on your journey? If it’s not clear, consider what you’ve got left to give others.

Considerations For Any Promotion

My favorite book on this subject is The Go-Giver Leader by Bob Burg and John David Mann. Written as a parable, it expresses powerful ideas in an easy-to-read story. In my years of coaching leaders and executive, here’s my list of things to consider for a promotion to Director (or any promotion for that matter):

1) Be clear on what you can do in the future, not what you’ve done in the past
2) Be involved with projects/endeavors outside of your direct responsibility
3) Dress and act the part of your future aspirations
4) Cultivate a good network of advocates
5) Develop a good network of mentors
6) Become replaceable (e.g., are you grooming someone that could take your place?)
7) Ensure you’re like-able – people actually like to work with you
8) Fill an actual opportunity – solve real problems

Congratulations on your new role. What’s your next move?

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