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Henley Leadership Group Blog

What To Do (Or Not) When You Lose A Promotion


When you’re overlooked, and don't ask for feedback, an opportunity might've been missed by everyone involved.

“How are you doing?” 

I notice my friend Lene’s (not her real name) slumped shoulders and grim expression as she stops by my house recently. 

“Ok, I guess,” she says, but she rolls her eyes, indicating she is definitely not ok. 

“I have a new manager,” she continues. “They hired him from Google. And everyone is so excited — because, you know, it’s Google. But he has no product development or design training. And that’s what I got my master’s in! I’m going to have to train him, just like I trained everyone in our department. It’s so frustrating. I wish I had applied for the job.” 

“Why didn’t you?” 

“Oh, they discouraged me from throwing my hat in the ring. I don’t know why.” 

“Did you ask?” 


Over the years, I have heard about Lene and her co-workers. She has shared that they complain that she bosses them around, that she tells them what to do and how to do it. They also acknowledge that she is laser-focused on results — but tone deaf when they offer opinions or need something from her. She can make sharp comments and be critical. She doesn’t listen. People avoid her rather than get into a standoff. They’re dug in, and now they refuse to do anything she suggests. Everything has come to a standstill where Lene is concerned.

I can imagine that this is why a brilliant, funny, quirky, deeply committed, highly trained and multi-degreed software engineer was overlooked for a leadership opportunity. But she will never know because she never asked. Worse, her manager didn’t sit down and have a brave conversation as to why she wasn’t considered for the role. 

What might Lene have done differently?

If you’ve ever been passed over for promotion, then you can relate. Here are several do’s and don’ts to help lay a different path for the future:


  1. Do ask for a follow up meeting and ask for honest feedback. Find out specifically why you were overlooked for a position. It may have nothing to do with you. Then again…
  2. Do read back through all of your annual reviews and other self-development tools (MBTI, Enneagram, Insights, etc.) to see if you can find something about your leadership you have been overlooking. 
  3. Do look for a mentor, preferably inside the company. Ask your mentor to reflect what they are seeing and hearing. Then make the changes needed to be a better leader and team player.
  4. Do hire a coach. Many companies have leadership development programs that offer assessments and coaching. This will give you immediate and objective feedback that you can then get to work on. Your coach will be your partner and ally, and you will see results. 
  5. Do engage in honest self-reflection about the skills you have and where you need improvement. What can you learn from this that will make it a growth experience?


  1. Don’t withdraw, disengage or refuse to speak directly with the people you are unhappy with because you are upset.
  2. Don’t become resigned and retreat.  Your internal dialogue might sound something like, “Why bother trying. They’re never going to recognize my efforts anyway.”
  3. Don’t coalition build. Don’t look to others who agree with how “right” you are. Don’t gossip about how unfair it all is.
  4. Don’t self-sabotage. Don’t get down on yourself and obsess about all that you didn’t do or should’ve done. 
  5. Don’t become cynical. 

These are behaviors we’re all prone to engage in when we are thrown off guard by something — a missed promotion, a difficult exchange with a colleague, something has happened that embarrasses or humiliates us or makes us feel ashamed.

When you’re overlooked for a promotion and you don’t know why, the bottom line is that an opportunity was missed by everyone involved. Nobody had the hard, brave conversation that might’ve changed the outcome. In Lene’s case, it will have all sorts of implications for the department, how employees feel about management, productivity, team relations, even how the company culture is viewed. An opportunity to grow and develop an emerging leader was missed. 

Do be the kind of leader who has the hard conversations when needed and asks the uncomfortable questions of yourself and others. You’ll be glad you did.

Previously published on Forbes