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I feel one of the best ways to grow professionally is to learn from other people’s stories. And if you work in a small to mid-size business, Diane’s story is one you need to hear.

Diane always thought that the way to get ahead in her career was to stay with one company and work her way up. So during the five years she spent with a small graphic design firm, she continually documented her achievements and made sure management knew of her individual contributions to large, important accounts. She volunteered for tasks that nobody else wanted to do, she followed all the spoken and unspoken rules of the office, and she made it a priority to do whatever she could to keep company morale high.

Diane asked about being promoted on several occasions but was always told that, since it was a small company, the only way she could move up was if her boss, a department director, left. Eventually, Diane figured that the only way to grow in the company was to stake her own claim. She went to the president and asked that she be granted co-director status on a level with her boss. The president agreed and said he would pass on the news to Diane’s boss.

Diane began to work independently, but before long, she started to wonder if the president had ever informed her (now former) boss of his decision. She knew for sure that he hadn’t when she was called into his office and told to either follow the department director’s orders or consider leaving. The president never admitted that he’d agreed to promote Diane, who was shocked to be reprimanded by the very same person who’d granted her a promotion just a few weeks prior. Stunned, Diane agreed to “get in line,” and immediately began looking for another job.

Diane finally realized that she was never going to get where she wanted to go by sticking with this company. Her experience and expertise weren’t being recognized, and she wasn’t being given what she deserved, even when she’d insisted upon it.
When she began looking for work at other companies, she assumed she’d have to make a lateral move into another designer position, rather than a director position. But she wound up landing a director position that also provided a substantial pay increase. Her new employer told her he recognized that at her previous job, she’d been doing director-level work all along.

So what can we learn from Diane? That no matter how loyal you are to your company (or they are to you), you have to be realistic about how much room there is for upward growth. If there isn’t any room, it may be time to look elsewhere. As Diane and countless others have learned, even though “leaving” may seem impossible, it very often leads to much better opportunities.

You can learn more about growing professionally in situations like this in my book, From Cornered To Corner Office.

Have any of you ever experienced what Diane did? What did you learn?