The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You'll Need to Get Promoted to the Next Level by John Beeson (October 2010, Wiley)
It's a classic source of hand-wringing for ambitious managers who failed to nab a promotion: "I thought I did everything right. Why was I passed over?" In this question lies the dark secret in corporate politics: chances are no one is going to tell you you're not promotion material. If you don't think this statement applies to your situation because you've consistently gotten great performance reviews, here it is again: no one is going to tell you you're not promotion material. And while people might give you a reason you weren't promoted, it's probably not going to be explicit enough to shed any light on why you were passed over.
Let's say, for instance, you've always been committed to being a good manager. To that end you've encouraged your employees to be open with you, and you've diligently solicited feedback from them about their satisfaction with your management. The feedback was always consistent: people like working for you. Moreover, your team has one of the lowest turnover rates in the company. Doesn't that demonstrate your management ability? Not necessarily. While people might enjoy working for you, it may be for the wrong reasons. Maybe they think you're "a nice guy" and they feel comfortable with you. To the decision makers at the top, that's good, but not great management. Great management includes the ability to build a team with the right mix of skills. Great also hires great -- not just good -- people. But if you're weak in these areas, you're unlikely to find out in the usual quality-control measures like feedback surveys and performance reviews. Think of quality control at a manufacturing plant: it's the mistakes that get flagged, not items that work but aren't as good as a competitor's product.
In The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You'll Need to Get Promoted to the Next Level, John Beeson points this out and devotes Chapter Two to direct and indirect methods to getting the kind of candid feedback you need in order to develop your weakest areas and be promotion-ready in the eyes of key decision makers. "Given that senior leaders typically have an aversion to providing this kind of feedback," Beeson writes in the introduction, "you'll need to take the initiative to find out what people at senior levels think of you."
Speaking of candor, the rest of the book is fine if this is the only career book you read. Beeson does a nice job of de-mystifying soft skills like strategic decision making, innovation, and change implementation. For this reason, his book is an especially useful offering for IT leaders. If it's not your first or only career book, however, the rules Beeson writes about may be unwritten, but certainly not unheard of.