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Men at Work | 5 lessons from Disney on getting a promotion

By Samuel McManus

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, being excellent at your job was enough to get ahead and get promoted. In today’s competitive world however, it’s often not enough.

You need to go above and beyond to stand out from the crowd and get that foot up the ladder. Here are some key lessons you can take from the magic of Disney to help with that next step in your career.

Have a long-term strategy (Robin Hood)

Robin Hood had a very clear strategy from the start: steal from the rich to give to the poor. He knew what his end goal was and how he was going to achieve it.

First, work out what your end goal is. Different goals will require different strategies and so it is important to be clear on what the goal is from the start. Do you want to get promoted within the same team? Are you looking to move to another area of the business? Are you looking to move up outside the company or do something entirely different?

Next, make a list of all of the key skills that are required to get to that goal and then (honestly) rank your own abilities against those skills. You could even do it in a one-to-one meeting alongside your line manager. Once you can see clearly where your improvement areas are, you can put a clear plan in place on how to make progress as well as improve the areas that are already your strengths.

Get your personal branding right (Aladdin)

Aladdin initially thought of using a genie to transform himself into Prince Ali to win Jasmine’s heart. In the end, he realised that she liked him for who he was on that inside all along.

That’s all very well and good for the fairytale, but in reality you need to strike a balance for your ‘personal brand’. It definitely needs to be authentically you or people will be able to see through the charade, but make it the best version of you.

Look at the way people at the level you are aiming for behave and dress and ensure you are meeting that standard. Even during occasions like dress-down Fridays, the way you present yourself to others informs their opinion of you, so make sure it is the opinion you want them to have.

Make your intentions clear (Ursula, The Little Mermaid)

It always surprises me the number I speak to who are trying to get promoted but haven’t actually told their boss that is what they are aiming for. Make sure that they know that is what you are trying to do so that you are firmly in their mind when they’re having conversations with their peers.

In The Little Mermaid, Ursula outlined clear terms with Ariel about what she needed to do in order to remain human. In that situation everyone knew where they stood. Do the same at work.

Discuss with your boss what you need to do to get a certain grade in your performance review, or what you need to achieve to move up to the next level. Make a list of development points based on your strategy and agree on the positive outcome of achieving these.

Show constant drive (Cruella de Vil, 101 Dalmatians)

Cruella de Vil was nothing if not consistent: she wanted Dalmatian puppies and she was unrelenting in her pursuit of them. In the workplace, consistency is key to getting promoted, just perhaps not in the same way as dear old Cruella. Bosses like employees they can rely on and know what to expect from.

Little things like making sure you are always on time or early for meetings, and regularly taking days off, regardless of what is going on outside of work (or if you have a hangover) will demonstrate that you have the attributes managers are looking for.

Be brave (Simba, The Lion King)

Simba had to stick his furry little neck out and be brave to win the pridelands back from Scar. If he didn’t show bravery and take a risk then he would never have achieved what he needed to do.

The workplace can be the same – you need to stand out to be noticed and sometimes this involves taking risks. It could be putting yourself forward for a big presentation to your whole department, or taking on extra responsibilities in an area that you might not be familiar with. Demonstrating willingness to push yourself out of your comfort zone is a great way to get yourself noticed by the decision-makers, so think about ways that you can do this in your workplace.

Hakuna Matata!

Sanjay Sood-Smith is a food entrepreneur and former candidate on The Apprentice. You can find out more about his business Tuk In, which makes curry-in-a-naan, at

Follow him on Twitter at @sanjaysoodsmith.

For more from the Men at Work series, click here.

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