There comes a moment in many otherwise ambitious, motivated, hardworking professionals’ lives, when they catch themselves stuck in a loop of self-doubt, confusion – perhaps even bitterness.
At such times, their morale is low because they cannot figure out why, despite doing all the ‘right’ things they’re not progressing as they would like, and as they feel they deserve.
Worse, some of their colleagues who, perhaps, don’t work as hard, or cut corners, or try to offload responsibilities to others, or who take credit for accomplishments they haven’t earned… seem to enjoy success, progress and promotion.
Perhaps this describes how you feel right now. If so, you’re not alone. I encounter this frequently in my mentorship work with professionals like yourself at all stages of their career, and in this post I’d like to cover five areas where your own mistakes may be keeping you from advancing in your career.
1. Responding badly to conflicts, setbacks and disappointments
Anyone who has experience of office culture and the realities of being an employee – however senior in the corporate hierarchy – will know there are times of disagreements in teams, tensions between tiers of management, upsets and crises in projects and assignments and individual and group losses in competing for business.
Yet it’s precisely how your handle yourself (since that’s the only person you can truly control) at such times that can get you positively noticed, or negatively positioned by those higher up in the chain of command.
So, the next time someone gives you negative feedback, or you find out a colleague has been speaking ill about you, or a project that you had worked long hours on fails to impress your managers or clients as intended… remember that your calm professionalism will serve you far better in the long-run than reacting in a defensive or aggressive manner, and allow you to better navigate beyond the unpleasant situation with authority and dignity.
Own any mistakes, and try to respond with balance, even when you feel unfairly treated. This is precisely the professionalism that will get you positively noticed and recognised in the long-run, if you can avoid responding poorly to a short-term challenge.
2. Minimising or failing to point out personal achievements
This is a particularly common problem among my female mentees. And here, it’s true there is a double standard in place for men and women.
Working professionals who happen to be male will have been socialised from an early age to put themselves forward for praise and to trumpet their accomplishments, whereas women have been traditionally steered towards submissiveness and modesty.
Things are changing of course, but gender roles – and cultural preferences towards self-deprecation in work and life in general – such as those prevalent in countries like the UK or Japan – may well mean that when it comes to a healthy acknowledgement of your own accomplishments, you’re keeping quiet, as opposed to letting people know.
The fact is, you can’t afford to do this if you want to make progress at work and be promoted. Because self-worth and self-confidence are traits we associate with leaders and people of exceptional ability – and therefore those we are more likely to recognise.
So, own your achievements, and self-promote in a respectful, targeted and efficient way. There is no need to make your accomplishment a big Hollywood production – simply be on the look-out for opportunities to draw attention to your recent wins or effective decisions or initiatives.
Never undermine your co-workers’ role in your success, or minimize others’ contributions if their input or help contributed to your achievement. In fact, if you can frame your accomplishment with appreciation and gratitude to others as well, you will ensure talking about your own success actually ADDS to your value with co-workers of your own status, in addition to your superiors.
3. Being purely self- and not team-oriented
Now it’s one thing to draw attention in a healthy, appropriate way to your accomplishments and achievements. It’s quite another to allow yourself to think only as an individual when it comes to the workplace (not to mention, life in general!).
Yes, competition can exist between you and your co-workers – this is especially true if you are lucky enough to work for an organisation where the talent quota is very high. It can also be true that some positions are so unique they will require a fairly self-contained, individual output, reliant on your highly-specialised skill set.
But in most other situations, you will do far better in your quest to progress career-wise, if you factor in others as you go about executing your responsibilities. Remember that positioning yourself as a good team player and offering your co-workers a chance to add their own input and creativity whenever possible, allows you to build up good will and cooperation at all levels.
It also means that when you do have a chance to shine on an occasion that will nonetheless require the support and collaboration of your colleagues, you will have set in place the respect and appreciation required to receive it.
4. Being passive in asking for feedback
This is an important one.
We’ve heard of the supposed ‘neediness’ of Millennials in the workplace (i.e. recruits born between 1981-96) and their seemingly ‘unending’ demands for performance feedback and evaluation.
But in fairness, feedback is important to you, whichever generational cohort you may belong to, because it re-acquaints you with the company’s expectations of you.
It sets you a benchmark on what to improve on or notice about your output in the workplace, but also hopefully rewards you with acknowledgement of what you’ve done well and what can be taken to the next level of quality or scale of impact in terms of your performance.
Feedback also re-aligns you with the organisation’s overall mission and reframes any difficulties or confusions you may be encountering in terms of practical, short- and long-term goals, while allowing YOU the opportunity to air any needs for additional support, clarification or guidance.
So, be pro-active in scheduling feedback and evaluation times with your manager if you feel uncertain about areas of your workplace performance – don’t wait for the more limited, officially scheduled ‘big picture’ evaluations through the year, or just after a major project which may not address your queries regarding your day-to-day, ongoing performance.
5. Being unwilling to stretch or go beyond your job description
Again, there’s a fine line between taking initiative and earning the reputation as the go-to person anytime there’s extra work to hand out or dump on.
In my capacity as a mentor to teens who have no real work experience yet, I always counsel them to remember to carry out the responsibilities they were hired to do BEFORE enthusiastically jumping to take on new roles and neglecting their original duties.
However… for my new graduate or mid-career mentees, I often have to remind them that taking initiative and roles that weren’t originally in the job description don’t need to come at the expense of the original tasks you were hired to do.
Providing you’re not taking on inappropriate new responsibilities – i.e. those completely outside and unrelated to the skillset you were hired for or which would threaten the execution of your ongoing tasks… expressing your willingness to your manager or team leader to take on greater responsibility and more advanced tasks to do with your position can position you as an individual that can both be counted on but also qualified for promotion and advancement.
To work with me one-on-one to take your professional and personal performance to new levels, please check out the LIMITLESS track of services at my website, www.leonidasalexandrou.com