Emerging Tech

Avoid these two mistakes: Then live long and prosper

Many people don't get promoted for doing "what's right." In this blog, John M. McKee, Leadership Coach, points out two common mistakes that can have a bad effect on one's career.
Ever feel like you should be working at a "higher level" but keep getting passed over?

I heard this comment a lot when I was leading various companies, and since establishing BusinessSuccessCoach.net, I've heard it from many clients who feel the same way.

When hearing it, I've always made it point to ask the person what, in his or her opinion, are the reasons for them being "stalled." They usually cite things like politics and relationships, noting that they felt those factors had helped others move ahead before them. While I have no doubt that many people do get promoted because of relationships, it's rare that the main cause for one's lack of career momentum is simply not knowing the right people. Most often they'd made mistakes which cost them when promotional decisions were being made.

Here are two common mistakes, or issues of management style, which can slow down or even nuke one's promotion path. Don't get caught in these traps:

1. Don't be a budget-time hero

In many organizations, the execs and managers are asked to contribute significantly more in their department or group budget. You may have heard this type of request yourself, it goes along the lines of, "Bob, we really need you and your team to ramp up this activity/volume", or, "Sarah, we need you to accept the fact that we're all going to be working with less resources next year - so it's very important for the company that you cut back wherever you can."

Many managers, being straightshooters, take this to heart. They diligently look for any new opportunity to reduce costs or grow their business. Then, they make their presentation to their boss and often receive praise for understanding the needs of the company better than other managers who didn't make the appropriate changes requested by the senior types. They are heroes!

However, then the new year comes along and people start tracking results. It turns out that the ones who didn't "make the appropriate changes" often appear to be better managers. After all, they are making their plan while the budget hero is having difficulty implementing the changes he/she's committed to on the budget. Often, this manager is actually making solid improvements compared with last year, but may appear unable to deliver on their program.

End result is often that the one who is trying the hardest and received the praise just a few months ago looks like a pumpkinhead. And the other manager? The one who didn't make any real significant attempts at change looks like a superior manager. Guess who gets the nod when promotions are being contemplated.

2. Don't try to correct your boss' misunderstanding too often - even if he/she is totally wrong.

Many managers live with a boss who thinks they know everything about everything. These types love to tell you how to do your job better. But, on occasion, you know their ideas are misguided or even wrong. So you want to help them understand why.

Know this: Even if they seem enlightened and "open to others' perspectives," you need to be very cautious about trying to help them by correcting their comments. Once in a while might be fine. And if the boss actually makes some changes or you've successfully helped him realize he was off-track - good work. But most of the time, you can't change the behavior of a know-it-all. When you try, your attempts are not appreciated.

Even worse than not being appreciated is that often you'll be seen as (horror of horrors!) DEFENSIVE. For the most part, being regarded as defensive is a kiss of death.

So, watch your boss closely when he makes a mistake or misstep. What does he do? Does he show a willingness to change when it's pointed out? Or does he respond by putting down the person who is trying to help them see the light? Once you know how they act - behave accordingly.

If you're as good as you think, you deserve a promotion. But help your boss and the HR department to reach the same conclusion. That way you won't cause career self-sabotage. And then, you can take the path of the Star Trekkers: Live Long and Prosper.

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

11 comments
JosB
JosB

I think the first line is very important here: "Many managers live with a boss who thinks they know everything about everything. " It's about managers dealing with a leader, not with workers dealing with a manager. I became leader of a 'small' group of people about a year ago. I have several people below me who can be considered managers. And others below them, let's call them workers. There is a huge difference between managers and leaders, I moved from managing to leading. The differense between a managing and leading role is huge. Managers can always fall back on leaders when they have to make a hard decision. Leaders cannot. It's lonely at the top and I've experienced that myself. Not so long ago had to make a decision that I knew would upset several of my managers and workers. And it turned out that I was right. I made the right decision from the perspective of the total group and still had to upset people who even thought I was dead wrong and it would 'kill' the group. Several weeks later most of the the group is back together and accepted the chance. Now it's time to work on the future again. If I make decisions like that I don't want people to argue with me about it being right or wrong. I consulted most of them before making my decision and based on what they told me I made the choice. The reason I don't want to argue? I became manager and later leader because I take responsibility and action, not for my own benefit but for the benefit of the group. As manager life was easy. All those tough decisions were made by the leader/boss. Responsibility was always shared with other managers and we only were consulted on very important decisions. We never had to make the final choice ourself as individual. A vote was nearest that was possible. Now I'm in the position where I consult others and decide what's best. Knowing people will be upset. Being leader or boss means taking risks. As manager the most risk I had was getting fired for bad management. As leader the risk I have is losing the entire group. I think a lot of managers underestimate the impact of this responsibility. There are times when I don't want to be leader and just want to be a worker or a manager. Life is so much easier. Now I also understand that some leaders/bosses tend to micromanage. It's not always easy to trust a new manager. They might be competent but could also not be up to the task. If you have a leader/boss making bad decisions time after time look at the performance of the total group/company. It might be that you are hurt but the total company benefits from it. If his choices do hurt the company time after time it's time to have a good talk. Not on the bad decisions the leader made but on how you can help improve the company. The same for a micromanaging boss. It's a matter of trust and it takes some time for both people to get confident. Show responsibility and act. Act before the boss asks you to. Show you understand the business If that does not help it's again time to have a good talk on responsibility. As manager you don't want to have a babysitter as boss, you want someone who gives guidance. I doubt many leaders/bosses disagree on this. Now it could be that there is not enough confidence. If that's the case it would be best to seperate ways.

tmcclure
tmcclure

I like your post. It is very true. I think the purpose of the origional article is really how to get a promotion in a politically charged enviornment. Best practice in that situation; look for another job. Set your standards high and pick a company worth your loyalty and dedication.

oldemusicke
oldemusicke

This looks like phenomenally bad advice for those seeking promotion. Where I've worked, this would be very good advice for those trying to put a halt to their careers. If this advice works anywhere, I don't want to work there. Let me paraphrase the advice. #1: Ignore the boss's directives about trimming the budget, on the assumption that nobody will notice. Your goals are to set up your colleagues to look bad and to sacrifice the company's bottom line for your personal advancement. Paraphrasing advice #2: Forget trying to see things from your boss's point of view or making a persuasive case. All that matters is focusing on when the boss is wrong and how often you should call attention to it. I can't find anything redeeming in the first piece of advice. As to the second, I'll grant that perpetually correcting your boss isn't a great idea, but this advice makes the interaction a question of how much fault-finding is enough or too much, and that's the wrong focus to take.

rhonda.russ
rhonda.russ

"Even worse than not being appreciated is that often you???ll be seen as (horror of horrors!) DEFENSIVE. For the most part, being regarded as defensive is a kiss of death." Word. Defensiveness is one of the Deadly Sins at my company.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

to do a #2: reasons you don't know about for doing or not doing something about some issue you are SURE you have second guessed him on. Including budget, personnel, better alternatives, talks with vendors about features you don't know about... (beavis on bridge of enterprise to buthead: #1, go do a #2 :) And of course your boss can also be clueless. The best way is to be 'cool'. DON'T volunteer your opinion. If boss calls you in or talks to you and mentions the problem or asks you how to solve it then give your opinion. THey will accept it much better and more likely to use if they asked for it from you. (and it still works out when accounting for things you know nothing about) If a boss is going to founder and sink let them do it by themselves. #1: do whatever you can if it doesn't include free OT for the company, which would be slave labor. Accept that certain things can't get done if they force cuts on you. It isn't your fault, is the company's fault for not giving enuf prio to your area. That said, if you COULD do the job in your alloted time but won't because you are not working part of the day, then that is dishonest and you could put in more effort without killing yourself. Find a reason to leave on time and stick to it except in bona-fide emergencies. For newbies, you can break this rule slightly but do it only to train yourself on the extra time and learn the ropes. Don't slave away on projects for free for the company.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

ideas I've had in the back of my mind. #1 seems obvious after you said it, but seeing it put in words helps. #2 isn't an exact science. It seems to me that everybody has their days when they are "know-it-alls" and other days when they're more aware of their faults. Me included. I used to try to correct bosses with the prephase "but I thought this worked like this". My problem nowadays is that my boss and I have been working together for so many years he knows I really mean, "Idiot! That doesn't work!" So communication has to change as your relationships change.

Shriks
Shriks

Thanks for this insight. I made and was making the mistake of helping my boss with information, some of which now I realised was 'my opinion'; The boss joined almost an year after me in this company. He ended up eating my share of the pie too 'cos though I had more experience year wise, than him, I now realise why I am at my position and why he is up there. I can't help go all the way out to help people, and it often turns to be against me. Maybe in the whole process, there is some self satisfaction that I have helped someone, but in the long run, it's biting me. So now I am a little more careful, though I do slip often into my so called altruistic mode. Unfortunately, these days, finding a mentor is really not that easy. Someone who could be the sounding board for your actions and guide you. But I am taking in the bitter pill and trying to be more aware. Let's hope I will continue my career in the corporate world, or maybe people like me are better of doing things on their own and earning what they deserve there :) Thanks again for this insight.

stod73
stod73

Either it's a sad commentary on the state of company politicking required for promotion or this advice is only well served to those that want promotion not on based on their work but rather on their ability to not work. This kind of "leadership" is eerily close to that of our current government. Do just as little as necessary and never point out when headed down the wrong course. This article really makes me sick. Wouldn't it be better advice to move on to a different company if you feel like you're being held back at your current one? Be rewarded for your skills instead of shelving them to avoid looking like a "pumpkinhead"? Work with/for people that have good ideas and that you respect their capabilities instead of having to go along with bad idea after bad idea?

royhayward
royhayward

I don't think that you can escape these and other rules or guidelines of business. Actually one of the main reasons that the best and brightest technical people end up working for the less-technically-qualified is found in your post. Myself included, we don't like to deal with the human side of the structure. We like the org chart and structure. The places with rules that we can understand. But the people in HR and Management are not wrong. "A great many truths we hold to depend on our perspective" From the upper management and HR perspective, they look at people that do what is right for the company, not who does right for the email or budget policy. Haven't you ever noticed that some of these policies are bad policies? When they are, a manager should only follow them enough to get past them. The Budget example is one I really like. "We are having cut backs everyone is needing to cut back." So you nod and wait, then delay implementation. Get your team to perform well. Other teams suffer from the cutbacks, they get demoralized and yours looks like a winner group of people. At the end of the year, no one remembers that you 'forgot' to fire anyone, they just know that you achieved your goals. I watched a boss continue to not cut back for three years while other teams did. He was promoted every year. And I got to follow him up for a bit. And yes, he asked some of the dumbest technical questions I have ever heard from and IT person. But his team routinely out produced other business units.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

People are the number one greatest resource any company has. They are the ones who have the experience and know the ropes. Management sets up the organization chart and lists the jobs and tasks they think they need, but it's the workers who are the cement that fills in the holes and binds the organization together into a working organism. Unless you are ridding yourself of a poison apple, or closing an obsolete functional area; pulling one (or several, or many) out weakens the entire structure. And even in the case of obselescence, you're goign to have to deal with a dip in productivity of the remaining people as they adjust to the changes.

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