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, 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.


John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, 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...

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