Beginning with my experience as an executive recruiter, to now coaching people into successful roles and careers, one thing I have learned from the people I have worked with is that managers often do a very good job of stroking their employee’s ego and, thus, give them a sense of false security and expectations.
“I see you on the fast track.”
“I see you as my best person.”
“I’ll look out for you.”
There are many different ways that managers and leaders give people the false illusion that they are important to an organization and that they have a long-term career ahead of them. Thus, they can be surprised to learn that their job security is a little bit more complicated than what their manager thinks and tells them.
I worked with someone a few years ago who was consistently told that his work was exceptional, his future guaranteed and that everyone thought the world of him. Suffice it to say, when the deck got shuffled and he was assigned to a new role, he was shocked to discover he had been sent to corporate Siberia into a position where his career in the organization was dead on arrival. All those kind words, all the superlatives, meant nothing.
Here are five mistakes that I see so many people make:
No one above your immediate manager knows anything about what you do and how good you are. We can joke about the old saying “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Of course it makes a sound, but no one knows it. The same is true of your work. No matter how good it is and how meaningful it has been, you can be invisible to the real decision-makers.
You let your internal and external network become fallow. A farm field needs tending, and so does your network of relationships. Networks don’t just exist with former colleagues and friends. They live with the people that you have positively affected within your firm, your mentor(s), your former manager(s) as well as the people you have lunch with.
You act like it’s owed to you. In all sports, big contract players can be phased out or cut if their performance doesn’t measure up to the contract they receive. Many people live off of their past successes and expect to be paid and promoted for them. Unfortunately, many of those successes and impacts occurred multiple years ago. No one cares about what you did when President Obama was in office. Your company has no debt to you. They paid for your services fair and square. There were no promises made beyond simply, “We are hiring you to do this job and will pay you the salary.”
You got out of your lane. It may feel good to be “the helper,” the person everyone goes to for advice about how to do something or how to get something done. However, every interruption that you allow, every time you rescue someone else by giving them the answer when they couldn’t figure it out on their own, distracts you from doing the job you were hired to do. I know I’ve made this mistake by allowing both less experienced people and more experienced people to ask for my advice about handling situations that took me away from what I was actually hired to do. It’s one thing to agree to do it once in a while. It’s another thing to have a Post-it note taped to your forehead that says, “Ask me anything.” I became that person!
You became too (dis)agreeable. When you felt taken for granted, you never spoke up. You are encouraged to “go with the flow,” or “be a team player” and not “rock the boat.” I would never suggest that you throw a tantrum at work, but it is important to practice saying one word with regularity: “no.” Because everyone else is docile and compliant, the word “no” has more power behind it. Pick your battles but don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out.
Conversely, acting like the sun rises and sets around you and your opinions no matter where you reside in an organization is a recipe for career suicide. Eventually, a new sheriff rides into town, someone gets their ear and your enemies collaborate to take you out. There is an art to working with others while maintaining your professional integrity that separates people.
You are the chairman of the board of your own life. You have a board of directors that you are beholden to (your husband, wife, partner, children) who double as shareholders. Sometimes, you need an external advisor or advisors to help you navigate the different obstacles in your path that you don’t see because, like everyone, you have blind spots.
Often, it’s too late to involve this advisor/mentor/coach when a problem hits. After all, you missed the signals along the way that allowed this problem to fester and now explode. An ongoing relationship with the person or people who can function in this role will be important to you throughout your career. Make time for regularly scheduled check-ins. Whether you are an entry-level employee or a senior leader, the best time to start the relationship with this person was five years ago. The second best time is today.
You don’t have to figure things out by yourself. After all, every great athlete has a coach who helps them succeed. Every great entertainer has a team of people around them to help advance their career. Luck and talent may play a part in this. But there are a lot of talented people who never get to where they want to get to. Don’t hesitate. Cultivate the team around you to help support you over the long term.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes. He also hosts Job Search TV on YouTube, Amazon and Roku, as well as on BingeNetworks.tv for Apple TV and 90+ smart sets.
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