5 Ways to Avoid Sabotaging Your Career

feet 166161247_9e1be2f4ff_mA job is a building block. A career is what we build. When starting out, we’re never quite sure what we’re actually building, if anything. We could end up with a useless pile of sticks or a really cool house on a mountaintop.

Careers are not built by ourselves alone. So we need to understand the roles we play (including how we play them) and the potential impact of the supporting cast.

All eyes are on you.

It’s often said: “My career should grow because I do really good work.”

But good work is only one part of it. Well-chosen and savvy professional relationships are another. Without a cadre of colleagues at all levels who attest to your competence, value, and ability to “get along,” your career will likely advance slowly, if at all.

The quality and effectiveness of your workplace relationships are noticed and become part of your personal brand. You can shoot your career in the foot easily by saying or doing things at work that  paint the wrong picture of who you are.

5 cautionary steps

These five steps can help you avoid sabotaging your career along the way:

  1. Don’t get ahead of yourself

The way employees move up is different in every company. Start by figuring out what the leadership sees in those who have been given more responsibility. Be alert to what is said about those who have been promoted. You need to know but don’t have to agree.

Advancement is not about when you think you’re ready. It’s about what the decision-makers think. Until you know, for sure, that you have regularly met the company’s performance standards, defer asking to be promoted or given plumb assignments.

  1. Keep your wants close to your chest

Managers are generally the ones who create opportunities or obstacles to your growth. You may want to assume that your boss is on your side, but that isn’t always the case. So it’s important to build a strong, credible performance portfolio.

Once you tell your boss what you want from your career, s/he has the leverage to help or hinder. So be prudent about how much you let on and when. Timing can be very important.

I once had a client who, at each job change, told his boss that he was “title sensitive” which was also code for wanting to be a big player. In each case, his career stalled.

  1. Don’t screen yourself out of opportunities

Too often, I’ve heard job seekers and careerists express an interest in positions and job challenges that are a notch up. They say, “I read the duties but I don’t meet  all of them, so I don’t think I should apply.”

It’s not your decision to (de)select yourself. That’s what management’s paid to do. It’s rare to find anyone fitting all the requirements of a job or assignment. What companies are looking for is the one who brings the best blend of knowledge and experience to the role. That may very well be you.

  1. Don’t follow someone else’s plan

The most important person to please with your career is you.

Lots of careerists pursue paths that well-meaning others have suggested or chosen for them. Then they wonder why the work doesn’t make them happy.

The first sign of self-leadership is our willingness to identify a life plan and then to start putting the  building blocks together, including those that construct our careers. When you don’t follow your own plan, it’s easy to go adrift.

  1. Don’t get seduced by the glitz

The trappings of better pay, high-sounding titles, greater authority, and any number of perks have a price. I’ve seen many people chase those things without seeing the personal and professional tolls that go with them.

There are advantages to career growth, but you need to make sure you understand how important they are to you…not to someone else…to you. Sometimes we need to see what’s behind the big door before we choose it.

Avoid self-sabotage

None of us ever sets out to make a mess of our careers. Sometimes we just do because we weren’t paying attention or had lost confidence in our ability to turn things around. By taking hold of your career, you can avoid self-sabotaging it.

Photo from davemendelsohn via Flickr

Immature, Self-Absorbed, or Clueless? How to Save Employees from Themselves.

Employees can be maddening. They often behave in ways that seem to make no sense.

As supervisors, we try to understand what we see and hear, putting it into some kind of context so we can decide what, if anything, we should do.

No one said the job would be easy, but there are times it seems impossible.

Pay close attention

All employees come to work with personal job expectations and the history that spawned them.

As supervisors, we expect employees to perform their job duties, achieving set goals and adhering to standards and practices.

Simple, right?

Unfortunately, some employees don’t see their jobs from either a supervisor’s or the company’s perspective. They see them predominantly through a lens focused on their personal needs.

The temptation is to label these employees as immature, self-absorbed, and/or clueless, and then assume they are “young,” newly-minted entrants into the work world. Both would be a mistake.

Instead, the first signs of immaturity, self-absorption, and cluelessness that impact work negatively need to be identified and discussed with the employee right away.

As supervisors, if we let them slide, we:

  • grant employees a pass to continue them
  • validate that they are acceptable
  • establish them as the basis for replication by others
  • fail to correct issues that will hurt their future opportunities

If this makes you feel like a parent, that’s probably apt, especially for supervisors who have employees that don’t know how to:

  • behave professionally
  • connect their work with “why”  and “what” they are paid
  • subordinate their personal wants and needs to the “team”
  • connect the dots between what they do and how it affects the business

Make them matter

Part of a supervisor’s job is to help their employees avoid self-destructing, especially out of naiveté. This isn’t easy for two reasons:

  • Those conversations generally awkward for the supervisor.
  • Employees don’t want to or can’t, at the time, hear what you’re saying.

Employees are important people in any organization. It costs a lot to hire them and to fire them. By the time you get to supervise them, there was probably money spent to train them.

Aside from that, if, you, as a supervisor, know that an employee is doing things that will negatively affect his/her career, you really need to try to get through to them.

Think of it this way: If the employee’s behavior continues, they will eventually be so undesirable anywhere in the company, that they may one day lose their job. What you do to help them may save them from themselves.

Cues and clues

It can be easy to gloss over behaviors that lead to problems over time. They may seem unimportant at first, but when added together, can become career ending. Here are some examples:

Immaturity

  • Work attire that pushes the envelope
  • Excessive socializing
  • Excuses for unfinished work, lateness, and non-compliance with direction
  • An undisciplined approach to assignments

Self-Absorption

  • Need for repeated recognition and praise
  • Demands for promotion based solely on time in the current position
  • Expressed dissatisfaction with their job title
  • Compulsive use of social media on the job

Cluelessness

  • Lack of emotional intelligence with their supervisor and coworkers
  • Narrow view of the impact and implications of ideas/decisions
  • Poor judgment and lack of sensitivity when communicating
  • Weak understanding of the business model and their role in it

Knowledge saves

We’ve all had career “don’t get it” moments. If we were lucky, we had family, friends, great bosses, colleagues, and mentors within reach to straighten us out.

That’s what supervisors need to be–teachers who will level with employees, help them retool their perspectives, and provide a better course of action to take.

I agree this can be icky. I’ve had my share of employees and clients who didn’t want to hear what I had to say, but I kept saying it until the day it registered. That day made all the frustrating ones worth it.

We often can’t save ourselves from ourselves until someone throws us a life preserver. Let that be you.

Photo from noelle-christine-images via Flickr