Losing Your Shirt and Other Consequences of Career Naiveté

No one wants to look inept, but sometimes we are. It sticks out like a sore thumb when we: 

  • Lack experience and skills
  • Don’t know how the game is played
  • Align with the wrong people
  • Say the wrong things inadvertently
  • Suggest ideas that can’t work 

Sure, we can try to hide or finesse our naiveté, but in time, word gets around. 

The good guys and the bad 

If we’re lucky, we work with a boss and colleagues who have been in our shoes and want to help us get our bearings. If not, it’s like being a sitting duck. 

The more competitive our workplace, the less time we have to get from naiveté to savvy. The price of being “stupid” can get steep. 

The business world holds fabulous opportunities along with risks of failure. There are terrific people at all levels of organizations where we find priceless mentors, leaders, and friends. 

The business world can also be a mean street. Survival is a daily concern, employees want desperately to hold onto their jobs, everyone wants to get ahead, and competitors are always lurking. 

If you want a long and successful career, you need to be smart about what’s going on around you. 

Start by not falling for these hollow assurances from your boss or anyone else: 

  • Just work hard and the rewards will follow
  • You can trust management to have your best interest at heart
  • The company leadership’s got everything under control 

Remember: The company watches out for itself first. It takes care of its stakeholders in order of priority, starting with investors and ending with employees. 

So we all need to learn how to read between the lines and figure out how best to align our capabilities with what needs to get done and with the right people. 

Hang onto your shirt 

If you’re wondering if you’re being naïve, ask your self these questions: 

  • Do I have a false sense of job security?
  • Am I deluding myself about how valuable my job is to the company?
  • Is my performance really good or could I be easily replaced by someone better?
  • Am I being taken advantage of by my boss and coworkers?
  • Have others been promoted over me? If so, do I know why?
  • Do I confide too much in people I’m not sure I can trust?
  • Am I working for less money than others doing similar or less work?
  • Do I really understand what’s driving business decisions? 

The consequences of naiveté are significant and varied: 

  • Job loss or stagnation
  • Neither promotion nor lateral movement
  • Questionable work assignments and/or work load
  • Business decline or shuttering, if you’re an entrepreneur
  • Personal brand damage by your detractors 

Your career is a precious asset that you invest in everyday. It’s important that you protect it just as you would your hard earned dollars. 

You’re not alone 

Everyone gets burned along the way, some worse than others. When I started out in the race horse breeding business, the veterans could smell my naiveté a mile away. Bloodstock agents, trainers, jockeys, and even buyers found a way to cheat me, but only once. 

As an equine art gallery owner, the artists I represented told me about how they’d been cheated by dealers who stole both their artwork and their commissions. I taught them how to protect themselves by the way I worked with them. 

When I was a corporate manager, I got stung by colleagues who would try to sabotage my projects, scoop an announcement, undercut my influence, and off-load their accountabilities on me. 

Experience turns naiveté into savvy, but only if we figure out how to put it to work in constructive ways. The best thing we can do for ourselves, our careers, and our employers is to work smart on every level. That’s what it means to be business fit, dressed in a well-fitting shirt! 

Photo from h.koppdelaney via Flickr