The “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas, guidance and inspiration for strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!
Bob is one of those technical professionals born with an incredible ability to translate external noise…marketplace developments, customer needs and competitor moves into hit products and business ideas. He was in a role leading a small team and his team had produced a series of new hits for his firm.
Bob believed he could help his firm if he was given the opportunity to lead a larger group. However, for several years, Bob had fallen victim to the infamous open-faced “but” sandwich comments of another senior leader. He had been passed over for promotion on several occasions. (The open-faced “but” sandwich is analogous to the feedback sandwich…positive, negative, positive. In this case, someone makes a positive statement followed by a lingering, negative but, but no positive statement to top things off.)
I know Bob has done a good job with his team, but…do we really think he’s ready to lead a bigger group?
That statement created enough doubt with the senior leaders to derail any discussion of promotion. The subtle assassin in this case was a senior manager who had his own designs on who should lead this expanding team. It wasn’t Bob.
While this very real situation might sound like sheer dirty politics, it was a situation that Bob actively fueled. Bob had presence issues.
He was one of those people who would walk down the hallway deep in contemplation with whatever was on the top of his shoes. He never met a day where smiling seemed to be worth the effort. And if you happened to call him on the telephone and he answered, you weren’t certain whether to run over and hand him a tissue or look around for sharp objects.
After commiserating with a trusted member of his team that he had been passed over for promotion again, related that he had reeived the lame comment of, “Bob, senior management thinks you need more time to develop as a leader,” and the equally lame suggestion of, “Let’s find a training course for you to attend,” his team member offered him a stark insight.
“Bob, this has happened several times. This has nothing to do with whether you are ready for leadership. Everyone on your team believes in you. People higher up don’t have faith in your ability to lead a team because you don’t carry yourself like a leader. Around here, that’s a problem.”
It hit Bob like a ton of bricks. He had spent his entire career assuming that good work always is rewarded and the fact that his physical presence might be a factor was upsetting. After thinking about it for awhile. Bob decided to seek help. He asked for coaching instead of training and through the feedback the coach collected, Bob learned that his presence problem was much larger than he had ever imagined.
He began the work of behavior change…and worked at it relentlessly. He continued to push out hit ideas from his team and the combination of his visible presence change and the continued great work earned him his long awaited promotion just six months later. He neutralized his competitor’s objections and today he is a senior technology executive with one of the world’s largest firms. His leadership and his natural gifts now help his firm on a much larger scale.
5 Lessons from Bob:
1. Don’t assume you understand how others perceive you. Our self-perception is often very different than the view others have of us. Get help from trusted contacts and ask how you are perceived.
2. Don’t forget to ask for help finding your superpower. It’s not just the weaknesses we struggle to see. In what is potentially more limiting, we don’t always see what it is that we do that leverages our skills at our best. When you are focused on work that ignores your true gifts, you know instinctively and this dissonance creates stress. Find and follow your superpower and you’ll be happier and I will wager a future paycheck, more successful.
3. If you don’t think someone will use your weaknesses against you, you are naïve. This is the way of the world. We all have competitors…for resources, for budget, for position and for compensation. Don’t give them ammunition.
4. People close to you typically appreciate you and accept you for the person you are…and that’s nice. However, it isn’t helpful. Some will open up and share honest perceptions and feedback, but you have to ask and to be genuine in your need for the real story.
5. Get a coach. Identifying poor behaviors isn’t so difficult Changing them is brutally hard. Most people fail most of the time at this. How’s that diet or fitness program going? But remember, the coach won’t do the work for you. Commitment comes from you.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
It’s a sharp-elbowed world out there where rules of fair play are subjective. Don’t limit your own advancement and growth by believing that your great work will take care of itself. It won’t. Manage the perceptions about you or someone else will.